Ottawa Citizen

Humane society’s euthanasia policy at issue

Reform group campaigns to take over board of directors


The controvers­ial euthanasia policy of the Ottawa Humane Society promises to be the subject of heated discussion at today’s annual general meeting.

A slate of six candidates for the society’s board of directors has made the issue central to their campaign; all are members of the Campaign to Reform the Ottawa Humane Society.

“We are concerned that the Ottawa Humane Society has lost its way by placing priority on financial surpluses over saving the lives of healthy and potentiall­y adoptable animals,” said candidate Simone Powell.

The society posted an operating surplus of $144,000 last year on a budget of $3.6 million.

Ms. Powell launched the reform movement two years ago after she went public with a complaint about the treatment of a stray Lhasa Apso she had taken to the society’s shelter.

The shelter assessed the dog’s behaviour and decided he wouldn’t make a good pet. The Lhasa Apso was put down even though Ms. Powell repeatedly insisted she wanted to adopt it.

Ms. Powell subsequent­ly formed the reform group with her neighbour, Beth Greenhorn, who is also a candidate for the board of directors.

Today’s annual general meeting will see seven board members elected, including a new president.

“It’s time that the Ottawa Humane Society entered the 21st century: the old way of warehousin­g animals is becoming obsolete,” said Ms. Greenhorn. “There is a growing movement and philosophy in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere that seeks to reduce euthanasia rates by implementi­ng innovative and proactive programs for shelter animals.”

Ms. Greenhorn wants the humane society to pursue more foster homes and to introduce behaviour modificati­on pro- grams for dogs that exhibit “resource guarding” and other aggressive behaviours.

Tara Jackson, the humane society’s communicat­ions manager, said the organizati­on has changed the way it handles dogs in the two years since Ms. Powell lodged her complaint.

The humane society commission­ed a consultant’s report by Pamela Reid, whose main recommenda­tions have been implemente­d, she said.

The humane society now uses a standard behaviour test to evaluate whether a dog is suitable for adoption; that test is applied after an animal has been in the shelter for four days; how a dog reacts to correction is used only to decide what kind of adoptive home is suitable (whether one with children, for instance). Changes have also been made to the way puppies under four months of age are assessed.

Ms. Jackson was unable to say whether the changes have resulted in fewer dogs being euthanized. “But it has made our system more consistent,” she said, “which has certainly benefited the animals.”

The reform candidates contend the humane society should publish its annual euthanasia numbers as part of a more transparen­t approach to its policy.

Executive director Bruce Roney has said the humane society does not publish its statistics because they can be “misused and misreprese­nted.”

An open shelter, the Ottawa Humane Society accepts all animals regardless of their medical condition or temperamen­t, he said, which means staff has to make difficult decisions about what animals can be safely adopted.

Across North America, he said, 71 per cent of cats and 56 per cent of dogs that enter shelter will be euthanized. But those numbers, Mr. Roney said, reflect on communitie­s, not humane societies.

“It is tragic, it is sickening and it is a task we loathe,” he said. “Our throwaway culture, irresponsi­ble and excessive breeding, failure to vaccinate, failure to identify animals, or even look for lost animals, all result in the tragedy of euthanasia.”

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