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For over one hundred years, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) has provided welfare protection services for the Province. However, after giving less than one month’s notice that they will be discontinuing all animal enforcement and protection services, it looks like thousands of neglected and abused animals across the province will be left to fend for themselves. 

On March 4, 2019, the OSPCA announced their plans to discontinue animal protection services at the end of that very same month. This is due to Ontario’s plan to implement a brand new animal welfare system, which is expected to begin January 2020. As of April 1st, the OSPCA was no longer investigating cruelty accusations involving livestock and equine farms, and as of this week, they will discontinue services for domestic pets as well.

This news has led to much criticism and blowback from the public, as the OSPCA had the opportunity to bridge the gap in a much-needed service, and instead chose to shut down early. 

While the province of Ontario and the OSPCA did reach an agreement to extend animal law enforcement services until June 28, 2019, for domestic pets only, the OSPCA refused to extend that agreement until the new year, when the new animal welfare and protection system is in place. Once implemented, the new system is intended to be more transparent, robust, and accountable than its predecessor. 

Under the OSPCA Act of 1919, the animal care organization has been able to actively enforce both Provincial and also Criminal Code animal cruelty laws, just as the police do. All this power has been available to them for a century, without transparency or accountability. In early January, an Ontario court ruled this to be unconstitutional, and decided that only the police should be able to enforce these laws.

While all of this may come as a surprise to the general public, many animal welfare organizations are feeling relieved that the OSPCA is stepping down, and are excited for a more organized, accountable alternative. The OSPCA has had two mandates over the years: enforcement of animal cruelty legislation, and sheltering for homeless animals. Both of these mandates have had murky histories of mismanagement, so perhaps this is the perfect time for both the OSPCA and the Ontario Government to make some much needed improvements in these areas. 

The OSCPA, for all the good they do, have had a consistent timeline of blunders. Most popularly, in 2011, OSPCA officials announced the discovery of a ringworm outbreak in a Newmarket OSPCA shelter, and had decided to euthanize the 350 animals in their care.  After significant public outcry, an independent probe led to a startling conclusion: there was no ringworm outbreak. According to a report by University of Guelph veterinarian Alan Meek, and former Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice Patrick LeSarge, there was no evidence to substantiate an outbreak of the disease. It was determined that record keeping was seriously deficient, their staff had inadequate training, and infection protocols were severely lacking. 

They also have a strong history of overworking and underfunding their investigators, many of whom have been expected to investigate animal cruelty cases alone over the years. Often times, these cases can involve dangerous, seriously aggressive animals. This has led to more than one incident of an investigator being injured. The OSPCA receives annual funding of $5.75 million from the government, as well as millions of dollars from private donors each year.

Without any clear public direction as to what the Provincial government plans to do with their new animal welfare and protection plan, concerned pet owners are left with much confusion and uncertainty. Because the OSPCA chose not to extend their contract until the end of the year, our Provincial government is left scrambling to put something in place as soon as possible. Recently, a survey was conducted looking for input from the general public. It closed on June 6th, and the results are expected to be released in the Fall of 2019. Sylvia Jones, the current Solicitor General, states:

“Our government has always maintained that the system can be made more robust, transparent, and accountable. While work is already underway to introduce a better system, I’m counting on the people of Ontario to share their ideas, feedback, and concern as part of our public survey.”

So the big question here is, after June 28th, 2019, who is enforcing animal welfare cases in Ontario? By default, it is the local police. The problem with that is this: local police do not have the proper training or experience to handle situations involving potentially dangerous animals. Relying on police to handle these cases without the help of a qualified animal control officer is a recipe for disaster, and it will always be the animals who end up losing. Especially in smaller Municipalities, the funding for an entirely new animal welfare division simply doesn’t exist.

Animal rescues and shelters typically operate separately from the OSPCA, although many have partnered with them in the past. The difference with shelters and rescues, is that they’re funded entirely by donations and volunteers, and do not have the ability to enforce laws. In fact, most animals that come into rescue organizations were either found as strays, or surrendered by the owner.

Animal Bylaw and Control officers exist in varying capacities within most Municipalities, but again they simply do not have the training, funding, or the power to investigate animal cruelty cases and to aprehend hurt or abused animals. And just as they don’t have the funds available for training and enforcement in local police departments, the same goes for small Municipal offices. 

Until the Ontario Government unveils their new legislation, it is up to the public to inform themselves about the animal welfare protection options available to them. Consider contacting your local police department to inquire about their existing animal welfare policies; how are they handling calls regarding animal abuse and neglect? How will any violations be enforced? And what can a concerned citizen do to help?

It has never been more important to help animals in need than right now. Here’s hoping both the Ontario government and the OSPCA recognize that as well. Only time will tell, and, unfortunately, time is a luxury many abused and neglected animals don’t have.

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