by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
It was close to a quarter of a century ago that a group of us, then working with a local humane society, began to fight one of the most insidious pieces of provincial legislations there was, popularly known as “pound seizure”. What made the fight so difficult was this: In Ontario research facilities could only requisition from pounds and shelters certain types of animals (usually dogs) as identified by such characteristics as age, size, gender and so on. But the pounds and shelters did NOT have to turn such animals over. However, they could not kill them (except under dire conditions requiring euthanasia for humane reasons). They could either keep them (even indefinitely), or adopt them out, but could not simply kill them.
It works like this: Suppose the pound has a dog that fits the requisition...say a five year old neutered male spaniel mix. If the pound wants to keep the dog until someone adopts it, it can.
But what if no one adopts it?
Sadly, animals do become stressed to the point of illness if kept too long in most pounds or shelters, and at any rate can take up room and expenses badly needed for other animals. The animal costs money to keep, earns money if sold to the researchers. And the researchers can simply state that the dog was “unwanted”.
Our campaigns were multi-pronged. Lager shelters or those associated with humane societies simply refused to cooperate. The researchers never took them to court, since that would have meant some terrible publicity for them. We began to encourage all shelters and pounds, some of the latter being pretty disreputable organizations, to ignore the requisitions, but our research and surveillance indicated that some pounds saw the research community as a cash cow, and were only too glad to sell the animals that were not immediately either claimed by their respective owners, or adopted. It was all about money.
We began Project Jessie, whereby we would do all we could to get in ahead of the researchers, pay more to adopt the animals ourselves, and then place them either in foster homes (there were some really unsung heroes involved in all this) or in safe pounds or shelters where they would be given a second chance to be adopted.
We sought to change the legislation, even so far as getting a private member’s bill before the provincial parliament. But private member’s bills rarely become law and this one was no exception.
We also went to municipalities who hired independent pounds to “manage” their “surplus” companion animals, and had some heartening victories, turning them from suppliers of animals to researchers to shelters whose only focus was serving the community, seeking to return lost pets, or adopt them to loving homes but no longer conduits to the research community.
I oversimplify, and being an expert on wildlife, not companion animals, my personal role was always very modest, but it was an ongoing struggle by a dedicated group of valiant colleagues to slowly shut down supply while attacking the demand side.
And that is why, in the middle of April, we were shocked and delighted when a supporter sent us a copy of a letter received from the University of Guelph.
This university specializes in agriculture and veterinarian medicine. You are hard put to find a veterinarian in Canada who was not taught at Guelph. And one of the teaching practices that we abhorred was to use “random source” animals for various horrific teaching procedures. We knew that Tufts University and others had given up this practice as unnecessary, but Guelph was unapologetic, and continued to compete with Project Jessie to get animals from those ever fewer pounds willing to sell to them.
One dog they used has special meaning to us. He was an elderly, much beloved golden retriever whose family had just moved to Ontario. Their treasured dog still had tags from the province where they had lived, and was microchipped. No matter, the pound where he wound up in after he wandered off his rural property sold him to Guelph before his owners could locate him, and because he was too old to be of use, he was simply killed. And the university saw nothing wrong with that.
Which brings us to the recent turn of events. Without telling us, without fanfare, the University of Guelph has capitulated. “The University made the decision some time ago to cease using impounded animals for teaching and the change will be implemented by 1 June 2010,” according to the letter.
We investigated and found, to our delight, that the university will close down the Ponsonby Facility, which is where impounded dogs were housed for reconditioning, resale, or use at the University. Put simply, the University will no longer be using “random source” pound dogs.
The fight is not over; other animals are still to be used, including those used in terminal surgeries, but we estimate that hundreds of dogs per year will now be saved from this particular form of horror.