Monday, December 14, 2015


In the interests of fairness and the reality that a considerable period of time is needed to establish true change and incorporate a new mindset, I have refrained from expressing my often passionate feelings on the direction taken by the Toronto Humane Society.

When the OSPCA raided - (with the full complicity of former THS staff) and subsequently slaughtered - so many THS animals during the raid back when Tim Trow was heading the THS, my own prejudicial views of the OSPCA were unfortunately borne out and exceeded with the subsequent actions of this horrific and far from animal-positive organization.

The then duly elected new President, Marcie Laking - who had spearheaded OSPCA intervention - again, unfortunately, simply underlined that the direction being taken was a world away from the direction many of the old-time volunteers had envisioned.  From its opening with its fancy pens, spiffed up training facilities and 'cat" rooms, the one thing that was glaringly missing was, you know, ANIMALS.  Further, there was a lot of dissension and issues within the Board itself.

As the years passed, through two tenures of Marcie's less than stellar leadership, the bureaucratizing continued - and STILL there was a puzzling lack of animals available for adoption.  Further, as someone who has a wide-range of contacts within the animal rescue community, I learned - second hand admittedly (which is why I am not relating them here) - of policies which appalled me to my core.

After returning a year or more after the "new" THS opened its doors to my dog walking volunteer activities - I lasted only a few months.  There was, first and foremost, the officiousness now involved in simply volunteering - even for those of us with literally a decade or more of experience and with hard-earned certificates attesting to our ability to handle any type of dog. Further, after a 10 hour work day to come in and walk a dog for the FIFTH time that day (which was at least three walks MORE than my own dogs got)- because quite simply there was SUCH a scarcity of them - was pointless.

From there I graduated to dog transport through a complex and very well organized network of dog rescuers throughout Ontario and Quebec. On monthly visits to my mum in Montreal, I often transported back anything from one to five dogs to various rescue organizations, Toronto Animal Services and the THS.

Again, I began to notice the THS preference (radically apparent) for easily adoptable dogs - puppies, small cute dogs, no dog with any issues, too large or too challenging - again, so counter to what I believed the Toronto Humane Society was originally designed to take.  I do not hanker back to the Tim Trow days in the sense that I have vivid and horrific memories of the many issues prevalent then - real and terrible issues detrimental to the animals and brutally hard on caring volunteers and a dwindling staff - but I have NEVER denied that Tim's heart was the in the right place.  The Tim Trow THS turned away NO animal - not the elderly, not the sick, not the hard to place.

Tim's failing was taking in far too many, developing an almost hoarder mentality and making it often challenging to adopt as he seemed to hate letting them go. This mentality was then compounded by the mass firings of staff, leaving a massive amount of animals to be cared for by a very few staff and those volunteers able to keep their heads down, as to raise any issues with Trow and his minions meant a quick and permanent exile.

What I had hoped for - what I yearned for - was a healthy facility with realistic expectations of their capacity and the HEART that Tim had in abundance.

What was begun with Marcie and continues to this day is a soulless facility that could masquerade as a pet store with a few easily adoptable animals and the odd challenging case in order to have something to send out in the newsletter and thus elicit donations.

I continue to transport - working with many stellar rescue groups (and to mention two in particular - Speaking of Dogs and Boston Terrier are EXCELLENT rescues) - TAS and THS.  The reality is that Montreal has thousands of unwanted animals - and with the exception of their VERY excellent SPCA downtown (who do amazing work)- Berger Blanc is their main "pound" and has been exposed for a being a horrific slaughterhouse with no compunction about being a kill facility and a reputation which has been exposed and proven to be brutal and uncaring. Further, despite recent legislation which labels animals as "sentient" beings which are therefore entitled to due care, Quebec continues to lead the provinces as the Puppy Mill capital of Canada.

On the other hand, Toronto with its excellent network of rescues, animal facilities and fosters is often actively seeking dogs (in particular) for adoption.

A match made in heaven?  One would think so - and indeed, many hundreds of animals are rescued annually from Quebec and brought here into Ontario to successfully find loving homes.  I of course have to add that the diabolical BSL legislation we have here which sentences any dog with a short blocky head and muscular body to death, irrespective of sweet natures and no issues - means I have ALSO transported OUT of Ontario dogs labelled (pretty well 100% incorrectly) as "pit bulls" to find homes in more tolerant and educated provinces.

However, the point is that I continue to lose heart and faith that the THS will ever become what its founder and creator originally intended.

Due to the ill health of my mother over the past year plus, I have been unable to commit on a regular basis to dog transport - as my time was not my own and my timing uncertain.  As such, yesterday was the first time in some time I have dropped a dog off at the THS.

It was truly a terrible experience.

Dog transport is a highly sophisticated, rigidly planned process.  There are several co-ordinators who put out requests to a vast network of transporters and organizations when a dog (or dogs) need to be moved.  Timing, places, contacts are nailed down - solid commitments made.

As such, I had a firm committment from the THS to take a young, sweet lab mix from Montreal to them yesterday. My original plans were to pick up the dog at 11 and thus arrive somehwere around 5 p.m. at the THS.  The process itself has always been straightforard.  I walk in with the dog and paperwork (if any), I announce I am the transporter and here is the dog from Montreal - dog is taken and I leave - 10 minutes max!

Until yesterday.

I walked in to a crowded front desk and a LOT of people seemingly "waiting" ... not sure for what.  A volunteer and I think, staff member, were talking to people and basically slotting them into line.  I announced myself and asked someone to come grab the dog - and ended up arguing for 10 minutes as they refused to take him and said I had to go through the regular "intake" process.  I tried to explain, this IS NOT MY DOG .. I'm just a transporter - but no luck.  So off I go into the Intake - where I wait 10 minutes for someone to show up - only to get more attitude.  I was told my 'appointment' was for 5 (it was now 3:30 or so - I had arrived at 3:10) and "our vets are busy so you'll have to wait for your appointment".

I again reiterated - umm, this is NOT how transport WORKS - I have nothing to say to the vets as I have no familiarity with the dog - I don't have an "appointment", I had a guesstimated arrival time - "I come in with the dog, I hand the dog over, I leave" I pointed out.

Fruitless - attitude and snippy remarks drove me back to the front desk where I unsuccessfuly asked them to contact (a) a supervisor, (b) the person with whom I had confirmed my drop off.  FINALLY, after another argument, wrangling back and forth with someone who never identified themselves and simply gave me attitude, I got a grudging apology and was able to hand over this very sweet dog.

What I am now left with is horror at the extent to which the THS has become a bureaucratic, officious and badly functioning, soul-destroying MACHINE - Further, a machine which claims to be an adoption facility - yet has a paucity of animals - dogs in particular - to adopt. As I stood there for my 45 minutes, I heard at least four times- "but there are no dogs".

There are, you know. There are dogs up north on our reserves. There are dogs- many of them - in Quebec.  There are overburdened rescues and pounds outside the City of Toronto, many just a short drive away.

What's lacking is not dogs for adoption- what's lacking is a THS who has lost sight of what its function should be - a THS who values officiousness over action - a THS who takes pride in state of the art kennels rather than the animals that should be in them... what's lacking is a THS with heart.

It makes me sad.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The End - Heartbreak and Remorse

Gardens were ablaze with the riotous colours of tulips; magnolia trees dripped crepe white blossoms while flowering cherries brought with them the promise of warmth and life the day I brought my dog in to die. 

Rae had prepared a wonderful, calm place for my Darcy to die.  It was after hours and the light were turned down low.  Kristy, her assistant had prepared a nest of soft blankets in the examination room. Darcy had been so excited to go in the car, standing on the console between the seats, plumed tail wagging madly, panting with delight.  As they do, wariness overcame him as we walked into Rae’s.  He was muzzled as usual once we were out of the car and he fought like a fiend as she gave him the sedative to calm him.  We sat in the comfortable front office, chatting while inside my heart was aching so badly I thought it would tear itself apart. I worked at controlling my stress, knowing my boy was so attuned to me that it would only frighten him.  Three times, Rae gave my 12 lb dog a sedative, enough, she said to calm a mastiff. But Darcy fought it, he fought it as only terriers can fight… with passion, with determination, with an implacable sense of determination that made your both cheer him and despair.  The tears ran down my cheeks as I held him, hugging him gently to me, whispering into his little ear how much I loved him, how I knew he would wait for me … that whenever my time came, when I moved beyond this mortal earth I would be looking for him, that however long or short my life was I would never forget him and that death would come sweet knowing I could greet him yet again.

Finally, more than hour after we had walked in, I walked him into the examination room.  Sitting on the nest of blankets, I gathered him in my lap.  Holding his leg, I wept as Rae put in first the pain killer then the poison.  I felt my soul crack as my little dog drifted away, betrayed by the only person he had ever trusted in his entire short life.

That was in April 2011 – 18 months after I first brought him home and 2 years almost to the day when I first met that frightened, angry little terrier.

To this day I mourn him.

I said then and I say now, had I been independently wealthy, I would have bought a house far far away from anyone and lived out my life with my beloved dog.  I say that truly and with no subterfuge.  I loved him that much, my little soulmate.

“He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; my other ears that hear above the winds. He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea. He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for being; by the way he rests against my leg; by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile; by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him. (I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to care for me.) When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile. When I am happy, he is joy unbounded. When I am a fool, he ignores it. When I succeed, he brags. Without him, I am only another man. With him, I am all-powerful. He is loyalty itself. He has taught me the meaning of devotion. With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace. He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant. His head on my knee can heal my human hurts. His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things. He has promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever – in case I need him. And I expect I will – as I always have. He is just my dog.” - Gene Hill 

During- Darcy's Journey

As summer wound down and trickled into Fall, my almost daily walks with Darcy were a constant and inviolable part of my life.  During those months, there were brief periods of time where Darcy disappeared only to reappear like clockwork within a day or two of being adopted (and inevitably returned).  Odd as it may seem, I was still largely unaware of the severe bite history this little terrier carried with him.  The shelter continued to be over-crowded and understaffed and in the very harsh reality of simply getting dogs walked, cleaning pens and washing and refilling water bowls, all in a terribly stressful “catch up” mentality, a dog’s history was simply not part of the lexicon of the conversation between volunteers and staff.

Clearly, too, without being truly aware of it, I was falling in love.  My conversation at home must have full of Darcy stories because one night, as I fretted and worried and vocalized to my long-suffering husband my worry about what was going on at the THS, he said bluntly “bring him home, if you want him, get him”.  Surprised, I went, really?? We already had four kids, 2 rescued GSDs (one from the THS which had precipitated my first volunteering way back when), 5 rescued cats (2 from the THS), a rescued rabbit and a guinea pig, 2 full time jobs, a monthly trip to Montreal to look after my elderly mother, 18+ hours a week at the THS plus my work with a GSD rescue.

That very week, I stopped Shas (a talented canine specialist with a magic touch with dogs – currently running the Canine department at the THS) and said hesitantly…. “I was thinking of fostering “Duke”.  My initial plan was to take him home for a weekend and see how the fit was with my crazy crew, but clearly, the “Duke” situation must have been pressing even in the deliriously forgiving, unrealistic and rarefied air of the THS at that time, he was becoming incredibly problematic.  Next to no staff would walk him as his bite history was fierce and almost 100% with anyone that got near him.  Each and every one of the several adoption attempts had resulted in severe bites and his hurried return.  This I found out later – but at that moment, Shas was like YES- of course you can take him!  Take him tonight if you like!  Take him for a week and give him a try! Shocked, but happy, I told Shas I needed to get a crate and warn everyone at home.

That night I purchased a new collar and leash and put the crate in the car.  The next evening, after my regular three hour dog walking, I went to Darcy’s pen… there, I changed his collar and attached the matching leash and with him tucked under my arm, headed to the front desk to get his paperwork.  As I waited, the inquisitive terrier tucked comfortably and contentedly under my arm, one of the front desk staff said in a shocked voice “wow! Look at Duke! I’ve never been this close to him!”.

And so Duke.. aka Darcy from that moment forward came home.

Darcy came home Thanksgiving of 2009.  He came into the house devoid of history other than the history I had with him. He came with no preconceived notions nor awareness of his triggers other than the fearfulness with which I was familiar.  I knew he was good with other dogs as I had often walked him with others (something we used to do frequently in an effort to get all the dogs walked).  My children and husband were seasoned veterans of difficult dogs.   Finn came in a neglected, highly anxious, mange-ridden existential mess.  She brought with her a young life on the streets, abuse and a world of chaos and horror.  Llyr was rescued from a life chained to a dog house in the backyard from the time he was 8 weeks old.  Embedded in him (he was 3.5 when I rescued him) was serious territorial aggression, no manners, and no housetraining.  We had many years behind us of acclimatizing feral cats, of learning dog handling skills, of mistakes and achievements, of stress and a fierce joy when we got it right.  The kids knew how to approach dogs, how to address them, how to keep calm, how to not push and how to be assertive without being dominant.

The first day Declan met him, Darcy flew up on his small spring-ridden terrier legs and tore a hole in his cheek.  The second day Maeve said hello to him he took a chunk out of her calf. The first week my girlfriend came over, he darted in incredibly quickly and somehow without tearing her jeans, punctured her shin so it needed stitches.

The thing with Darcy is you couldn’t read him. I knew – and had taught my children – the signals to watch in a dog.  The white at the corner of the eye, the stiffly wagging tail, the licking of the lips, the tenseness in the body…. And more, much more. But somehow, Darcy never displayed any of these normal warning signals. He would go from merrily grinning to an incredibly fast dart in and out and those needle sharp teeth were lethal.

Within two weeks, except behind a closed door in the bedroom with me, Darcy was tethered to either myself or Doug.  Even with this, he continued to bite, catching us unawares, seeing a tempting leg or a hand in reach.  My children, with the exception of my second child – were terrified of him.

Yet, in other respects he settled in remarkably quickly.  Other than teasing the cats with no malice, he got on famously with his new canine siblings. He and Finn would run and play for hours at a time in my large, fenced backyard and Llyr had no issue tolerating him.  Darcy adored cuddling with me and was delirious at the end of the day when I would come home, leaping up from the ground to lave my face with kisses. He slept, nestled between my knees every night.

Despite biting Doug three times over the period we had him, Doug loved him almost as much as me. There was something incredibly endearing about this little terrier, something in his desperate need, his energy, his frantic constant quest to survive that resonated with him.  And Darcy actually liked Doug, each of the bites being a situation of redirection rather than outright attacks.  Yet through this entire period of time, no matter what the fear, what the provocation, Darcy never ONCE bit me or even tried.  We were joined at the hip and the love I had for that dog was almost overwhelming.  

Anyone who has ever had an animal, anyone who has spent a lifetime loving them knows that in your life, an animal sometimes comes that is your soulmate.  Because their lives are all too brief, we love our animals and mourn their passing – but there is one or sometimes more that come into our lives and somehow finds a place in our hearts and in our souls that no animal has ever filled before.  My Lass, a GSD/retriever mix that brought our children up was one such dog. She was a gentle, sweet darling that brought with her such an overwhelming kindness of soul and heart that even now, more than 10 years later, I mourn her.  But she was the “good child” … the child that you cannot help love because of her sweetness, her devotion and her depth.

My Darcy was the “wild child” … the one who made you stay up all night fretting and worrying. He was the one who caused you endless hours of pain and suffering in your desperate attempt to put them on the right path. He was the one who drove you wild with anger and despair then in the glimpse of his gaze you saw the child that was – the innocent soul who life had torn and mangled and destroyed … yet underneath was the child of your heart.

We tried everything.  Sam Malatesta – the best trainer and dog person I’ve ever known eventually admitted defeat.  He spent many hours in the home helping us with behaviour modification, giving us advice and tips (which we followed religiously).  Sam had helped us to turn around our two crazy GSDs from incredibly dangerous, potentially lethal weapons into the wonderful dogs they now are but Darcy defeated him. We spent several weekends on courses with Sam – visited him in his training and breeding facility north of the City and other than biting Sam at least twice, Darcy retained his unpredictability and unstableness.

After almost a year of behavior modification, of rigid rules and a desperate, close attention to detail to rein in and modify his behavior things were no better.  I had lost track of the number of bites Darcy had inflicted. I lived in a fog of stress, waiting for TAS to knock on my door and take him as several of the bites had needed a doctor’s care and doctors are supposed to report dog bites to TAS.  By the end of the year, Declan had been bitten twice, Maeve three times, Kealin once and Doug twice. He had bitten the kids’ friends, my friends, and attempted to bite strangers. On his walks or outside the house, he wore a muzzle always. Inside the house, he was tethered to either Doug or I- no exceptions and yet still, a momentary lapse in attention, an instant of confusion and in he would dart and bite.

My kids were incredibly forgiving … I do and have been visiting Montreal monthly since my father died almost 12 years ago. I take my ma to appointments, do stuff around the house, deal with business.  As such, whether they wished to or not, the kids had to deal with Darcy.  During the day, we crated him when Doug or I were at work.  He got home fairly early but there were days he couldn’t make it home until later and if I were away, then the kids had to let Darcy out.

Picture this:  Kealin would don Doug’s old hockey equipment, gloves, shin pads and thick sweater… Rowan or Maeve would pull on the heavy duty rubber gloves I used when dealing with the bbq – they came up to their elbows.  Soccer shin pads (goalie) ones would go on.  The first kid would stand at the back door, almost hiding behind it – the second would open the cage, swinging the door around so it protected their legs .. and Darcy would go out.  To get him back, one would stand on top of the freezer with the back door open, throwing cut up hot dogs into this crate while the other cowered behind the crate door… as soon as he was in, they would slam it shut – and then spend 10 minutes trying to lock it with the unwieldy gloves protecting their fingers.

And they did this week after week.

I then, with the guidance of my wonderful vet, began a regime of drug therapy. Anti-anxiety medications, anti-psychotic pills, sedatives and anything else – we tried them all – to no avail.  Rae, my vet, felt there was organic damage in my little terrier, my little beloved fiend. 

As winter waned, and the Spring of 2011 began to bloom, I began to internalize the painful reality that others had grasped months before; nothing I could do was going to fix my dog.

In the beginning... "Duke"

I first met Darcy (known then at the THS as Duke) on a spring day. The air was soft and the sweet smell of earth and life stirring wafted across the still barren earth.  A constant trickling of water was a constant promise in the back of your thoughts, a clear sign that winter was sighing to a close.  Those were hard days in the THS.  A small, core group of volunteers and staff labored mightily to keep up minimal care of the canine unit – whose environs were bursting at the seams with surrendered, abandoned and needy dogs.  When I first started dog walking at the THS (around 2.5 years earlier)- Tim had in place an incredibly efficient and workable process which identified for staff and volunteers exactly what they would deal with when they came, leash in hand, to a cage door.  Dogs were assessed within 24 hours, issues identified and then each dog was assigned a colour dictating the level of expertise needed to deal with them.  That however, was long in the past. The latest dictate, in place for some months then, was Tim’s directive that dogs were not to be assessed nor assigned a colour.  He held that both staff and the public would somehow pre-judge or label the dog if these safety measures were in place.  As such, life as a dog walker had taken on a new dimension. 

When approaching the constant stream of new dogs that were entering daily, you simply had no idea what you were going to deal with. Was the dog unpredictable?  Was he fearful? Had she a history of abuse which would result in protective behavior?  Did this dog have any concept of training? Did that dog have a history of biting?  You simply took your chances.

n hindsight, I was remarkably fortunate – in my almost 5 years there, only one dog (North, a rottie) actually almost overwhelmed me (pure luck, not my skill which is not particularly honed – and that is a story for another day).

There was a limited pool of volunteers at that time, as you had to have a tough hide and implacable sense of purpose to survive the Trow years in those days.  The staff that was there was incredible, tireless and determined, stressed and abused and with hearts that made them hang in despite a poisoned workplace atmosphere.  They were also very few of them. In the three years I was there before the horrible OSPCA raid, it was not uncommon to walk in and find that literally almost the entire canine staff had been arbitrarily fired.  Trow et al. blithely ignored the fact that to give the dogs the three walks a day he claimed they got would have required a much larger staff than was ever there.  Those of us in the volunteer pool that remained put our heads down and grimly went about trying to do what we could to alleviate the situation in which these poor dogs found themselves.  Horribly over-crowded, filthy pens and dogs driven almost made by inactivity and lack of care were common. 

I came every day after work in those days, arriving just after 3 and staying to around 6 or 6:30 Monday to Thursday. Friday mornings I was down at 7 a.m. for first walks.  There were others who put in far more time me – some putting in 6 or 7 hours daily, even up to 7 days a week (hello Rosanna, Beatrice and others!).

Everyone has their own level of comfort with walking dogs.  Each of us has a strength or skill that makes us naturally gravitate towards a certain kind of animal.  For me, fearful dogs were my forte – why, I’m not sure but time and experience had shown me that in that area, I had an empathy that I was usually able to impart to the dog.  I also had strength- something often vastly under-rated. But walking a 75 lb shepherd with no training or a 90 lb rottie with aggressive tendencies requires pure brute strength which I had in abundance.

Simply because of this, together with my designation of white walker (for the most difficult dogs)- given to me when the system was in place, I tended to walk the larger dogs – german shepherds, rotties, Dobermans, mixes or all of the above.  The smaller dogs I left to others as the need was great, the hands few and there were always too many dogs and not enough walkers.

In the sign-in sheet, I began to notice one name that consistently had fewer ticks indicating walks had been given.  Once noticed, I became aware that the pattern was clear – this dog named Duke often had had just the morning airing and nothing since. So, one day, taking my leash I made my way to C, where in pen at the back in a corridor not open to the general public, a small caramel coloured dog ran tight, nervous circles on my appearing at the front of his pen. Darcy was a terrier mix – probably Jack with Chihuahua thrown in and apparent in his huge, somewhat bulging brown eyes, pricked fox ears and a plume of a tail which was pulled tight between his legs.

Speaking gently to him, I opened the cage door and slipped in, making sure by rote that he couldn’t escape.  I could see how frightened he was and didn’t even attempt to approach him. Rather, I moved to the corner of the large pen and sat on the floor.  I think that first day (and for many subsequent ones)- I sat quietly for at least half an hour, perhaps longer.  Every little while I would talk gently to the small terrier, throwing a small treat in his direction. Eventually, Darcy began to calm; his small body still vibrated with that intensity that only terriers seem to emit, and his large eyes were still fearful.  Slowly, coaxing him gently with treats he came closer and closer, until finally, carefully and being careful not to startle, I was able to leash him.

Getting to my feet slowly, we headed out. Once committed, Darcy loved his walk.  His little nose quivered as he smelled the spring air. Trees were just starting to bud; looked at directly they were still gray and stark from the winter which had just passed, but like a dream, from the side of the eye you saw that trembling, delicate hint of green that is only found when Spring is on the way.

Nature’s first green is gold,Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Robert Frost (couldn’t resist- he captures it so well)

My Darcyman trotted stiffly in the sweet hush of a spring day, still tense, still flinching at an unwary movement yet found in that moment a touch of joy. His tail slowly loosened and untucked from his hindquarters, and his little muzzle was raised smelling the promise of rain and new growth.

From that day forward, Darcy became my final walk.  For weeks on end, I would have to follow the same pattern as that very first day – slip into the pen, sit and wait him out. Once out, however, he began to emerge from the small, tightly held compact ball of fur he displayed inside and as the Spring began to unfold, so too did my Darcy.

As the leaves began to unfurl and thicken, so too came Darcy’s delight in all the scents and sounds and moments of being outside in a world which had to this point, clearly been hostile and cruel to this little terrier.  As the Spring waned and summer heat began to settle, as the grass blushed first pale and sparse, then thick and green, Darcy began to find his confidence.  I learned that he loved best for me to sit in the small park around the corner from the THS on River with a loose leash. He would throw himself on his back and writhe with an abandon that made me laugh.  I had now been walking Darcy for around three months.  He was much easier to leash now, often barking demandingly at me when I walked by with another dog as if to say, how dare you!! Here I am! Here I am!!  On our walks he would allow me a quick occasional caress but still pulled away, still cowered and stiffened (what indeed had happened to this little dog? What sort of abuse had been vested on him to make him so sure he was going to be beaten?).  During the long, lazy days of summer, with the sun spilling down between the leafy canopy of the trees, I would sit with this little dog while he scratched his back with abandon on the soft grass.  After a good cathartic wiggle, he would lie down in that boneless way that terriers can, front legs spread out front and the back legs straight out back.  His little button nose would wiggle with the cacophony of scents and sounds and he would, after a bit, start to relax slightly the tense terrier muscles.

It was a late August afternoon, the heat implacable and demanding, the air still and heavy and the promise of a storm grumbling in the distance when Darcy finally came to me of his own volition.  I was sitting cross-legged as I always did, the leash clutched firmly but loose in my hand when after sniffing at the trunk of the tree to see who had visited, he came towards me hesitating. I sat still, quiet, undemanding.  Sighing, his big eyes watching me with a desperate hope in them that made my heart squeeze, he came to my lap.  Curling up, he lay his little head on my knee and gave a sigh, as if to say that finally, maybe, perhaps this person will not hurt me… carefully, quietly, I gently scratched his ears and below the little muzzle.  The warm little body pressed close, then as I lay my hand on my knee near his head, a small tongue licked quickly across my fingers … and just like that he took my heart.

Pain, Betrayal and the Remorse: The Story of a Dog

It has been brought to my attention in the past few days, that due to my criticism of certain choices made by staff at the THS, certain individuals have maligned and viciously attempted to undermine and attack me and others on the basis that we have no moral ground on which to stand.  It is a predictable and common ploy of bullies, individuals with low self-esteem and fragile egos, to fight back with words and rumours and half-truths, in an effort to undermine and attack anyone who gainsays their choices or their beliefs.

These ploys (I just recently learned) included hiding behind false profiles and posting vicious comments on various facebook pages (which were apparently removed before i could read them)- as well as incorrect information levied against other individuals for actions which were mine alone.

I am also cognizant that bullies will often label those who disagree with them as fanatics, as unbalanced nutbars, as people who have no moral stance from which to argue or nay say how their world is perceived.

As such, I am going to share with readers the story of my Darcyman - because a half-vocalized rumour which labelled a friend as someone who killed one of her dogs is actually (I believe) an accusation that should have been levelled at me.

Over the next week, I'll share my story; it is one that I have tried to write again and again. Writing for me is a form of catharsis - a way to concretely formulate my thoughts in black and white, a way to lance the emotions which sometimes threaten to overwhelm when a profound experience has brought with it a swelling of thought, emotion and angst that is almost impossible to internalize.  It is a story I haven't shared with readers not because of shame or any attempt to place myself firmly on moral ground ( we are, each of us, fallible creatures after all) -but because even today the wound is so raw, so agonizing that i find it difficult to talk about.

But before I begin, I need to talk about where I stand on the current controversy surrounding the question of euthanasia.

Anyone who knows me - whether as a friend, a workmate, a fellow volunteer or even an acquaintance should be familiar with my stand on euthanasia. I have certainly written about it enough and because I have an implacable sense of fairness, I have always tried to be clear on my stance when it comes to controversial issues.  I am fully cognizant that the parameters wherein one deems euthanasia a viable choice is one of those fraught with emotion and passion.

I have never categorically denied there is sometimes a need to euthanize.  I have always been clear on what I consider - as an individual - to be the parameters which make it sometimes a viable  and even humane choice.  For ME, these include when an animal is in pain which cannot be addressed nor rectified; when an animal is dying and the coming death brings with it agony and anxiety and emotional pain; when an animal has irredeemable behavioural issues - and herein is where the controversy and the differences usually arise....

For me, that means that every effort has been expended, every avenue explored, every attempt made to correct dangerous behavioural issues before even considering that the animal is irredeemable.  These kind of efforts take time and patience as well as perseverance and a willingness to step outside the box in order to look at the bigger picture. It means consulting experts and making changes in your life and in the environment.

And it means, sometimes, even the most passionate efforts come to naught and the decision has to be made.

These kind of efforts cannot be achieved without time and a willingness to put in the effort required to possibly make a change.  Which is where my argument with the THS arises.  With Hetzel- who was with them less than 2 months in an emotionally fragile state of mind, beset by hormonal and instinctual imperatives.  With Icy, the Siberian husky who was older but hale and hearty and sweet and euthanized less than 24 hours after he was surrendered.  With RikTik who was the final straw that broke me and made me walk away 18 month ago.

But in the interests of fair play, I will in the next few blogs, tell you about how I won, loved and then killed my Darcy - a dog who took with him a piece of my soul when I betrayed him and walked him to his death.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

SHAME on the THS - killing a lactating mum is beyond disgusting

Meet Hetzel’s puppies… meet Hetzel – oh sorry, you can’t- the THS killed her and left her 11 puppies without a mother. (photo from Huffington Post)

Hetzel was dumped at the THS in early February. Shortly thereafter, this abandoned mum gave birth to 11 beautiful puppies.

Nursing mothers are by nature protective.  Any new mother should be given a quiet, safe environment with minimal interaction and only necessary handling of the puppies.  She is territorial, protective and apprehensive about anyone approaching her puppies. That is NORMAL behaviour.  The inevitably busy shelter environment, compounded by the greater possibility of germs and transmission of conditions which could be fatal to young pups made this a  less than ideal environment for a nursing mum.  Yet she was apparently doing ok- if stressed and unhappy and worried about her pups.

When a mother dog gives birth, a powerful hormone cocktail invades her system. Oxytocin, prolactin and estrogen are all released into her bloodstream and each provides her with a way to bond with and protect her puppies. She needs a place where she feels safe and protected.  Due to the declining levels of progesterone, the increased levels of prolactin and climbing estrogen (versus declining progesterone) means mum may be more grumpy than usual as well.  Again, that is NORMAL behaviour and to be expected.

Hetzel was then transferred to a foster home (about which I know nothing).  Dealing with nursing mums requires a highly specialized skill set.  Keep in mind, Hetzel was dumped when pregnant so already in a stressed and anxious mindset; then in a less than perfect atmosphere (a loud, chaotic shelter – while I’m sure the THS did their best you can’t provide the kind of healthy quiet environment that would be optimum for a dog giving birth) gave birth to 11 puppies which in itself would be a challenge for any dog. She is sent to a foster home.  I have no idea what the situation was in the foster home – whether Hetzel was with provided a safe, quiet and remote area where she wouldn’t be bothered … whether her puppies were handled too much, her space invaded.  If so, these could be exacerbating factors to making a dog aggressive.  In a best case scenario, the foster home was an experienced one used to dealing with mother and pups, but that would still leave mum in a hormonally charged, anxious state of mind. 

Then this past week, Hetzel was killed.

This lactating mother was killed, leaving her less than 6-week old puppies without a mother and without a mother’s care and milk.  Mother dogs naturally start the weaning process at around 4 weeks- but nursing continues together with important socialization from the mother to between 8 and 12 weeks. But that aside (as the pups can be bottle fed as a poor substitute), I am seriously trying to get my head around how the THS could kill this mother in view of the circumstances surrounding her arrival there and subsequent experiences. 

How, in the scant 7 weeks or so that they had this dog (whom, I might add, they utilized, I’m sure very successfully, as a donation driver), they were able to ascertain she was unable to be “rehabilitated”?

She was still with her VERY young puppies!

She was still in a hormonally charged, stressed and anxious state of mind.

In a scant few weeks, she dealt with some major, life-altering, frightening situations, compounded by massive hormonal fluctuations and changes in her body.

I have been told it was because she bit. 

Frankly, that sounds like a normal reaction to a stressful, frightening situation  scared dogs protecting their pups will bite.

The THS claims to have experienced, specialized staff.

They claim to have experienced foster homes.

When questioned about their euthanasia policy, the THS has responded in the past that when it is a behavioural issue, every attempt is made to resolve the problem before the consensus is that there is no rehabilitation possible.

Considering these pups are barely 6 weeks old, the mother is lactating and full of pregnancy hormones, she has experienced several massive lifestyle shocks and been thrust into situations over which she has no control hardly constitutes giving her a chance.

Just how much behavioural modification could have occurred in the past few weeks?  Simple logic dictates next to none.

At the very least, she should have been spayed and allowed the time for her body to normalize.  Spaying has often proved to be a helpful and positive tool when dealing with maternal aggression.

This was a massive and unforgivable failure.

The fact that this dog was not provided with an opportunity to be rehabilitated ONCE her pups were weaned (properly at 8 weeks minimum) is so incredibly wrong that my philosophical differences with the THS which precipitated my leaving 2 years ago have now become an active and implacable belief that this organization has betrayed the very values it purports to exemplify and at this point, is beyond redemption.

I bet they get good money for those pups though; ironically I remember members of the current Board criticizing Trow for getting the best bid on puppies back in the day.

How the mighty have fallen.

“And what sort of lives do these people, who pose as being moral, lead themselves? My dear fellow, you forget that we are in the native land of the hypocrite.”

― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Note: I have attempted through email to get the THS viewpoint for the past day or two and despite contacting several board members and Board President Marcie Laking (as well as the THS communication and media department and facebook messaging) not received an answer.  I would be more than happy to hear from them.

UPDATE: Board Member David Bronskill got back to me and said that Hetzel had bitten numerous times and THS policy had been followed in terms of the decision to euthanize her as she was deemed a "significant risk".  I stand by my comments above.  I continue to question how in view of the timeline and the stress this dog was under that ANY type of meaningful behaviour modification was attempted. Thank you for your reply however.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

One of these things is not like the other....

The Toronto “Sportsmen’s” Show (my emphasis) aka The How To Kill Animals And Fish Show is on this week at Exhibition Place.  Normally, I would simply ignore its existence as despite repeated efforts on the part of the few avid hunters and fishers of my acquaintance (some of whom I even like)- to convince me there is “sport” in slaughtering wildlife, I have yet to understand the mindset that finds it entertaining to go out in the woods and kill creatures who are simply trying to exist.

Further, I have always found the word “sport” an anathema when associated with the practice of using guns, bows and other grossly unfair advantages to slaughter animals.  I am fairly confident that the animals do not see this as “sport” nor do they really have a “sporting” chance against a speeding bullet or a metal-tipped arrow.

I have grudgingly accepted (due to my years in the Maritimes) the reality that there are some people who actually kill animals because it in truth supplements an inadequate income.  Perhaps not so oddly, those same individuals garner a certain amount of respect because they are (in my opinion), more likely to be more “humane” hunters (if such a word can be used in that context), and at least use the creature they kill – often to feed their families during hard winters and lean times.

I find myself confounded that an umbrella organization called Helping Homeless Pets (“HHP”) is actually manning a booth at this extravaganza of machismo (used here in a non-gender specific way) and brazen display of bloodlust.


Am I not getting something here?

An organization that purports to advocate for the rights of animals (albeit, perhaps specifically for dogs and cats alone?) thinks a venue such as this is an appropriate place in which to prmote their philosophy?
To play devil’s advocate, one could argue that the animals in peril from attendees are primarily amphibians, deer, moose and other wild creatures.  The reality is that the line between our treatment of what we perceive as “domestic” animals and others is a thin one and difficult to justify.   Firstly, the species we (as in North Americans, Europeans and increasingly, other nations) – name as ‘domestic’ is growing exponentially as science and exposure teach us that the intelligence and complicated reality of every animal’s psyche continues to expand. Once upon a time it was common practice for “scientists” to dismember animals while alive and aware; vivisectionists held that the cries of pain, the agony, the physical and patently mental agony were simply involuntary physiological reactions – or conversely, the repugnant belief that man had the right to inflict what he chose on the “lesser” creatures.

Every year brings with it new insights into the suffering of the creatures with whom we share this planet. The rending despair of cows whose calves are summarily removed from them as the milk is intended for humans; the frightening intelligence of pigs, an intelligence surpassing that of dogs (our closest companions); the increasing awareness of the strong family ties among many species; the mourning that they go through on the death or removal of one of their own.

But that aside, dogs are indeed an integral cog in the hunting machine.  The unfortunate reality is that they are often the most under-appreciated – and abused -  tool in the hunter’s arsenal.  This is not a North American phenomenon – in Spain and Portugal there is a huge issue with abandoned and abused hunting dogs at the end of the hunting seasons – it is estimated more than 50,000 dogs a year are abandoned due to this industry.  There are similar issues in the U.S., particularly rural areas where as hunting season draws to a close, there is a huge influx of abandoned, starved and abused coonhounds, foxhounds and similar dogs, who have been turned loose to fend for themselves. Apparently rifles are more valuable than a dog.  Canada is not exempt; check pounds and humane societies after hunting seasons has passed – particularly in rural areas – and you will see an agonizing number of abandoned and abused dogs discarded  These dogs are often undersocialized, unvetted and suffering from ticks, fleas and other vermin as well as being chronically under-weight.  Their treatment while ostensibly in the care of their “owners” is usually less than stellar as the intent is, from the beginning, that of being a disposable “tool”.

There are numerous organizations right here in Ontario which exist solely to try to help these abandoned and abused dogs – which makes it ironic that an umbrella organization like HHP finds it not only acceptable but argue it can provide a venue to “educate and build awareness”.  A simple google search brought me to the sites of,,, to cite just a few.

A spokesperson for HHP countered that the Sportsmen’s Show boasts many exhibitors other than sports involving animals – and that the show itself:

“provides an opportunity to reach and educate a large number of the public in the three day period.  We believe our presence, and our message, has a greater impact than our absence (which would likely go completely un-noticed by the public).”

The spokesperson noted that at one time the Sportsmen’s Show donated space to rescues (a ploy to my mind not unlike Ducks Unlimited who like to tout their commitment to preserving the marshes and wildlife habitats as being “environmentally” conscious when in fact they simply want to preserve a habitat which provides a venue for their slaughter of water fowl).

He also asserts that the show is not solely devoted to hunters and fishermen but also to numerous sports that do not involve killing something – i.e. camping, boating, hiking etc.  Regardless, the reality is that I believe by appearing in such a venue, there is a tacit if not outright statement of support for the types of sports which bring pain and suffering to not only wild creatures, but domestic ones.  It is, in my view, highly unlikely that the type of individual who attends this type of show would in any way be swayed – or even be interested in – exploring a rescue organization or in any way supporting them.  To do so would in fact, be counter the mindset that many of these hunters and fishers clearly exhibit.  A cursory glance at the website for the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show clearly reveals a preference for blood sports; the primary tabs after Visitor Info are Fishing and Hunting and the pictures today are of fishermen (yesterday they were of hunting).

HHP closes by asserting “As a charity we do not protest, but rather we educate and assist where and when we can.”  I would counter that any rescue organization has a duty to educate, advocate and protest – that it is an intrinsic and crucial role of any animal advocate to be vocal in defending the proper care of animals.  Further, the non-appearance at a particular venue can- with adequate and respectful dialogue – be a much louder (albeit unvoiced) comment on the acceptability of that venue.

Arguing that you are there to “educate” is simplistic and in my opinion, patently unrealistic.  Should children (as noted in the HHP response) be one of the targets of their “education” then it would have a far greater impact to put together a package that could be distributed to schools, starting at the elementary level.  Visits to schools and community groups by knowledgeable volunteers could potentially have a powerful effect on young minds.  Booths in the midst of the chaos and noise of a show such as this are highly unlikely to provide anything but a momentary diversion – with children being dragged off to the parent’s venue of choice (i.e. hunting, fishing or other “sport”).

There is, when all is said and done, there is an intrinsic and inarguable contradiction in any rescue group supporting a venue such as the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show.  The facile and glib assertions that one doesn’t have to “support” bloodsports but are there to “educate is either naive or clearly misguided.  A resounding and emphatic NO to venues such as this has more potential to educate than attending as  an exhibitor who whether voiced or not, certainly gives the impression that these types of “sports” are acceptable.