Where are the claws for pet owners?

September 15, 2009

Guelph Mercury, 16/09/09stray

Cats do strange things to people.

People like the Cat Lady of Kitchener, who gave over her house to hundreds of them and slept with goggles over her eyes to protect them from being gauged out. More on her later.

But for now, let’s talk about this bitter feud that has plagued the Guelph Humane Society in recent months and on Saturday spilled into St. George’s Square and again onto the front page.

It seems the internal fight is only getting messier, with allegations of irresponsibility and insensitivity flying.

A faction of board members and supporters on the side of fired executive director Elizabeth Bonkink are concerned the humane society has euthanized too many cats between January and July of this year. In their protest, they accused the humane society of being kill-happy and not doing enough to find homes for the unwanted animals.

It’s not just cats they’re concerned about—they allege dogs and other strays are being euthanized far too often and that too few adoptions are being carried out, according to Marlene Santin, on the side of the protesters.

Santin said the humane society has euthanized on average 1,279 pets a year—mainly cats—since 2000. That’s roughly half of the animals that come to the shelter, she added.

“The animals don’t have a voice. We need to be a voice for them,” dissident board member Gaynor Fletcher said earlier this month. “We want to put ‘humane’ back in humane society.”

I understand the concern these people have for pets that no one wants. But getting angry at the humane society is a bit like getting angry at the doctor when you have a heart attack.

I’d like to see some of this outrage directed at the cause of this whole cat problem—the pet owners who have let the population get out of control. Namely, us.

People are responsible for this explosion in the number of unwanted pets. It’s the fairweather owners who adopt a cat for the school year and dump the thing once summer comes that are swamping the society’s shelter. It’s the irresponsible owners who are too cheap or too lazy to get their pets spayed or neutered that should really be the target of protest.

You don’t have to be a cat lover to understand they’re not a new iPod or trendy toy. You don’t use them while they’re fun, and then toss them aside when you lose interest. Unfortunately, too many of us don’t think this way.

Which brings me to the Cat Lady of Kitchener. Every town has someone like Ziggy Isaac, who until recently was the least popular person on her street. She was spending $20,000 a year on food and vet bills for hundreds of strays. On garbage day, she’d drag 30 massive bags of sawdust to the curb. It was her cheap and plentiful kitty litter. Walk near her house, and you’d be overwhelmed by the smell of ammonia floating out her windows.

When I interviewed her, Isaac guessed she’d taken in 3,000 cats in nine years, and buried about 1,000 of them.

Most would say Isaac is plainly crazy. I have to wonder myself. But I see similarities when it comes to Isaac and this beef over at the Guelph Humane Society. We’re creating too many pets without thinking about the consequences—and leaving it to someone else to deal with the problem.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based freelance writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca.

4 Responses to Where are the claws for pet owners?

  1. Michael Smyth on September 15, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Hi ya,

    Just wanted to say I enjoyed reading your article in today’s paper. :) Nice to see someone take the onus off the humane society to deal with a problem that was created by the pet owners. I was getting tired of those protesting the humane society when they are just trying to deal with an issue that can be prevented if people were responsible pet owners. I was even starting to lean that if these people are tired of hearing about animals being euthanized, then maybe they’d like to step up and either provide donations that would assist in the sheltering of these animals, or go the full step and start adopting the animals themselves.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your article and just wanted to let you know.

    Michael Smyth

  2. Marlene Santin on September 20, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Dear Greg,

    Having been quoted in your article published in the GM today, I wanted a chance respond to a few of your points.

    No where can one member of our group be quoted as saying that we are angry with the GHS. Indeed, this is not the case at all. Had you been present in our meeting with Vic taking notes, you would have understood this point. We are not angry, we are just concerned and trying to make the board accountable for how poorly the shelter has been run. Do you actually know the current issues? Have you tried to talk to both sides? Euthanasia is but one issue. There are many others:

    1) Progressive programs to educate the public, spay and neuter clinics
    2) A larger shelter to accommodate Guelph’s demographic growth. The shelter is the same size as it was in 1973.
    3) More efforts in actually adopting the animals (Sundays hours, adoptathons, foster programs)
    4) A vet on staff
    5) banning the drug T61
    6) Meet your match program

    These are just a few issues. I could go on, but I have a sense it might fall on deaf ears.

    If you had been following the story carefully or even taken the time to call one of us, you would actually know that we agree with you about how the cat population becomes so unmanageable.

    How you could actually compare what we are doing to the lady in Kitchener is quite mind boggling, ill-informed, underhanded, and actually very insensitive to anybody in the community suffering from/or related to anyone suffering from mental illness. Referring to Isaac as plainly “crazy” but defecting from yourself by stating most would say that is putting words in all of mouths.

    I am outraged that you would use her case as an analogy for our organized and well-thought out campaign. Last time I checked Isaac does not represent a registered charity with a tax return. The only similarity I see is that we and Isaac are making an effort to help animals; Isaac through her own self-sacrifice as crazy as you might label it and ours through what’s called an organized social movement using institutionalized channels to change a part of society we don’t agree with.


    Marlene Santin

  3. Carrie Tanti on September 20, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    Hi Greg,

    I found your article a very interesting read. I am very saddened to hear about the large number of euthanasia’s at the Guelph Humane Society. I also agree with you that there are too many irresponsible owners who do not spay/neuter their cats and still let them roam free in their neighborhood’s, thus increasing the animal population.

    I have had cats in my family for most of my life. I currently have two – the youngest is from a Humane Society Adoption. My oldest cat was lonely and inactive and I decided 6 years ago that she needed a companion to play with and keep her lively. I went to the Guelph Humane Society and was discouraged from adoption there. I asked about the interview process and they preferred adoptions to families that did not already have pets. If they did have pets, you had to bring them in to see if they would get along. With my 40 plus years of experience with cats, I know that never will they like each other on first visit. You have to introduce them slowly to each other and have them get used to each other’s scent, habits, etc. Average time is about 2 weeks to a month for them to be fully comfortable with each other.

    I also had a problem as my first cat was declawed and realized I would have to declaw the second cat as well….otherwise, my first cat would be defenseless. Guelph Humane society said they would refuse to let me adopt a cat, unless I signed something saying I would not get the cat declawed. I know this is painful to a cat…but I really had no choice and my cats are always indoors anyway (I don’t believe in outdoor cats – shorter lifespan, greater risk of injury, less population control, etc. They can be just as happy indoors providing you give them equal stimulation for their natural instincts – ie, scratching post, toys for prey, etc.)

    Also, Guelph Humane society’s adoption price was very high….it did not include spaying/neutering, etc. Since there really wasn’t any cats there that I really bonded with, I decided to check out Cambridge and K/W HS’s. Turned out they have an annual adoptathon where they take their kittens and cats to the PetSmart on Gateway (behind Costco). I went there and was very thrilled with what I saw. There wasn’t any restrictive interview process, they did ask some questions of you but no discouragement at all. The adoption price was a lot less than Guelph and it included a certificate for free spaying/neutering as well as your first 2kg bag of food. Also, they had hand knitted blankets for the kittens too, so that they were not as scared in the carrier going to their new homes. What a wonderful touch!

    Yes, population control is the blame of the owners. But when it comes to excess euthanesia, GHS also needs to take the blame. Have Adoptathons, reduce prices and include spay/neuter certificates to encourage more adoptions, maybe have grant programs for those people who cannot afford the prices but would give an animal a wonderful home, etc. I really don’t feel that GHS is doing enough to encourage adoptions. I also feel there should be provincial legislation that cats should not be allowed outdoors unless either leash trained (I admit this is difficult) or in enclosures. Or maybe cats should have licences like dogs if they are outdoor pets but the licence is conditional on spay/neuter proof.

    Anyway, that is it. I know this email is lengthy but guess I had more to say than I thought.

    Carrie Tanti

  4. Gaynor Fletcher on September 20, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    An editorial written by Greg Mercer entitled, “Where are the claws for pet owners?” failed to recognize the reasons for the rally held downtown Guelph on Saturday, Sept. 12th. The editorial appears to ignore the serious issues that go far beyond the high number of animals euthanized regularly at the shelter.

    Mercer referenced comments made by a GHS Board member that suggested GHS “put the humane back in humane society” and said that the animals needed a voice. The comments were taken out of context since they were in direct response to the use of T-61; an inhumane method of euthanasia recently agreed upon by the majority Board members.

    The opinion piece also failed to mention the upcoming membership meeting that plans to address the many issues and concerns that the group has repeatedly put forth.

    The splinter group, GHSPETS, is not “outraged” at The Society, as suggested by Mercer, but does criticize the majority Board members for their lack of transparency, accountability and compassion in making decisions on behalf of the organization that has a negative effect on the welfare of the animals.

    The group acknowledges overpopulation of cats at the shelter, but stresses the problem is further impacted by the lack of management, vision and initiatives offered by the majority Board members, who they say have hindered attempts to address the problems by striking down suggestions to provide the solutions.

    The group supports the need to hire a progressive Executive Director to begin re-implementing programs and initiatives currently abandoned. Since established in 1973, the shelter needs a new building to accommodate Guelph’s demographic growth and meet the needs of a community that has almost double in population, aside from the considerable increase in pet ratio per household.

    So far, the interim management and majority Board members have refused to implement progressive programs to educate the public and promote adoption, which include; spay and neuter clinics; public adopt-a-thons; foster programs, media alerts, Sunday hours, or the Meet Your Match program, for which the organization has spend hundreds of dollars in training staff.

    The group is also seeking to replace their in-house vet, since euthanizing animals in a way that is considered inhumane by many experts in many countries around the world contradicts the Society’s mission statement.

    The splinter group agrees that irresponsible pet owners have contributed to the cat overpopulation, but believes that directing “outrage” toward them, versus educating them, will not help the immediate situation nor encourage positive change.

    It’s unfortunate that the writer did not use this platform to address the issues, or educate and inform those readers who do care about this desperate situation. Drawing far-fetched parallels of a progressive and organized social movement using institutionalized strategies to an individual on disability that may be suffering from metal health issues offers no benefit to anyone, least of all the animals.

    A writer’s obligation is to provide readers with a well-balanced and unbiased account obtained from pertinent sources, so that the reader may draw an informed conclusion. The community needs to be provided with an opportunity to share the burden and collectively seek solutions to help those without a voice.

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