Quick Navigation Links  :: message board ::  ::order t-shirts::  ::contact us:: 


Media Reports

Latest Report

"FOI Committee Submission"
February 27, 2004
Prepared for the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act Review Committee
by Kimberly Daum
Download this report here

Latest Report: Dog Eat Dog Divorce:

A Comparative Analysis between
New Eyes, New Directions,
A Strategic Plan for the BC SPCA 2002-2006 DRAFT and the
BC SPCA Community Consultation Summary Report and Recommendations

Download this Latest Report as RTF Word doc or read it below.

First Report: SPCA Critical Analysis, This Dog Don't Hunt:

A Critical Analysis of the BC SPCA Community Consultation Process, The Independent Panel's Summary Report and Recommendations, _ The SPCA Preliminary Action Plans

Download the Report that started it all

 

For your convenience, you may also read both of these reports online below.


Dog Eat Dog Divorce:

A Comparative Analysis
between

New Eyes, New Directions, A Strategic Plan for the BC

SPCA 2002-2006 DRAFT
and the
BC SPCA Community Consultation Summary Report and Recommendations

By

Kimberly Daum
April 22, 2002


Introduction:

The BC SPCA has been going through a tough time lately and is trying to fix itself. In the past few years, head office has hired a substantial number and variety of consultants and lawyers to help it do that. The latest outside expertise comes from Malcolm Weinstein, Ph.D. and his protégé Paula Boddie, B.A. They wrote: New Eyes, New Directions: A Strategic Plan for the BC SPCA 2002-2006. It is a draft report that makes recommendations on legislative and decision-making frameworks, policies, culture, image, communications and advocacy, among other things. It says that ensuring "effective organizational change and alignment" will include the BC SPCA "communicating and acting in ways that clearly demonstrate the vision (Weinstein _ Boddie, p. 29)." Indeed. The demonstration of arrogance in this vision is exactly what has many people shaken: The SPCA vision, apparently, is to diminish or withdraw direct services to animals. But why and to do what?

…the society can do an even better job of promoting animal welfare if it gets out of or reduces some of its direct service provision and shifts at least some of its expertise and influence to become more of an educator, enabler, energizer, facilitator, advocate and catalyst for animal welfare (Weinstein _ Boddie, p.36).

Whose vision of the SPCA is this? Weinstein and Boddie say BCSPCA CEO Doug Brimacombe provided the vision and head office staffer Cindy Soules provided "an inspiring and practical foundation" upon which the future can be built (Weinstein _ Boddie, p. 4).

With such a wealth of vision, foundation and higher education among them, one has to wonder why Brimacombe, Soules, Weinstein and Boddie did not or could not choose between "getting out of" or "reducing" direct service provision. Is the quartet being coy and floating a trial balloon by courting rather than marrying the extreme, or is undermining services the thin-edge-of-the-wedge, the affair just before the divorce from the vows it made to its mission, members, and animals? To know, one could analyze the vision for change from Brimacombe and Soules down, as Weinstein and Boddie have. Or one could take the bottom-up approach, broadening the scope of "vision" and "practical foundation" to fully respect the more than 1000 submissions cited in the society's Community Consultation report by Independent Panel Chair Marguerite Vogel. One could compare the Weinstein plan and Vogel report, an exercise sure to reveal the degree to which head office and its paid consultants have accurately represented the public mood and its vision of animal welfare. Please humor this author by forgiving the bottom-up approach.

 


Shelters: For Better or Worse

Shelters… are at the core of the BC SPCA's presence (for better or worse) in many communities (Weinstein _ Boddie, p. 38).

The public expects the BC SPCA to provide the highest level of care and comfort for animals in shelters, and states that the BC SPCA should be 'at the forefront of how to humanely house and treat animals' (Vogel, p. 9).

The way Weinstein and Boddie tell it, there is a question about animal shelters' worth. Yet, submissions to the community consultation process are emphatic that the SPCA's role is to provide not just adequate but the highest level of humane housing, care and comfort for animals. The Brimacombe experts also urge diminished direct services for animals. Again, the people in Vogel's report have other ideas:

The operation of BC SPCA's animal shelters is a hot topic, with the public expecting much higher standards and more services than those currently in place. …The genuine concern on the part of volunteers for the humane treatment of shelter animals simply cannot be ignored (Vogel, p.10).

In addition to serving as prime adoption centres, submissions suggest the BC SPCA shelters should offer an array of services: off-leash areas, communal cat areas instead of solitary cages, heated floors and beds for dogs, grooming services, get acquainted rooms, training classes and humane education materials. Many submissions recommend that BC SPCA shelters should have more flexible hours including evening hours to allow people who work during the day to visit and adopt animal companions. It is noted that in smaller centres, shelters are closed on Saturday and/or Sunday, which are the only days some people are able to visit shelters (Vogel, p.9).

The majority of submissions suggest that measures be taken to rehabilitate problem shelter animals. Recommendations include using behavioral specialists to help in the assessment and retraining of these animals (Vogel, p.10).

Ideally the public would like to see centrally located shelters (or at least easily accessible by transit) (Vogel, p.9).

While a misguided public calls for easy access to local shelters along with expanded shelter hours and services, the experts have two other priorities before they even mention animal care. They want to educate, which experience shows is a catchall word that when translated means write manuals, hold seminars, and distribute pamphlets and videos. They also want to "investigate and report on the state of animal welfare and, based on our research, advocate changes and improvements to current practices to improve their well-being" (Weinstein _ Boddie, p.15). One worries about the SPCA's sense of priority. And, if the SPCA is losing interest in housing and/or servicing abandoned and disadvantaged animals, who does it expect to pick up where it has left off?

The BC SPCA… should not be a dumping ground for animals whose caregivers have abdicated their responsibility (Weinstein _ Boddie, p. 36).

The intent… is to move strategically in the direction of encouraging community responsibility for animal welfare and to break what has been a long, albeit well-intentioned tradition of inadvertently fostering community dependency on the BC SPCA and similar organizations (Weinstein _ Boddie, p.36).

The Charter signals a paradigm shift… that will, in the long run, empower individuals and communities to take greater responsibility for animal welfare (Weinstein _ Boddie, p.17).

So there you have the rationale for the mess the SPCA currently finds itself in: it is someone else's fault. The SPCA has up until now been an innocent, co-dependent enabler of irresponsible owners, the experts have counseled it out of denial, and now it is up to you, the municipalities and other animal welfare organizations to do the job the public and donors expect the society to do. Some will rightly argue that no "similar" animal welfare organization exists that has the size, wealth and facilities of the SPCA. Many have already argued that caring for abandoned animals that have been "dumped" is exactly what the SPCA exists to do. Moreover, historians will say that the SPCA formed for that very purpose. The sentimental and crazy critics should snap out of it and thank heaven for Ph. D. psychologists such as Weinstein and visionaries such as Brimacombe. The esteemed two can enlighten the mistaken masses who may otherwise have thought, as this author did, that the SPCA was just downloading its responsibilities, which would, no question, adversely affect its "organizational image."


Organizational Image: For Richer or Poorer

Dumping and Dollars: The BCSPCA has made millions and millions of dollars throughout its 106 years specifically because donors and municipalities that contract with the society to shelter and/or catch animals have paid them to care for those dumped, stray, abandoned, homeless and needy animals. To now suggest that individual pet owners, donors, municipalities, and the community at large are to blame for its animal welfare failings is an unconscionable insult and abolition of duty. All have supported the society in their own ways and with good faith for more than a century, and the SPCA owes much of its former success and reputation to them. Furthermore the SPCA is projecting its irresponsible shortcomings onto the community. It has in large part helped to create and maintain the pet over-population situation with its behind-the-times spay and neuter policies and lax enforcement of existing mandatory spay/neuter laws, according to many BC veterinarians and the public. Submitters to the consultation process also said the SPCA should retrain its animals with behavioral problems. If the public is guilty of pet over-population and failing to train animals with behavioral problems, it is no more so than the SPCA is itself!

In fact, while small, low means rescue groups prioritize funds to spay and neuter each animal before it is placed in a home, the SPCA is still trying to figure out how and when to do it. The strategic plan, like the community consultation submissions before it, urge the society to follow the responsible example that others in the community have set. Groups that received official charitable status in the past few months and years can accomplish pre-adoption spay/neuter, so there is no reasonable explanation for a wealthy 106-year-old organization's inability to do the same.

The SPCA must live up to its name. "In general, the public believes the BC SPCA should not turn away any animal since people will often opt for abandonment or inhumane disposal as the alternative" (Vogel, p.10). In the context of the facts, the SPCA can offer no sound excuse to dump its problems on individuals and municipalities who pay them to do the job. That does not mean the SPCA will not try regardless of what the public thinks:


Some services could still be delivered directly in some communities but not in others because, for example, they are an important contributor to the BC SPCA's image and help recruit donors and volunteers in way that indirect service provision could not (Weinstein _ Boddie, p. 37).

The BC SPCA has been visible in the news in recent months. Much of the press coverage, however, has been about the organization's problems. The organization needs to create a stronger, positive, visible presence (corporate image) in the future in order to achieve its mission. Greater positive visibility can also lead to increased donations, stronger public support, and the recruitment and retention of high quality volunteers and staff (Weinstein _ Boddie, p. 33).


The society aims to ensure "greater positive visibility" leading to "increased donations." But if the SPCA dumps its shelter animals onto individuals, municipalities and small rescue groups, donors may dump their dollars with someone else. One cannot imagine that is what the visionaries have in mind. So, it seems a conundrum: if costly, high maintenance shelter services "recruit donors" better than "indirect service provisions" how could the organization diminish its direct animal services and still ensure it gets the bulk of animal welfare donations as it does now?

This was an easy one for the experts. Donors can look forward to a "new logo and advertising campaign" to raise their "awareness." This increased awareness will result in "donor recognition and response for the BC SPCA." The society will "profile examples of good and poor animal treatment in local media" and each year "it will initiate high profile individual and corporate animal welfare awards and combine the award event(s) with the animal welfare results" (Weinstein _ Boddie, p.34). There is just one concern this author has: while paying for the logo, the news they will read, and the awards they could receive, as yet unenlightened and uneducated donors may stay awake nights ruminating about who, if not them and the SPCA, is providing funds and direct services for abandoned and in-need animals in communities where some (nowhere does it say exactly which) SPCA services have been withdrawn. Not to worry. Weinstein and Brimacombe et al promise that desperate animals will get better care in the long run. Donors who do not gamble may not want to bet on it but should probably sleep on it.

What do donors and stakeholders know anyway? The past two years have been filled with problems from public critics, as anyone from head office is apt to tell you given the slightest opening. The brass go on to call the vocal ones extremists that they can never make happy. But are they really extremists or just the brave few who will risk criticism themselves? You decide:

In total more than a thousand people took part in the community consultation. The independent panel found the quality of submissions impressive. Most participants provided informed and constructive feedback on a range of issues. There was a remarkable similarity in feedback throughout the province, regardless of regions. Several themes emerged in both written and oral submissions (Vogel, p. 2).

Most organizations do not really manage issues; the issues tend to manage them. Special interests form around those issues, usually taking extreme positions which, they argue, are the only way to go. Opposing sides then try to resolve their differences by bullying the other side into submission. Much yelling and screaming is involved, and the whole enterprise is placed within a win-lose framework. In the long run, the loudest and most persistent side prevails, with (in the case of this organization) the animals being the potential losers (Weinstein _ Boddie, p. 24).

One could not blame the reader for being stumped by the vast divide between Vogel and the SPCA visionaries' view of people who openly express opinions and criticisms about the society's version and implementation of animal welfare. One has to wonder whether Weinstein, Boddie, Brimacombe and Soules read the same Vogel report as others because the experts seem in the minority:

The public expects the BC SPCA to provide the highest level of care and comfort for animals in shelters, and states that the BC SPCA should be 'at the forefront of how to humanely house and treat animals' (Vogel, p. 9).

Animal shelters (drew) the strongest response (Vogel, p.2).

Those who submitted made shelter services and care the top priority. They do not appear to be extremists and bullies in disguise, yelling, screaming and forcing their opinions at the expense of animals. Yet, Brimacombe's experts put the priority on organizational image, logos and awards. It is hard to imagine how homeless animals become victors in Weinstein et al's "framework." If the expert's priorities and recommendations are implemented, this author believes donors and other SPCA supporters will be just sick about it.

Messing with Municipalities: The questions about "SPCA shelters" and their future are complex because the SPCA does not own all of the facilities in which it operates. In some cases, the city in which the SPCA operates also owns the facility. In other locations, the SPCA owns the only shelter in the town. Other shelters are co-owned by the SPCA and a city. Sometimes SPCA employees enforce city by-laws, such as those against noise from barking dogs, and it also houses the animals in either SPCA- or city-owned shelters. In other cases, the city employs its own by-law enforcers and the SPCA only collects a boarding fee as it does from the public who board its pets there because the community is too small to support a private boarding kennel. SPCA contracts with cities do not come in one-size fits all.

Many feel that the SPCA staff should not be by-law enforcers, but they should note that the SPCA experts are not just talking about fee-for-service issues such as animal control when they talk about diminishing or withdrawing services. So one should be very conscious that the SPCA could easily blur these two issues, leading the public to believe that the intention is to only cut animal control contracts but to maintain all other direct animal services.

In fact, Section 2.5 about Direct Service Provision (p.36) makes several references to animal welfare when discussing cuts to services. It operates under the questionable assumption that if it cuts direct animal care services, someone else in the community will assume responsibility for the most costly, labor-intensive, in-the-trenches animal welfare components. Even if the experts are right, this uprising of alternative shelters and/or direct animal care services would not happen overnight. That begs the questions: How many animals will have to suffer in the interim? How bad will the situation get before "someone else" gets involved? How many suffering animals across a period of how many years are acceptable to the visionaries who want to make the leap from providing direct services to providing knowledge? Are any of these questions acceptable to the people who volunteered their opinion to Vogel?

There is an obvious need for direct animal services. Weinstein and Boddie indicate that the demand will always exceed the SPCA's capacity to deliver (p.36). So how do they provide a reasonable defense for their solution to reduce services? They simply do not. They make a leap of faith that abandoned and homeless animals surely will not survive. Consequently, very few of us, if any, will be taking that leap with them.

To Control Animals or Not: Section 2.6 beginning on page 38 is devoted to Animal Control, not direct services. Clearly, getting out of direct animal services is not the same as getting out of animal control, or one would not need a separate section to discuss it. The moral question about animal control contracts is complex and so are the property issues: a city, not the SPCA, owns six of the nine Lower Mainland SPCA shelters. Of six city-owned SPCA shelters, all have animal control contracts with the society. Vancouver, Abbotsford and Coquitlam have the SPCA-owned shelters, with Vancouver the only one without an animal control contract. North Vancouver City contracts the SPCA to do animal control and those animals are sheltered at the Vancouver branch. The SPCA-owned Coquitlam shelter services and has animal contracts with Anmore and Port Coquitlam, the city-owned Maple Ridge SPCA shelter services and has an animal control contract with Pitt Meadows, and the privately-owned Langley Township SPCA shelter services Langley City with which it has an animal control contract. Lower Mainland cities own more shelters than the SPCA does.

Province-wide, ownership breaks down at about 50/50, with some shelters being co-owned by the city and SPCA. Under the recent euthanasia moratorium, some communities have lost income on which they rely because they do not have room for the animals they would normally shelter for the municipality or private pet caregivers. Submissions to the community consultation process were clear that they wanted the SPCA to get out of animal control contracts. They did not, however, make clear whether that included withdrawing SPCA shelter services from municipalities that do not have pound shelters in which to house animals that municipal employees catch.

The underlying question remains: What direct animal services the SPCA is thinking about withdrawing or cutting? It cannot be only animal control contracts as those are under review until October (Weinstein _ Boddie, p.39). The experts make no recommendation other than that review. Consequently, there are a couple of things the public should consider: some SPCA shelters in small communities outside of Greater Vancouver could not afford to remain open without income from the municipality. If animal control contracting stops and SPCA animals were no longer allowed into the Lower Mainland's six city-owned shelters, the SPCA would either have to build its own shelters or go without. Going without seems the more likely scenario given the SPCA's strategic plan to get out of or reduce direct animal care services. It is doubtful that the Lower Mainland's needy homeless would fit into just the Vancouver, Abbotsford and Coquitlam shelters. These issues require much further consideration and on the positive side, the society has said the same. Still, the public should be very careful that neither it nor the society blur the line between direct animal services and animal control contracts.


Invisible Hospitals: In Sickness and in Health

The community consultation report had precious little to say about SPCA hospitals, but because what it did mention was both telling and important, Vogel's paper dwarfs the strategic plan:

There is concern, particularly on the part of volunteers, for the health of animals brought into the shelter (Vogel, p.9).

Several submissions point out that the Victoria branch… hospital is underutilized (Vogel, p. 10).

Some submissions suggest that the BC SPCA animal hospitals should return to their original purpose - to provide low-cost spay and neuter and other services to animal guardians with low income (Vogel, p.10).

We pledge our energies to inspire and mobilize Society to create a world in which all creatures enjoy, as a minimum, five essential freedoms: 1. freedom from hunger and thirst, 2. freedom from pain, injury and disease, 3. freedom from distress, 4. freedom from discomfort and 5. freedom to express behaviors that promote well-being. (From the SPCA Charter: Weinstein _ Boddie p.12)

The SPCA's Five Essential Freedoms: Empty promises? Or firm, pro-active, and hands-on commitment? The visionaries promise that animal welfare will be better because of the five essential freedoms, but the strategic plan has no concrete evidence that the SPCA will put its money where its mouth is. In fact, the report offers more detail about organizational image plans than about service provision. Direct services are not clearly defined in the strategy, and the plan does not identify which services will be reduced or withdrawn and which will be improved by cuts to others. Yet services are plainly a target for cuts, and SPCA hospitals are not even mentioned in the strategic plan. In reality all indications have been that SPCA hospitals are as much at-risk as the "for better or worse" shelters.

We really can't be sure the SPCA does not plan to close our shelters and hospital in favor of a purely administrative organization with only a handful of shelters to house animals for photo-ops (CUPE Local 1622 President Jeff Lawson, The Bulletin, Spring 2002, p.1).

Our communities rely on us to take care of their wayward and homeless pets. They rely on us to provide veterinary attention, and if necessary a humane ending for those pets injured and sick (Lawson, p. 1-2).

Our hospital, which has long been recognized as the key element to the reduction of euthanasia in the Vancouver Region, is now under attack. Fees (except for neuters) have skyrocketed to BCVMA levels, denying the pet owning public affordable health care for pets, as well as leaving the hospital well below capacity. What about pre-adoption spay and neuter? Why aren't we using our under used hospital for that? Why are we paying excessive fees to the Animal Emergency Clinic instead of operating our hospital 24/7 to care for our animals (Lawson, p.2)?

Why are the front line employees of the Society kept in the dark about the changes planned (Lawson, p.2)?

The donating public, SPCA staff, veterinarians and volunteers, rescue groups and media people have asked the SPCA brass the same types of questions many times, especially recently. This year the Vancouver hospital budget has been cut by $400,000, night hours have been cut, it is now closed on Sundays and two vets have been laid off. CKNW broadcaster Bill Good asked Brimacombe whether the hospital makes or loses money (CKNW, March 12, 2002). Brimacombe said:

Oh, it loses money. It's intended to be an important service, but it's not intended to drain us dry.

Does the Vancouver hospital really "drain (the SPCA) dry?" The Vancouver Regional Board had an overall budget of almost $11 million in 2000. Two certified general accountants have reviewed the Vancouver SPCA Hospital 1998 to 2000 financial statements and the Vancouver Regional Branch balance sheets 1995 through 2000. They have found: Though hospital operating costs rose from $554,100 in 1995 to more than $2 million dollars in 2000, the region was "still able to pay for this service" and "the deficit in the hospital statement is obviously covered by general revenue." Meanwhile, the region paid off nearly a $1 million debt in 1998, grew its trust from just over $5,000 to more than $400,000 between 1996 and 2000, has only $24,000 left to pay on its long-term mortgage, and its cash position went from $4,800 to almost $2 million between 1995 and 2000. The Vancouver region also paid dues to head office from $43,700 in 1995 and rising to $480,400 in 2000.

Given those financial results and the nearly half a million dollars the branch could send to head office, the Lower Mainland SPCA hospital, clearly, is affordable. Perhaps that is why SPCA CEO Brimacombe seemed reluctant to give BC CTV's Jina You and CKNW's Bill Good a straight or definitive answer when they asked about the hospital's future:

Reporter Jina You: The head of the SPCA admits the future of the hospital is under review and isn't ruling out the possibility it could close.


Brimacombe: Definitely times have changed: the numbers of animals, the condition of the animals, the level of spay/neuter, and so on and so forth. I think itself …makes sense that the whole thing be looked at.


You: The review of the future of the hospital is expected to take several months (BC CTV, March 21, 2002).

Bill Good: Might you be closing the hospital?


Brimacombe: Well, we, I don't even, we haven't even received a report a yet, Bill, so I can't suggest what the plan is (Bill Good Show, CKNW radio, March 12, 2002).

Oddly, Brimacombe on BC CTV in his vague, non-committal way seems to question the need for SPCA hospitals. But his head office staff member Nadine Gourkow was plain spoken on CKNW's Bill Good Show, saying the need for the Vancouver hospital was "debatable." Gourkow said other organizations, such as Britain's RSPCA from which she had recently returned after a two-week working visit, "do not even have hospitals." Wrong! The RSPCA has plenty of hospitals that provide a variety of services. Gourkow must have avoided that tour, forgotten to pick up the pamphlet, or missed the website.

On the same show, Brimacombe was unable or unwilling to identify the amount of the overall hospital budget that he ordered be cut, nor could/would he say how many staff worked there. And then on TV the CEO seems to suggest that animals are in better condition and that spay/neuter is a given these days. As if. His comments seem disingenuous at best given that the SPCA still does not alter many of its own animals or those it ships to Petcetera outlets.

Moreover, it appears only head office knew anything about the pending hospital review report Brimacombe mentioned on the radio. So, the Bill Good Show recently posed several questions about the hospital and the report to Cindy Soules at head office. Though she on the same day promised in writing to notify the show within three days of when to expect those answers, no correspondence has since been received. It has been more than one month. Brimacombe also took his time responding to a letter from hospital staff. Consequently, stakeholders both inside and outside of the SPCA reasonably feared that the deliberately underutilized SPCA hospitals were slated to evaporate along with other direct animal services. But by April Brimacombe was putting a different spin on things:

I am writing to you today because there appears to be an effort on the part of a few individuals to promote the rumour that the BC SPCA is considering closing the hospital. I want to assure you that this is not the case. In fact, the subject has never been raised in any meeting of Senior Staff, the Executive Committee, or the Board of Directors.

Last year the Society had to draw $750,000 out of its reserves to cover (a) record shortfall. Because the Society is a provincial organization responsible for relieving the distress for animals in every part of BC, the Board of Directors has to consider how resources to treat sick and injured animals are shared by all SPCA branches, not just those shelters in the Lower Mainland. While it was not feasible, or fiscally responsible, to consider subsidizing a $750,000+ shortfall, the proposed 2002 budget provides for $400,000 of Society reserves to be spent to support the valuable charitable work done by the Vancouver SPCA hospital (note: the budget is subject to Board approval in April). The change should not be misinterpreted as a lack of concern for animals in the Lower Mainland, but rather as an attempt to distribute resources fairly to animals throughout the province and to ensure that we are being fiscally responsible to our donors.

…you have my personal assurance that there are no discussions to close the hospital (BC SPCA Memo to Staff and Volunteers, BC SPCA Hospital, April 10, 2002).

Good news, right? The hospital is safe now that Brimacombe is on the record saying there have been and are no discussions about closing it. Not so fast. Dr. Jamie Lawson is the SPCA Director of Animal Care in charge of the hospital and he said:

Dr. Jamie Lawson: As far as I'm aware of there is no intention of closing the SPCA hospital.
Kimberly Daum: That's not what you told me Jamie, when I talked to you not that long ago.
Dr. Lawson: No, what I told you is that is an option; I didn't say it was an intention.
Daum: Agreed.
Bill Good: But if it's an option, it's something that's of concern to the people who care for animals and who are volunteers and employees at that hospital.
Dr. Lawson: I think it's a concern of all of us actually, Bill. (The Bill Good Show, CKNW radio, March 12, 2002).

Head office staff member Nadine Gourkow said the need for a hospital is "debatable." Director Dr. Jamie Lawson said closing it is "an option." CEO Doug Brimacombe said the hospital is "under review." To this author, it sounds as though some discussion about closing the hospital occurred between the boss and his staff. So was it really a rumour that generated the hospital staff and volunteer's fears that it could close? Regardless of where the truth lies, Brimacombe's memo contains other statements that could be soothing if taken at face value, but they deserve a closer look. The CEO says that all BC animals deserve sound health care and that the "treatment of sick and injured animals is at the core (of the SPCA's) mission." Agreed! And that is exactly why any "shortfall" should be the top priority. Brimacombe also says such treatment "will continue to be a priority for the Society in the future." Really? That does not seem the case given that he has ordered hospital cuts, which have already been implemented. Since the strategic planning has been underway, animal services, such as those in the hospital, are already reduced, which makes it even harder to trust services will be there in the future.

One should not diminish service in one area of the province to improve it in another. Rather than play to the lowest common denominator, one should raise the level of care to meet the standard the Lower Mainland has set. One might, for instance, have avoided Gourkow's two-week visit to Britain's RSPCA, using email, phone or other means of communication rather than sending her in person. One might also cancel other overseas excursions for head office staff; rumour has it that trips to Japan and Australia are pending. Or one might have used the ample staff at head office to produce the strategic plan rather than buying outside help. Alternatively, one might appeal to the community for volunteer expertise to produce manuals and such. One might reduce the number of bureaucrats at head office rather than lay off two vets. Those and other savings, from what many agree is an over-bloated bureaucracy, could then be used for animal health care. Priorities: it is hard for this author to trust that head office has its straight.

It seems that arrogance does not just drive what many agree is a flippant and reckless strategic vision but also continues to close or confuse channels of communication with the SPCA's own personnel and its animals' friends and advocates. Submitters to the community consultation process are worried about animal health. They complained that SPCA hospitals are underutilized and should be doing more spaying and neutering, particularly for those who have trouble paying for services. Head office seems not to care and begins to look like a confusing world of mixed messages and an agenda unto itself.


'Till Death Do Us Part: The Mismanaged Moratorium

There is no more heartbreaking a topic for animal lovers than this one: euthanasia. The No-Kill question has had communities throughout North America in knots for years. Yet, in BC, submitters to the community consultation process agreed that only terminally animals and those with unredeemable behavior problems that had been assessed as such by a team (including a veterinarian, behaviorists, volunteers and staff) should ever be killed. The SPCA, despite its maximum adoption concept, ignored that heart-filled plea and in January indiscriminately killed six dogs -- Ace, Annie, Mac, Mocha, Monee and Shasta -- resulting in the resignation of six volunteers from the Vancouver branch. The SPCA reacted swiftly when word and the dogs' pictures leaked to BC CTV in late February (Lisa Rossington, February, 27, 2002).

Earlier this month, B.C. SPCA chief executive Doug Brimacombe announced an indefinite provincewide moratorium on destroying SPCA animals except for health reasons. The result has been serious overcrowding in a number of B.C. shelters, and employees and foster networks stretched to their limits (Nicholas Read, Vancouver Sun, March 20, 2002).

The 45 dogs in the Prince George SPCA shelter are all ill with canine, or kennel cough, and are quarantined for at least two weeks (Bernice Trick, Prince George Citizen, March 13, 2002).

This came out of the woodwork. We weren't expecting it at all (Dawson Creek SPCA manager Becky Cryne, Peace River Daily News, March 15, 2002).

At the Shuswap branch in Salmon Arm, shelter manager Deborah Wold says she believes the moratorium was premature, and she and her staff would have appreciated more time to prepare for it. …In Prince George (Dee) Jones says: "I have no idea how crazy it is going to get." She says the shelter's staff and animals are already stressed, and it could get worse (Nicholas Read, Vancouver Sun, March 19, 2002).

"We're panicked," said Hugh Nichols, shelter superintendent in Surrey where there are only 24 kennels for 65 dogs available for adoption. …"I've got dogs at vets, in the barn, at home, and here they're doubled and tripled up. It's not a pleasant place to be at the moment - especially if you're a dog" (Nicholas Read, Vancouver Sun, March 19, 2002).

Panic, stress, over crowding, quarantine: this does not sound like the humane housing, the highest possible standard of care and comfort of which community consultation submissions spoke. The SPCA was to use its Maximum Adoption Task Force to deal with this issue. Instead, the public got substandard animal welfare conditions for which it never asked. So, how did it happen, and if this is not the public's vision, whose vision, mistake or mismanagement is it? It depends on whom you ask.


SPCA Spinners and Apologists:

(The moratorium) followed news… an incident at the Vancouver branch where six volunteers resigned en masse when six dogs were destroyed suddenly for alleged aggression, despite having been in the shelter for months and despite the shelter having ample room for them. …Brimacombe said the decision had nothing to with the incident in Vancouver (Nicholas Read, Vancouver Sun, March 6, 2002).

Right now overcrowding in B.C. is growing into a critical problem that's thanks to a decision of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to implement a no-kill policy in response to public demand. …In other words, we asked for it and we got it. …Those who love animals need to step forward now and show the measure of their affection with whatever support and commitment they are capable of providing. If they don't, the SPCA's no-kill policy won't be sustainable. And it won't be the SPCA's fault. (Vancouver Sun Editorial, March 20, 2002).

(emphasis added)

The Brimacombe visionaries or apologists, who now include the Vancouver Sun Editorial Board and/or its writer, seem blind, indifferent or ignorant to the obvious. "People (have) been holding off on bringing pets (to SPCA shelters) for fear they would be put down" (Prince George SPCA spokesperson Wendy Young in Victoria Times-Colonist/Canadian Press, March 7, 2002). Young is talking about the very same people and community that the SPCA expects to shoulder animal welfare in the future. How do the experts circle that square? They do it with memos, seminars, pamphlets and insincere reports such as the SPCA strategic plan. Their strategic plan does nothing timely, fundamental, practical or substantial to address "critical problems" such as over-population, shelter overcrowding and resulting disease or the timeless practice of people dumping animals (whether at the SPCA, in woods, alleys, ditches or lakes).

It would take generations for education to prevent people from dumping animals. That is why many argue that better and more, not fewer, SPCA shelters and services are needed. Lawson and submitters to the consultation agree that SPCA hospitals should be expanding hours and doing many, many more spay/neuters. The SPCA, apparently, is taking us back "to the bad old days" in which there were few shelters for pets to be dumped. In the past, abandoned pets were left to their own devices, which resulted in cruel killing, maximum road kill and meals for wild animals. Those were the same old days when the SPCA euthanized entire litters of kittens and puppies. The strategic plan makes one really concerned about the direction in which the SPCA is headed.


Many People Aren't Fooled By Spin: Brimacombe denies that bad publicity about the mass dog cull and resignations of SPCA volunteers in Vancouver prompted the sudden and surprising announcement of the crisis-ridden moratorium. If that is true, and head office had planned this moratorium all along, why did it not consult with stakeholders, such as the BC Veterinary Medical Association whose members were now required to sign-off on SPCA euthanasias? Then-BCVMA Registrar Dr. Dominic Leung wrote his members urging them "to maintain the public trust in the veterinary profession" and saying further:

Members may find it difficult to defend their recommendation for euthanasia of BC SPCA shelter animals due to the lack of (SPCA) guidelines (BC VMA Memorandum to Members, March 15, 2002).

If this moratorium was not simply knee-jerk, damage-control public relations, why did it not have time enough or feel compelled to consult SPCA community advisory committees or its own Maximum Adoption Task Force? Peter Havlik, Community Advisory Committee Chair of the North Peace branch on March 10, 2002 wrote:

"We are concerned because this decision continues a pattern by the Executive Committee of ignoring processes you yourselves have put in place to gather facts and make recommendations on complex matters of great importance to our Society. As you will all be aware, the Society struck the Max-Adopt (No Kill) Task Force to consider the question of reducing euthanasia at BCSPCA shelter. The result of this process clearly indicated that, while adoption of a 'zero-kill' policy was an appropriate long-term goal for the society, it would not be possible under present circumstances. Those circumstances have not changed, and so the Executive Committee's decision is simply ill-advised and poorly considered.

…What further concerns us is that the basis for decision appears to have been some unspecified public pressure.

…This completely unexpected and sudden decree has placed staff at shelters across the province in an impossible position. Under the current BCSPCA policy, they are not allowed to refuse any animal for admission while at the same time not being allowed to euthanize when over-crowding becomes critical. The response from head office has been the facile advice to start foster programs, promote animals for adoption and 'do the best you can.' It is our view that this is precisely what volunteers and staff have being doing to the best of their ability within the limited resources available at most branches, and certainly so at ours (Peter Havlick).

The vain hope seems to be that the adoption rate will miraculously rise or, on the converse, that an angel will descend from heaven and all owners will become enlightened and responsible. Both are unlikely (Dawson Creek SPCA affiliated veterinarian Dr. Trevor Reeves, BC SPCA website, March 6, 2002)

Head office clearly did not consult with or notify its staff that a moratorium was planned. And it seems Brimacombe's experts were not available to consult and advise, even by phone, the day of the announcement. Or perhaps the matter was simply too urgent.

Suggested actions… Ensure that there are sufficient resources to build and maintain the new culture before adding to the staff workloads where staffing is already "lean" (Weinstein _ Boddie, p. 31).

We recognize that urgent circumstances will sometimes leave little time for basing policy decisions on a process of broad consultation and consensus (Weinstein _ Boddie, p.21).

The CEO clearly had the above two choices, as he held a meeting on the Saturday before BC CTV's Lisa Rossington learned about the moratorium. She broke news of it the following Monday, March 4, 2002. Considering that Weinstein's company was developing the strategic plan from October 2001 through March 2002 (Weinstein and Boddie, p.8), the moratorium mess can hardly be viewed as an unfortunate misunderstanding and the experts should have recognized the risks of an immediate moratorium. If only the experts knew then what they know now. And it seems there is more of that to go around:

If only we knew two or three decades ago that the needless deaths resulting from irresponsible pet ownership could have been avoided as easily as sending out a simple memo (Lawson, p.1).

The Humane Society of the United States policy on limited admission shelters endorses the concept but correctly points out that "no-kill" shelters cannot exist alone in a community without an open admission shelter. The fundamental question here is, are we trying to eliminate euthanasia of adoptable animals in our COMMUNITIES or just our SHELTERS (Lawson, p.1)?

One is reluctant to now trust the experts and visionaries to ensure "sufficient resources" to build and maintain a new culture (Weinstein _ Boddie, p. 31). Could such a debacle happen again? Well, Section 1.3 details a six-step strategic decision-making process to prevent that. Sounds good on paper, but remember the built in "urgent" escape clause highlighted above. It says "urgent circumstances will sometimes leave little time for basing policy decisions on a process of broad consultation and consensus" (p.21). Some would call that the "cover your ass" or "damage-control" clause. Or, perhaps it is a gratuitously placed and self-serving excuse for the moratorium mess.

Since we might have imagined and now know the ramifications of and damage that such "urgently" made decisions can cause, one might have expected the paid, outside experts to know that too and to have recommended a reasonable, democratic, yet acceptably thorough short-cut for decision-making under emergent conditions. They have not.

Did the SPCA have an emergency or create an emergency? Did any SPCA facility in the province have the resources to change its policy and culture overnight? Were panicked and stressed staff able to adjust? Were the crowded, sick or quarantined animals? Did anyone at head office even consider such questions and potential consequences before handing down the edict? Suffice to say that any novice should have known better; thoughtfulness and common sense do not require an expert or a strategic plan.

Lawson and Havlik both refer to the SPCA's long tradition of an open-door policy to animals needing shelter, which by Webster's definition is a "refuge" for homeless animals taken under one's "protection." That refuge and protection seems of lesser quality now that the visionaries at head office recklessly removed the euthanasia fear-factor and set-up irresponsible or inexperienced owners to "abdicate" their commitment to the animals already in their homes by dumping them in over-crowding SPCA shelters.

If the bad publicity about Vancouver's six undeservingly dead dogs and subsequent volunteer resignations was not the urgent reason for an immediate moratorium, what was that urgent reason? It looks as though the SPCA is punishing animals because they killed the wrong animals and got caught. There is only one reasonable opinion to draw: based on self-interest about image rather than genuine concern for animals, without forethought, and through careless mismanagement, the chief visionary, in his wisdom, created the exact situation that his expert's strategic plan says it will prevent in future - the dumping of animals into SPCA shelters.

The Emperor, apparently, has no clothes. Those who formed a consensus around the no-kill question through the community consultation process did not ask for nor anticipate this crisis. They asked for a clear and compassionate euthanasia criterion and retraining for animals with behavior problems. So people should not be blamed for a surprise euthanasia moratorium they never mentioned, much less recommended, and a decision in which they had absolutely no say or authority. Many groups who have been run off their legs rescuing and cleaning up after the SPCA since the edict came down might have the same opinion as this author and suggest that Brimacombe resign. He could then retire and read many good manuals available about how animal welfare can be done for the betterment of animals, their now exhausted, overburdened and disillusioned caregivers both inside and outside of SPCA shelters, and the communities from which they come. Instead of writing manuals head office and its paid consultants seem more in need of reading some.

The strategic plan with its urgent escape clause lends credence to the worry that a critical situation such as the moratorium created is probable. Knee-jerk decisions are still possible under the experts' recommendations. Reducing or withdrawing services will be fraught with potential problems. Preventing further crisis would require stellar and thoughtful management. Based on its record, this author is of the opinion that the SPCA cannot fulfill those duties under its present leadership.


Infidelity or Accountability: Who is Cheating on Whom?

CEO Brimacombe is on the record countless times saying that the SPCA aims to be more transparent and accountable to the public, particularly to its donors. Some would settle for the society just being married to its mission, rather than to bloated bureaucracy-making, administrative preoccupations and public relations bafflegab. The public, and particularly the volunteering public, whether current or former, are becoming increasingly angered about navigating through dense smoke and banging into mirrors in which they can no longer recognize or see the organization they once revered. Human road kill and genuine heartbreak exists on every level of the SPCA structure because of what has become of their society. Those who have left the organization because of the current management cannot leave it completely behind because of their commitment to needy animals. They have been talking openly and often about the SPCA's problems. Others on the inside are making certain that questionable decisions by the SPCA's policy-makers are made public. Many are taking tremendous personal risks to ensure that the SPCA will be dragged kicking and screaming into transparency and accountability. Given the troubles of the past several years and the direction the strategic plan is taking, they seem justified for outing the administration. But don't take my word for it. Accountability has Ph.D. experts and investigators of its own.

The BC SPCA has been visible in the news in recent months. Much of the press coverage, however, has been about the organization's problems (Weinstein _ Boddie, p.33).

We have observed, and been told about, some serious breaches of trust with respect to leaking information to the media. Perhaps such ethical gaps are a legacy of the pre-Nov. 3 culture when individual branches commented on Society issues directly to the media (Weinstein _ Boddie, p.27)

The media lined up to do good news stories about the SPCA. … In recent months that has changed. …The reason I've taken an interest in this issue is I've always believed that the SPCA played an important role in animal protection. While independent pounds have taken responsibility for shelters in some communities, there is still a need for what the SPCA was - a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, but it needs to be accountable. And recent policies have created serious questions that need to be addressed (Bill Good editorial, The Bill Show, CKNW radio, March 12, 2002)

In "Confronting Moral Worlds" Mark Wexler, Ph.D. (Applied Ethics) says those who blow whistles do so "in desperation." The whistle-blower draws "attention in hopes that help will arrive to make right what he or she believes to be morally problematic." Warren Dow, Ph.D. (Philosophy of Psychology) and investigator Roy Crowe say that those who take an agency's wrongdoing public are using the "accountability mechanism of last resort" (cited by Sherry Ferronato in Accountability: The Maturing of the Charitable Sector, 1999, no web page number).

(Whistle-blowing is) a process in which moral accounts of organizational behavior are at odds (Wexler, p.219).

Whistle-blowers' targets take a position of attempting to neutralize and de-legitimize the moral account of the whistle-blowers (Wexler, p.220).

Given the many leaks from several sources to media, including the leak of the strategic plan draft to this author, the SPCA's ability to cover up its questionable practices or "de-legitimize" its critics is clearly dwindling. The SPCA visionaries accuse its whistle-blowers of being unethical and untrustworthy. But other experts describe them as desperate ones who are taking their last resort toward accountability.

The "he said, she said" begs the questions: If the visionaries are ethical and trustworthy, if they are on mission and operating in the best interests of the animals, if insiders are confident in the leadership and direction, if no one is worried for the future of the society or the animals it is mandated to protect and care for, why would the administration be plagued by such leaks? And why, after so many years of enjoying a terrific public reputation would this agency shed loyalty and become stained in public? Under whose direction and leadership has the society suffered arguably the most severe public relations crisis in its 106-year history? For the answer one might look to Brimacombe, the man with the vision, and the executives who hired and retain him.

Why is there desperation at this particular juncture? Many longtime SPCA supporters fear the entire organization will go bankrupt and close within the next two years under Brimacombe's leadership. They fear it will fold if head office continues to reverse people's priorities, for instance aborting the heart of its mission through cutting or abandoning direct animal services. Bankruptcy is inevitable, critics argue, if Brimacombe continues to expand costly head office staff, hire expensive outside help, and initiates and opens the agency to litigation. The desperation seems justified if head office is "hemorrhaging" money while running a $1 million deficit that accumulated during the Brimacombe years as many SPCA supporters allege.

Problems, Problems, Problems: Several lawsuits against the society are pending: Doug Hooper, the former head of the Vancouver Regional branch, is suing the BCSPCA for wrongful dismissal, Donna LaFrance from the Vernon branch is as well. Victoria's Cheryl Dawson is suing the society, for, among other things, property value loss because of barking dogs, and by-law prosecution proceedings have been taken under a City of Victoria by-law for the same reason.

Head office recently settled and paid out a wrongful dismissal suit to former Victoria branch executives Lynn and Rick West whose lawyer also planned to file humans rights complaints. Last year the society lawyers threatened a defamation lawsuit against Judy Stone of Animal Advocates for posting criticism of the society on a website, and in February of this year the same against Heather Pettit, the former Chair of the Vernon Board for writing a letter to SPCA executives complaining about head office, its attitude, and its management of a personnel issue at the branch.

The BC Veterinary Medical Association is investigating the SPCA's Director of Animal Care, Dr. Jamie Lawson, who is the chief vet in charge of the SPCA hospital. It is alleged that he allowed and/or directed non-Canadian veterinarians to practice veterinary medicine and perform surgery without a BCVMA licence and without supervision from a BCVMA-licensed vet, which is required by the regulatory body. The Vancouver SPCA hospital vets, who were worried about their participation and liability under Dr. Lawson's alleged policy and practices, complained to him without results. Consequently, they filed a complaint with the BCVMA, which took the matter more seriously. Their complaint was filed and the investigation began while head office has had full control of the Vancouver branch, its hospital and operations. Dr. Lawson described himself on the Bill Good Show as a foot soldier: "I go out and do what I'm told" (CKNW, March 21, 2000). Foot soldier or not, one would hope that no BC veterinarian would take orders from his boss, which in this case is Brimacombe, to breach provincial regulations and ethical duty to his profession. One cannot say today whether Dr. Lawson has done anything wrong, and, if he did, whether he acted alone or on orders. If it is found that he did operate improperly, the CEO ought to have known if he did not know. The BCVMA decision resulting from this investigation could be available under a Freedom of Information search in the near future.

These types of problems may not be unusual for an organization of the SPCA's size. Regardless, they bother many SPCA supporters, who believe a charity should be accountable to it critics rather than trying to silence them by threats of lawyers and lawsuits. They say too much money is spent on lawyers and paid, outside consultants such as public relations firms, "so-called" experts, and "so-called" independent reviewers. These complaints go right to the heart of the primary worry: Head office has its priorities skewed and is more concerned with, and spends too much money on, defending itself, managing its "organizational image" and "self-made" problems rather than caring for its animals.

Politics, Politics, Politics: Anyone familiar with the BCSPCA can tell you that head office and the Vancouver Regional and Victoria branches were engaged in a power struggle that many say began when Brimacombe became the provincial CEO. That struggle came to an abrupt end when Brimacombe and head office assumed control of Vancouver Regional after "asking the branch's 18-member board of directors to relinquish their authority over the branch" (Nicholas Read, Vancouver Sun, May 18, 2001). This takeover followed the Doug Hooper salary scandal in which the public learned that the former executive director of Vancouver Regional was making more than $200,000 a year with benefits. Critics allege that head office was exceedingly grateful that Hooper gave them the opening to trump the branch. They say head office knew about Hooper's salary and its increases in time to take remedial action before the Vancouver Sun story broke but did not act because the situation could be used as a lever in its organizational restructuring plans. Critics point to how head office "spun" the bad publicity and consequences of it to branches throughout the province as evidence they are right. They allege the executives "warned" them that the society would suffer more bad press because the public would accept nothing less than the passing of what are commonly called "Brimacombe's by-laws" and the changes in the society they would ensure.

Hooper's alleges in his Statement of Claim that termination of his employment "required a majority vote of the entire Board of Directors of the Vancouver Regional Branch." He also claims that his dismissal was not approved by such a vote.

Critics say, and head office in the Sun story seems to agree, that the Hooper situation resulted from Vancouver Regional branch directors' failure to refuse substantial annual raises to an employee. Most agree Hooper's wage was excessive for a non-profit organization's executive, but some qualify that statement by saying any employee has a right to ask for, but cannot grant his own, raises. The branch board had a fiduciary duty. Only it could authorize those raises. Regardless of how those raises occurred, some say it is unfair for Hooper to be the sole "fall guy" because it was actually Vancouver Regional Board President Dr. Michael Dear who signed off on those raises. They question why Dear seems to have been protected by head office and held out to be a hapless and innocent volunteer when he had a fiduciary duty and is on public record boasting about his business acumen and the financial success of the branch during his tenure (Vancouver Courier, April 9, 2000). Critics accept that the Vancouver Regional Board executives were not duly diligent about the Hooper situation, but argue that head office had the option to help the board find a solution without "cherry-picking" the guilty, blaming Hooper while protecting Dear, and taking full control of the regional branch. Critics also say there was more than enough blame to go around, that no one, not even Brimacombe and head office, came out of the situation looking good to society members, but only Hooper's personal reputation has suffered significant damage.

Regardless, head office took over full control of Vancouver Regional in May, and Hooper was fired with cause in August 2001. His wrongful dismissal suit is pending.

Some may wonder why some society members and staff feel for Hooper. In part, it is because provincial executive's motives are held suspect by several branches, some branches outside of the Lower Mainland say Vancouver Regional and Victoria branches have contributed more information, support and financial resources to them than the provincial office ever has, and Brimacombe's dramatic role in the society's restructuring process, which impacted every branch in the province, plays a huge role in people's interpretation of the Hooper situation and how it was handled by head office.

Critics also say President Michael Steven, past-President Dr. David Wooldridge, and CEO Brimacombe made attempts to shut down email discussion between branch board members before the Nov. 3rd, 2001 restructuring and Brimacombe by-law amendments vote. Skeptical and worried branch boards were reluctant to vote for the stripping of their decision-making authority and to become Community Advisory Committees only.

The society is currently voting in four members at large to finish forming the new 16-member governing body. A general meeting of the society will follow on April 27th. Nearly one year after taking over Vancouver Regional, head office has still not restored even advisory councils to Lower Mainland branches. So the most populated region has been left out of the electoral process and will have no local branch representation on the new provincial Board of Directors. It is a remarkable situation considering that the Lower Mainland generates fully 50 percent of the society's $20 million annual budget

Prior to, during and since the society's restructuring vote members from branches throughout the province have pestered head office, saying that the Lower Mainland should not be denied representation on the new board. There is also criticism because the Committee of Management (the CoM which, under the old by-laws held authority between board meetings and on which Brimacombe, Steven and Wooldridge sit) circumvented the Organizational Renewal Task Force, which developed out of the 1999 AGM. That Task Force had responsibility to review the old by-laws, which it did, suggesting some necessary changes to the Constitution and By-Law Committee. The CoM, not the society's Board of Directors, circumvented the Task Force's proposed by-laws when it passed a motion "that the Chief Executive Officer (Brimacombe) be authorized to prepare revised Society By-laws for consideration by the Committee of Management" (CoM minutes, June 16th, 2001).

Curiously, the CoM never made a formal request to the Constitution and By-laws Committee for a review of the Brimacombe by-laws, but it should have. Part 1, Section 15b, of the then-society by-laws states that proposed by-law amendments must be received "90 days prior to a general meeting in order to be reviewed by the Constitution and By-laws Committee of the Society." The society held a general meeting on Nov. 3rd, 2001. Don Laughton, the SPCA Ethics Chairman as well as a Constitution and By-laws Committee member, on a Point of Order stated that Section 15b of the existing by-laws had not been complied with, and until the Constitution and By-laws Committee had an opportunity to review the proposed Brimacombe by-laws and make its recommendations to the Board, it was "improper" to consider passing them. President Steven overruled the Point of Order. Terry Prentice, Chair of the Constitution and By Laws Committee, appealed that decision, and Steven put the question to a vote. The majority of Directors present supported President Steven's ruling. Consequently, not only the Organizational Renewal Task Force was circumvented but the Constitution and By-laws Committee and the then-existing by-laws were too.

The Vernon Board voted against Brimacombe's by-laws and members resigned en masse after they passed. The Victoria Board also voted against them. Head office suspended the Vernon branch warrant soon after, allegedly for internal problems. Two days after the Nov. 3rd vote, provincial staff walked into the Victoria shelter and took control over everything. The board then resigned as directors, declining to serve as Community Advisory Committee members. The Cranbrook Board voted against the by-laws, but it did not resign. The president, secretary, treasurer and two other directors have since resigned.

Under the new Brimacombe by-laws, branch advisory committees have no decision-making authority, which means they must rely on head office to operate in good faith and look out for their interests. Today, even some branches that supported what is commonly called "the leap of faith" vote on the Brimacombe by-laws argue that democracy is not served when provincial executives circumvent internal consultation processes such as the Organizational Renewal and Maximum Adoption Task Forces and disallow representation from the Lower Mainland and Vernon branches.

Everyone agrees that the society, to streamline its governance structure and to reduce liabilities, had to condense its 85-person governing body to a manageable number. But everyone to whom this author has spoken agrees that liability issues and the cumbersome governing structure could have been addressed without stripping local communities of decision-making power and the society of grassroots democracy.

This author has also received reports from branches and others who did not receive this year's nomination forms for the four at-large directors until Friday, April 5th. The closing date for nominations was April 8th. It appears head office did not leave much time for potential nominees to campaign for endorsements, though it had its own slate ready.

Leaks, lawsuits, legal threats and loss of democracy: all the antithesis of how many SPCA supporters conceptualize their charity organization that used to be run by volunteers instead of visionaries. Many allege that it all began the day Doug Brimacombe walked through the door as CEO and announced the society needed a "new logo." But the Power Machine keeps charging along anyway. How does that keep happening?

No independent body oversees the SPCA or its operations. The provincial government has extremely limited interest in this hybrid society, seeking primarily to ensure it does not mess with citizens' rights in the course of its cruelty investigations. The SPCA, unlike other societies, is not governed under the Societies Act as it has its own legislation: The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. In practical terms, the society and its leadership is accountable to absolutely no one, not government, not the communities in which it operates, not its membership, not its donors. No one.

This author believes that an independent ombudsman is the only viable answer to protect BC's animal welfare dollars, its animals, the SPCA society and the name itself. "The SPCA has said its response to an ombudsman has been 'luke warm,' but whom did it consult?" (Bill Good editorial, The Bill Good Show, March 12, 2002.) The SPCA circumvented consultation with its own task forces and has misrepresented the community consultation consensus in its strategic plan. This author is as skeptical as Bill Good.

Weinstein and Boddie suggest SPCA-controlled accountability mechanisms. SPCA whistle-blowers, many outside stakeholders and this author view that recommendation as so much patter, a trust-me-one-more-time public relations exercise. The concerned are unlikely to relent until accountability and transparency are a true, visible, meaningful, operational, accessible and independent reality rather than an empty promise. This author called for an ombudsman in her previous report "This Dog Don't Hunt" and believes, given the SPCA's recent mismanagement and drastic shift away from direct service provision in the strategic plan, it is an even more important, urgent if you will, recommendation.


Discussion:

The SPCA is planning to diminish or withdraw direct services to animals. It aims to become more of an energizing force that facilitates, advocates and educates. No one can refute the value of education, but neither can one deny the importance of direct services. Educational programs such as puppy socialization groups, and training for pet caregivers and their animals make absolute sense and are, in part, that for which submissions to the consultation program asked. Logos, good news stories, SPCA gospels and awards were not prioritized anywhere in the Vogel report. SPCA shelters operate, the public believes, for the betterment, not the worsening, of the communities in which they exist. There is a call for more animal welfare service not less. Donors expect the best for abandoned animals; they expect animals will get health care, exercise, retraining from and adopted out of the SPCA.

The animal control issue is a difficult one, and the public should be careful for what it asks as it just might get it. That was not the case with the surprise euthanasia moratorium but certainly would be if the society prematurely gets out of animal control, leaving only three SPCA-owned shelters in the Lower Mainland. If that happens in a situation where the society has built no new shelters with which to replace city-owned facilities, this is the issue that could easily be exploited as a thin-edge-of-the-wedge, and one in which the animal-loving public might find itself truly complicit in abandoning animals. Further, with only three shelters, the society could more easily rationalize further diminishing the services of or closing its Vancouver hospital.

The SPCA has endured bad press since the Vancouver Courier ran its cover story about the SPCA on April 9, 2000. Things seem to not have improved since. The moratorium mess is an example of the SPCA provincial administration's mismanagement and one that could just as easily occur through the urgent escape clause in the decision-making process offered by the plan. The Nov. 3rd, 2001 restructuring vote and the days leading up to it is clearly another example where the process could have benefited from better management. The Hooper situation, depending on whom you ask, may be another case in point. On April 10th, BCSPCA President Michael Steven was asked to interview for this paper but declined to talk to this author until after the April 27th general meeting of the society.

For a charity organization, there is nothing more crucial than inclusion, transparency and accountability. This organization has repeatedly shown that it is not sincere in its claim to uphold those values. The public, it seems, have many more questions than answers from the SPCA, its CEO and executive. That is why, in part, people are questioning both the strategic plan and the vision behind it. The experts and visionaries have not done the job, and the vision seems in dire need of corrective lenses. But the disabilities do not stop there.


Conclusion:

The SPCA visionaries are hearing things, important things. "The animals told us, in not so many words, that they are delighted that the BC SPCA has new eyes and a new direction" (Weinstein _ Boddie p.4). Thank heaven again for experts who can work miracles. Now that animals can speak for themselves, there really seems no need for the society that used to speak for them. So why not just dismantle it branch by branch, shelter by shelter, hospital by hospital, and service by service. It only makes sense. Certainly, if animals can speak, it will not be long before they can read, which means they can seek employment and make their own living. So there is absolutely no reason for the beleaguered society to produce all of those manuals and pamphlets it plans.

This author wishes there were something more positive in the strategic plan to which she could point. But once animal services are in question, all else in the plans become virtually moot: the focus for attention and worry would be obvious to anyone in sync with the SPCA's mission. Given that the SPCA has already cut Vancouver hospital services by $400,000, one cannot grant the benefit of doubt and believe the strategic plan is a mere trial balloon. Rather, it most certainly appears to be the thin-edge-of-the-wedge. Only the foolhardy supporter would lean toward even cautious optimism that the society's marriage to the mission will survive.

Even if this author is wrong and the society rethinks its strategic final draft report in time for the April 27th general meeting, even if it restores some reality, dignity and, heaven hope, the mission to its plan, people may like to log onto an animal welfare ombudsman website to express their views. Regardless of what the SPCA does next, animal lovers should remain duly diligent in their scrutiny of the SPCA.

Interested folks can log onto www.cyabc.ca to find Citizens Yell for Accountability. It is a Vancouver-based "group of current and former SPCA volunteers and other animal lovers who are tired of and frustrated by the SPCA's 'cover your ass' excuses. (They) have joined together to lobby for and promote discussion about an independent ombudsman office to oversee the largest and wealthiest animal welfare organization in the province. (CYA's mission is) to promote and protect animal welfare and the donations to it through the active call for an independent ombudsman to oversee and ensure that the BCSPCA is accountable, transparent and fair in the course of its governance and operations." CYA memberships, this author is told, are free to animals that can speak and read.

This author appreciates CYA's support and expansion of the ombudsman idea, endorses the improvements to the proposal and the website initiative, and wishes CYA, its board and membership every success. The author is certain that animals, including the SPCA's most publicized canine victims Ace, Annie, Mac, Mocha, Monee, and Shasta, if they truly could speak, would too. But since they cannot, their friends will. The SPCA could call the website a strategic plan to shift the largest and wealthiest animal welfare agency in the province away from a dog eat dog divorce and back into a marriage with the mission to protect animals and promote their welfare. And it would be right.


Kimberly Daum is a freelance journalist in Vancouver. This paper is not comprehensive nor does it claim or intend to be. It was produced as research for CKNW radio, The Bill Good Show. The report is released to the pubic by the author, and it is available at the Vancouver Public Library and will eventually be on the CYA website at www.cyabc.ca


References:

BCSPCA Mission Statement, Constitution, By-laws, Code of Ethic and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (Including 1994 Amendments, 1996 and 2000 Revisions). Including Constitution and By-laws Amendments to 2000.

BC CTV News at Six, Lisa Rossington, February 27, 2002.

BC CTV News at Six, Lisa Rossington, March 4, 2002.

BC CTV News at Six, Jina You, March 21, 2002

BCSPCA Committee of Management Meeting Minutes, June 16, 2001.

BC Veterinary Medical Association Memorandum to Members, March 15, 2002.

Bill Good Show, CKNW Radio, March 12, 2002.

Bill Good Show, CKNW Radio, March 21, 2002.

Brimacombe, Doug, Memo to Staff and Volunteers, BC SPCA Hospital, April 10, 2002.

Citizens Yell for Accountability website, www.cyabc.ca

CUPE Local 1622, The Bulletin, Volume 2, Issue 1, Spring 2002

Dow, Warren Ph.D. _ Roy Crowe, cited by Sherry Ferronato in Accountability: The Maturing of the Charitable Sector, Canadian Centre for Philanthropy, Volume 6, No. 2, March 1999

Havlick, Peter, Letter to BC SPCA Head Office from Chair of the North Peace Branch, March 10, 2002.

Peace River Block Daily News, Yose Cormier, SPCA says no to euthanasia, March 15, 2002..

Prince George Citizen, Bernice Trick, Crowed canines get kennel cough, March 13, 2001

Reeves, Dr. Trevor, Letter to BC SPCA website, March 6, 2002.

Supreme Court of British Columbia, Doug Hooper Statement of Claim against the BCSPCA, September 6, 2001.

Vancouver Courier, Robin Brunet, Pets, profits and protesters, April 9, 2000.

Vancouver Sun, Editorial, SPCA's no-kill policy needs support from all of us, March 20, 2002.

Vancouver Sun, Nicholas Read, SPCA Chief faces probe, May 18, 2001.

Vancouver Sun, Nicholas Read, B.C. SPCA to cut shelters destructions, will euthanized only for health reasons, March 6, 2002

Vancouver Sun, Nicholas Read, No-kill policy fills animal shelters, March 19, 2002

Vancouver Sun, Nicholas Read, Cats vastly outnumber dogs at over-burdened shelters, March 20, 2002

Victoria Times-Colonist/ Canadian Press, SPCA faces overcrowding, March 7, 2002

Vogel, Marguerite, BC SPCA Community Consultation Summary Report and Recommendations, November 3, 2001

Weinstein, Malcolm Ph.D. _ Boddie, Paula B.A., New Eyes, New Directions: A Strategic Plan for the BC SPCA 2002-2006 Draft.

Wexler, Mark Ph.D., Confronting Moral Worlds, Prentice-Hall Canada Inc., Pearson Education, 2000.

 


This Dog Don't Hunt:

A Critical Analysis of the BC SPCA Community Consultation Process,
The Independent Panel's Summary Report and Recommendations,
_ The SPCA Preliminary Action Plans


by

Kimberly Daum
January 30, 2002



Introduction: Anyone reading independent panel chair Marguerite Vogel's report will immediately notice that animal welfare issues are as varied, inter-related and complex as child welfare issues. As such, the panel's task was similarly daunting. Yet, overall, the panel was not shy in approaching and delivering the assignment. Recommendations are organized into urgent, short-term, long-term and ongoing actions that the SPCA could easily translate into a skeleton action plan, which shows the panel's understanding of the need for priorities, vision and structured implementation. The report is fairly comprehensive and has areas of strength, weakness, and complete failures on occasion. Likewise for the SPCA's preliminary action plan, which it was good enough to release early to this author.

There are outstanding problems, one of which is a disproportionate number of panel recommendations and SPCA intentions related to managing people rather than servicing animals' immediate needs. Rubber-meets-the-road items are without top priority and are either under-represented in some sections or go completely without mention. For example, the panel did not echo the public, who prioritize the immediate veterinary treatment of a sick animal to prevent the cruelty of suffering ahead of recruiting volunteers or reassigning chores to personnel, presumably to promote its long-term welfare. This is a disturbing observation given the public's overwhelming concern with the SPCA's poor record on the ground and its failure to prevent cruelty.

There is an obvious need to address administrative and personnel issues, but a balance between administrative overhaul and immediate improved care for animals must be struck. Pre-process, the SPCA was accused of the same blind spot and bias: the people being serviced were alleged to be primarily the SPCA's own. Curiously, the panel seemed aware of this tendency and warned the SPCA to put animals' direct welfare first, but it failed to make some of the same corrections in its final report. Such failures and the contradictions between the submitters' priorities, and those of the panel report and SPCA action plan beg the question: To what degree did the SPCA and its old attitudes influence the panel's priorities, conclusions and recommendations?

Weaknesses in the panel's recommendations and the SPCA action plan sometimes mirror corresponding failures in the SPCA's past performance. These inadequacies are as serious as in the past and undermine the mission, which is "to prevent cruelty to and promote welfare of animals" (emphasis Vogel's, p. 2), as well as to put in question the SPCA's commitment to both its rehabilitation and animal welfare responsibilities.

One example of such discord with the mission is so outrageous and shocking as to put in question the entire process's commitment to animals. (You'll know it when you see it because it is so visible in its gaping hole.) So, is the community process critically flawed because the SPCA, and perhaps the panel, is still more invested in protecting a brand name (that has drawn millions in donations) and dysfunctional bureaucracy than it is in its mission and animals' well being? In recent years, these were the primary moral questions and accusations, and they remain outstanding issues today.


Greatest strength: The very existence of the panel report is the single greatest contribution of the SPCA consultation process to date. Today, SPCA critics and supporters alike have a document in which the B.C. public is on record and with which the SPCA can be held to account by the public in future. The public mood has been officially measured, and the SPCA has aired much of its dirty laundry. It is, on that basis, a tremendous donation the SPCA has made and courageous leap it has taken, as the panel did not spare it. The SPCA's action plan will be available to the public soon as well. These undertakings are in strong contrast to the information barricades for which the SPCA was notorious prior to this process. They also constitute concrete actions in response to the public's request: "Listen to us, stop denying your shortcomings, and tell us what you are going to do about them."

In addition, vision and direction are beginning to emerge when the panel report and SPCA preliminary action plan are taken together. It appears the SPCA will do fewer things better, rather than everything insufficiently.

Key administrative changes, some of which are fundamental to ensuring the future of the organization, have been or are being implemented soon. The most crucial is the streamlining of the society into one reasonably sized governing board and shedding cumbersome bureaucracy at the decision-making level. This change was promised when the consultation was announced, and it has been delivered. If successful, it could lead to standardization of the SPCA operations and services throughout the province, which many agree is long overdue.


Biggest Failure: The single most troubling and damaging aspect of the SPCA consultation process is the almost total absence of veterinarians' formal involvement. There is no evidence in the report that vets sat on any committee dealing with shelter or medical issues, other than a singular Nanaimo vet on the panel there. There is also no evidence of vets' active involvement. They are not specifically mentioned in the report as submitters, though SPCA staff and board members, volunteers, rescue groups, legal and law enforcement personnel are. Not a single opinion is attributed directly to vets. In the first 19 pages, which include the shelter and pet over-population sections that would directly interest vets, only three references are made to them, all concerning the public's and panel's agreement that the SPCA must improve relationships with vets. If the SPCA engaged vets in the process, it is not apparent anywhere in the report. Nothing could undermine the SPCA process more, because pets cannot be separated from vets, their primary professionals, anymore than children can be from theirs -- teachers. And, the panel recognized the importance of vets by its urgent recommendation for improved relations with them. The SPCA was told by critics to catch and fix it before the process too, but it failed to do so.

This failure to involve privately practicing vets in anything the SPCA does is an old problem. The panel cites a submission in the accountability section that refers directly to this issue:

…The relationship between veterinarians and the Victoria Branch has been in downward spiral for years. He also notes that veterinarians carry a huge part of the animal welfare burden, one that he believes should rightfully be carried by the society (p.39).

When criticisms such as these were leveled before the process, the spin was always this: "The SPCA has lots of vets involved with it." Of course it does. It has hospitals after all. But what the submitter, who may have been a vet, and many others know is that the vets come in two camps in large centers: those employed by or closely affiliated with the SPCA, and the vast majority of outsiders, many of whom have seen in their practices tragic medical cases directly attributable to the SPCA. The SPCA has its small group of vets, and the public has the rest.

Vets' formal involvement should have been essential as they are the SPCA's primary human constituency. But privately practicing vets were reluctant to participate because those who had fussed about alleged SPCA shortcomings in the past often saw referrals to their practices dry up. So, three people, two of whom had publicly criticized the SPCA and had been retaliated against in the past, urged the SPCA, in a meeting with one of its senior staff from head office, to admit to malpractices and poor community relations, and to make amends to private vets for being, in their opinion, careless, combative and punitive for about 30 years. Otherwise, an unpublicized boycott of the process by vets was likely. It was imperative for the SPCA to reassure the veterinary community that members would not be retaliated against when their criticisms surfaced in the SPCA public process. Instead, the SPCA issued invitations to vets but without guarantees that there would be no reprisals.

The SPCA stance throughout the community consultation process has been that numbers of vets were actively involved. The many holes that vets do not fill in the report along with the panel's urging better relations with them proves that other than the SPCA-vets, they were not. Other submissions and the panel report touched upon animal health issues but lacked the degree of context, depth, and expertise that vets certainly would have provided. It is the most critical flaw in the implementation of the process.

The SPCA cannot reasonably deny the truth about or impact of this failure. Because large center vets were not involved, we know nearly nothing about SPCA hospitals, their protocols or lack of them, and their overall performance from an objective standpoint. Though vets are the primary, frontline professionals in pets' lives, we have not tapped into their health expertise. We have nothing of their opinions, ideas or solutions. It is a huge waste and failure that has direct impacts that do not just fail the SPCA's mission but actually defy it.

The Gaping Hole _ Poor Priorities in the Hottest Section: Shelters

Improving conditions within SPCA shelters:

There is concern, particularly on the part of volunteers, for the health of the animals brought into the shelter and whether adequate medical intervention and treatment is provided. Some cite animals lying sick and unattended for days or even weeks (p.9).

Days or even weeks? By anyone's definition, that is inhumane! Given the mission, what could be a higher priority than an animal suffering within the SPCA? What could be a more damning indictment of the SPCA's commitment to animal welfare than its failure to relieve their suffering? So what does the panel recommend? Of its nine urgent and short term items, eight 1 are administrative in nature, ranging from committing money to property upgrades, developing standards for recruiting and hiring, shifting some management responsibilities, etc. The ninth point, wait for it, is directly medical in nature: "Improve delivery of euthanasia training to staff using BC SPCA standard methods (p.12)." The only direct medical recommendation is to do a better job of killing animals - no urgency to treat sick and suffering ones.

1. Interestingly, one of the eight administrative recommendations is to "re-evaluate the role of the BC SPCA animal hospitals." And, one short-term recommendation seeks specific care guidelines that include a consistent healthy diet for animals but has no mention of medical treatment for the sick or dying ones.

To be fair to the panel, the euthanasia improvement aims, in part, to prevent the Victoria branch from using a gas chamber, which is long overdue. Still, the report does not directly or adequately address the SPCA "being inattentive to the health of animals in their care," which was mentioned in the same paragraph (p.10). According to panel recommendations, it is a higher priority to be humane to an animal that is sentenced to death than one that still has a chance at life. Top priority should be given to both situations. Equally disturbing is that the panel recommends mandatory customer service training "to radically improve the way in which it welcomes and serves the public" (p.11) but does not insist on "radically" training shelter staff to call veterinary 911 or to recognize that a vet needs to come in, say, today -- tomorrow at the latest. So, good service for people is more important than improving medical and health conditions for animals held in SPCA facilities? Untreated sick animals deserved a mention. One has to ask, is this lapse in priorities in favor of customer service designed to placate or mollify the public's concern about the SPCA's treatment of animals? The panel's priorities are clearly skewed, just as the SPCA's have been. If conditions cannot be improved significantly in the short-term, could the panel chair tell us when they will be? Finally, would the panel's recommendations have been prioritized differently if outside vets had been involved in a committee about shelters, hospitals and veterinary protocols?

Considering its past practices, it is not surprising that the SPCA does no better than the panel in organizing its shelter priorities. Out of nine actions the SPCA plans to take by June 2002, none is directly medical, though physical comfort (dog beds) is included in one.

Animals that are adopted from the SPCA too often end up in private vet, including specialists', offices because of SPCA treatment delays. Worse, we do not know how many SPCA animals are left sick and untreated and are then scheduled for euthanasia by the SPCA, the very institution on which animals rely for care.

If volunteers can identify an animal that needs veterinary care, why is SPCA staff unable to? Is that because it is cheaper for the SPCA to kill rather than treat sick animals? Or, is that because the SPCA prefers to treat paying customers' pets in its clinics rather than stray animals in its shelters? Could it be both?

Would the SPCA tell us now what deadline it is prepared to put on urgently needed, and wholly ignored, direct medical care initiatives that will ensure that all sick animals in the SPCA are treated? Further, when will SPCA staff be able to recognize illness at least as well as the volunteers?

Humane euthanasia and dog beds are reasonable direct care priorities in shelters, but to completely abandon a sick animal in both the recommendations and the action plan shows that neither the panel nor the SPCA has a firm grasp of the obvious mission - preventing cruelty in all cases, including in the SPCA's own facilities.

Regardless of what the SPCA does next, the obvious question remains: Since the SPCA is the authority expected to investigate and recommend cruelty cases for prosecution to Crown Counsel, who will police the SPCA?

Preventing cruelty in SPCA hospitals: Presumably because vets in Vancouver Region and Victoria were not engaged, the report has precious little about the SPCA hospitals, other than to question their role. The volunteers did their best to address health issues, but they are not vets and as such have no expertise with which to provide critical medical analysis.

However, three Lower Mainland vets advised the author in repeat phone and/or in-person interviews that the SPCA, in their opinion, has poor or non-existent preventative medical protocols and provides minimum or poorer veterinary care in its shelters and clinics. They claim that animals often endure harsh, sometimes inhumane, conditions while in SPCA care -- a complaint by the vets that verifies submitters and volunteers' grievances. SPCA hospitals also lack low-income means tests for pet owners, which means the most needy animals (which presumably includes those languishing for days or weeks without treatment at the SPCA) are abandoned in favor of animals whose owners can afford to have them treated elsewhere.

The SPCA has also played a role in increasing pet over-population by not performing spay/neuters on every animal prior to its adoption into the community.

Not surprisingly, many veterinarians outside of the SPCA view these policies and practices as incompatible with the society's mandate.

Shelter _ hospital administration: The same veterinarians complain that there are no transparency and accountability mechanisms for the shelters and hospitals. The problems with the society are so serious that they have urged an almost wholesale housecleaning of senior SPCA personnel at Vancouver Regional, or the society should shut its doors and resurface under a new name and management. The Red Cross blood scandal was mentioned as the closest example of how some vets outside of the society view the SPCA today. These vets understand that a housecleaning could be both costly and painful, due to labor law and other issues, but argued that, in the long run, it is cheaper, healthier and necessary to do the right thing.

The public and Vogel touch, in various degrees, on most of the vets' issues and endorse many of their views. And, the SPCA action plan responds to the panel's urgent recommendation for better relations with vets by saying it has been meeting with them since last December to develop a cooperative relationship, focusing on pet over-population.

The SPCA said it worked with vets both before and during the process, but the report makes it clear that bark has no bite. We would not be vigilant if we did not suspect the typical SPCA spin. So, to know whether such meetings are truly happening, we now need proof. How many vets who are privately practicing and unaffiliated with the SPCA are meeting with it? How many of those are from Victoria and from each of the 19 communities in Vancouver Region? That number is from a total of how many practicing vets in each of those areas? How can those numbers be independently verified in these new days of SPCA accountability? And, by whom and how were the vets in these meetings selected?

Had the panel specifically mentioned medical protocols anywhere in its report we would know that a consistent standard needs to be set province-wide. Since it did not, can the SPCA tell us whether direct medical care initiatives other than those relating to spay/neuter are anywhere in the plans, and if so what is the timeline? It is clearly incumbent upon the SPCA to ensure that privately practicing vets, who see botched SPCA cases, are part of deciding such protocols and standards, and part of determining the role of SPCA hospitals where they exist. The SPCA owes the vets, the public, and the panel that much before any trust in its operations can be restored. The gaping hole left by the vets is too large to remain unfilled.


Another Shelter Problem -- The "No Kill" Question:
The report fails to solve another fundamental problem within the SPCA that has had the public in knots for years: Its euthanasia practices and numbers. In the writer's opinion, the panel has done a tremendous disservice to the public in its conclusion on the raging "No Kill" debate.

Some animal groups believe only terminally ill animals should ever be euthanized, which means dangerous animals would never be put down. Proponents of this view say dangerous animals should have a secure and safe place to live, which would protect the public from the animal, and protect the animal from capital punishment for behaviors it has developed because of bad caretakers such as those who chain and use them as watch and/or attack dogs in marijuana grow operations. "Some submissions," including that of the panel, believe that "having no animals ever euthanized at a shelter is unrealistic" (p.10). However:

Submissions continue to say that problem animals are the result of bad owners and every effort should be made to give these animals another chance, citing that it is a rare animal that must be euthanized due to behavior issues (p.10).

So, there is a consensus among submitters that if the "rare" animal's dangerous behaviors are "untreatable," it could be killed, regardless of fault (p.10). The problem is: This is not the SPCA's policy. The SPCA does not kill dangerous dogs infrequently. It kills many animals, including harmless ones, who are not "untreatable." The public does not know what the SPCA killing policy is; it just knows it kills too often.

By contrast, the "No Kill" Vancouver Pound says it only kills terminally ill or unredeemable vicious dogs who have been assessed as such by a number of people (including staff, volunteers, a vet and/or behaviorists). The panel says that "untreatable" needs to be defined. It seems the Vancouver Pound approach satisfies both the "submissions" and the panel's view that "No Kill" shelters should not be "taken literally." The SPCA, therefore, has an accepted definition right under its nose that can put its debate with the public to bed. Despite this obvious solution, the panel instead concludes that the SPCA's "goal should be that no adoptable (emphasis Vogel's) animal will be euthanized" (p.3).

"Not adoptable" is the most controversial and vague term the panel could have chosen. Moreover, not adoptable has always been the SPCA spin. Worse, it is the very term that ignited this debate in the public, which resulted in the Vancouver Pound adopting the public's definition of "No Kill" and making it policy. The problem with Vogel's conclusion is: Not adoptable defined as what and according to whom? Not adoptable because of age, blindness or deafness, which are all "untreatable?" Not adoptable because the SPCA has such lousy viewing hours for potential caretakers that there are not enough homes walking in the doors? Not adoptable because it is dangerous and no one attempted to retrain it? Not adoptable according to whom? You will not find the answers anywhere in the panel's urgent and short-term recommendations.

The panel urgently recommends better euthanasia practices but does not similarly stress when and under whose assessment euthanasia should occur. The submissions were crystal clear: Terminally ill or "rare" animals with "untreatable" behavior problems are the only animals that the SPCA should ever euthanize. The panel recommends that the SPCA "establish standard animal behavioral assessment procedures utilizing the services of qualified animal behaviorists" in the long term (p.13), which is defined by the panel as "beyond one year" (p.4). It did not recommend retraining in conjunction with those assessments.

Had the panel given more thought to SPCA animals lying "unattended," sick and untreated, though not necessarily "untreatable," it might have realized, as the public does, that untreated quickly leads to untreatable. And that applies to both health and behavior. The SPCA does not treat (retrain) many of its animals with behavioral problems, resulting in too many treatable animals' death, which is exactly the practice and problem that the "majority of submissions" complained about (p.10). An animal at risk of death seems an urgent situation, and the submitters wanted "every effort" to give these animals another chance. The panel might have suggested immediate animal behavior assessments and retraining for problem animals. In this case, it seems the panel's prioritizes the SPCA's convenience not the submitters' concerns and the animals' immediate care and welfare. It should not have given the SPCA a long term and way out that these animals do not have. Closing that potentially tragic loophole would have bolstered its urgent recommendation that the SPCA improve how euthanasia is delivered (p.12).

This loophole might be excused as an oversight had the panel not been so adamant (emphasis mine) about its "not adoptable" definition. Can the public now allow the SPCA to use the same old, vague, and random definition to determine which animal lives and dies for at least the next year? The panel appears relatively unconcerned about the SPCA's old position and has, thereby, further aggravated an already raging dispute between the society and the public.

Not surprisingly, no SPCA preliminary actions relate to euthanasia, its definition, delivery or assessment measures to decide an individual animal's fate. The SPCA still has the convenient escape route provided by the not adoptable definition. The report mentions no dog trainers and animal behaviorists participating in a consultation committee. On this hot topic, one should have expected at least that much from the SPCA process if it were serious about resolving the no kill question. Arguably, privately practicing veterinarians, the scientists in this eclectic group of interested parties, would have provided an alternative to such a roving, arbitrary and inhumane definition. So, can we know today, how does the SPCA define "no kill," "untreatable behaviors," and "adoptable?" How does it define animal behavior treatment? And when will an animal behavioral assessment and treatment team, such as in the Vancouver Pound, be implemented into every shelter and clinic to decide each individual animal's best interests prior to recommending its euthanasia? When will retraining for animals be implemented?


The Cruelty Police: The panel's report confirms that harsh and inhumane conditions exist within the SPCA. Unfortunately, the report and action plan provide no immediate medical and behavioral remedies to improve the situation. Given that reality, the first impulse is to recommend removing the SPCA from cruelty enforcement under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA Act) because, in the current circumstance, it can have no moral authority or credibility when it arrives at an individual citizen's home insisting that he/she immediately have a veterinarian treat its sick and suffering animal. Likewise, if the SPCA seizes the animal so that it can be treated there is currently no guarantee that it would be at the SPCA.

Nor is there any assurance that abused and seized animals that have become dangerous will be met with compassion and retraining instead of death at the SPCA.

The report exposes harsh and inhumane conditions within the SPCA, which renders the entire section on the "Enforcement of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act" and its recommendations meaningless. So, what to do? We must hold the SPCA solidly accountable.


Accountability: Who Oversees the SPCA?


People want to know to whom branch management and staff are held accountable (p.39).

Many submissions recommend that the provincial government fund enforcement of the Act since it is their act (p.6), and that the Act should have clear language that the BC SPCA is obligated to investigate cruelty (p.5).

For those who do not already know, some background: Over time, through the passing of internal by-laws, the BC SPCA became "out of alignment with its legal status" and was more like a federation than a single legal entity. Until recently, branches would answer to regional or local boards. The central governing board had 85 members. Head office said it was liable for, but could not control, decisions taken at the local level, such as those made by the maverick Vancouver Regional and Victoria branches. Standardizing operations and services would be cumbersome, if not impossible, because branches did not have to consult about initiatives with head office. Others disagreed, saying if head office was liable, it was necessarily directly responsible, and it simply stalled restructuring and disciplinary actions until the public pressure and bad media coverage became intolerable. Head office means just that. Either way, the society was in organizational decay.

Today, the 12 existing directors and officers elected at the society's 2001 annual general meeting are the central decision-making body. A new 16-member Board of Directors will be elected in April. It will be the SPCA's central decision-making body with an objective of standardizing operations and services.

Regardless of legal structure, the BC SPCA, technically, answers to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Fisheries under John van Dongen and the Attorney General, Geoff Plant. The ministry of AFF polices any SPCA by-law changes related to cruelty enforcement aspects of the Act, and the AG ensures suspects' rights are not infringed during SPCA investigations. But there is not similar scrutiny of whether or not the SPCA actively pursues investigations of animal cruelty suspects. You get the idea - the ministries are about protecting people from over-zealous SPCA special constables, not about protecting animals from poor or non-existent SPCA practices.

Any complaints related to SPCA operations, or lack of them, have to be made to the SPCA. Complaining to either ministry that the SPCA is not adequately enforcing the prevention of cruelty statute is futile because, under the Act, the SPCA has no obligation to do so. And, because the SPCA is an independent society not a government agency, the ministries have no legal authority to force it to do such investigations. The SPCA is also not subject to freedom of information legislation for the same reason. The province gives the SPCA head office a grant of about $70,000 a year to offset costs in low population areas. And that is all the money the province spends on preventing cruelty to animals.

For 106 years, the province has been happy with the SPCA. Ignorance is bliss. Animal groups other than the SPCA have tried to lobby for legislative improvements in animal welfare but, because governments have always viewed the SPCA as the sole authority on animal welfare in B.C., their proposals just evaporated if the society stalled, impeded or rejected them.

Through the public process and the report, we have learned that the SPCA most certainly is not the sole authority on animal welfare - the public is. Vogel's report shows that the SPCA is having difficulty carrying out its mandate of preventing cruelty to animals. This writer believes that the SPCA has failed to provide immediate and meaningful remedies that would eliminate the harsh and inhumane conditions within its own facilities. Further, there are no safeguards for the animals themselves because the government does not supervise the SPCA to ensure that it properly protects animals under anti-cruelty legislation.

When the SPCA answers to no one but itself about its operations, what urgent solution could the panel offer? And, what difference would it really make when the SPCA must be trusted to do it? The panel recommended that the SPCA develop a Charter of Guiding Beliefs and Principles. The SPCA action plan says it is due February 15th. The SPCA should also set up transparency, accountability, public information sharing and cruelty case tracking systems: the SPCA plans to have these ready in the spring. Feel better now?

No one is watching but the public and media. But government is both on the book and the hook. The government has an Act. It is a law to protect animals from cruelty. The province believed cruelty to animals to be serious enough to warrant legislation in addition to the federal statute. It grants the SPCA $70,000 a year to enforce the Act. So government clearly recognizes both the need for enforcement and the necessity for taxpayers to pay something for it, as they do animal control. The government agrees in theory that animals should be protected from cruelty but has not taken practical and active responsibility for them.

The government, since it provides few funds and does not oversee animals' welfare, must at the very least provide a little elbow grease to aid the public in watching over the SPCA. The public is now strongly on record as saying that the SPCA does not do the job satisfactorily. That means the very service the government and the Act were intended to provide to the public is effectively not being done by anyone.

The government must amend the Act so that: 1) The SPCA is obligated to enforce the Act. 2) The government will review all SPCA cruelty files and will publicly and annually report: a) the numbers of cruelty investigations and the jurisdictions in which they originate, b) the outcome of these investigations, including seizures, and the grounds on which those decisions were made by the SPCA, c) how many cases have been referred to Crown Counsel along with the numbers of charges and convictions, and d) the numbers of complaints made about SPCA special constables under the Police Act and the outcomes of those complaints.

To restore the public trust the BC SPCA must at once implement this key remedy: 1) The SPCA must immediately fund an off-site, stand alone BC SPCA Ombudsman's Office in Vancouver. 2) The B.C. Veterinary Medical Association must be asked to select and appoint an independent ombudsman, who is not now and has never been affiliated with the SPCA. The BC SPCA Ombudsman's Office, not the SPCA itself, will employ, immediately hire, dispatch and pay wages to experienced and respected vets, who have no past or current affiliation with the SPCA, to perform daily rounds2 in all its shelters and hospitals to ensure that the society is stopping any inhumane treatment of and preventing cruelty to the animals in its own facilities. These vets will report to the ombudsman and the society, simultaneously case-by-case, and issue overall quarterly reports. The ombudsman will in turn issue quarterly reports, the drafts of which will not be reviewed by the SPCA, to the public through news releases and on the BC SPCA website. The ombudsman must also report to the public any attempts at interference by the SPCA. 3) The public must have direct access to the ombudsman to file any grievances about the SPCA's board, personnel, processes, and/or operations. And, 4) The BC SPCA Ombudsman's Office, on animals' behalf, must fulfill the role of overseeing and reporting on animals' welfare and whether or not the SPCA is adequately enforcing the Act in public, unless and until such accountability amendments are law (refer to above paragraph).


2. Crying poverty will not be a way out. Daily rounds are doable - and sometimes cheap. The new Coquitlam Pound has 18 hours a month of voluntary veterinary care committed to it by nine local vets, and it is not even open yet. Submissions about the SPCA Coquitlam Branch cite "questionable practices" (p.9). With a reputation like that, what independent vet would volunteer there, or at Langley or Maple Ridge, which have been accused of having the same problem practices? Vets would have to be paid. The SPCA Ombudsman's Office must hire independent vets. That is the SPCA's cost of business for not having collegial relations with vets. Funding an ombudsman's office is the price of failure to protect animals and loss of the public trust. The public process cost money, as did the $1 million building the SPCA just purchased. Independent accountability mechanisms and direct animal protection, care and treatment services within SPCA facilities will cost money too. Poverty is not the problem: The SPCA's current priorities are.

If the SPCA is unequivocal in its commitment to rehabilitation and restoring the public's trust, it will initiate the process to achieve amendments to the provincial law, without public pressure to do it.

That is accountability that goes to heart of the public's concerns and the SPCA's mission to prevent cruelty to animals and promote animal welfare. Anything less than an independent ombudsman to ensure the fulfillment of its mission by the SPCA is a trust-me public relations exercise, one based on loosely defined, self-controlled administrative and public reporting system Band-Aids that the panel proposes and the SPCA plans.

Though the SPCA is an independent society and not a government agency, there is nothing to prevent the government and the SPCA from entering into a legal partnership to serve the public by preventing cruelty to animals. Government cannot duck, as it has the past 106 years. It is legally entwined with the SPCA. If the public wants accountability amendments to the Act anytime in this century, it will probably have to demand them. Given their lengthy history together, neither government nor the SPCA can or should be trusted to do it on its own.

Enforcing against cruelty: "The majority of submissions, both oral and written, are critical of the Society's current approach to enforcing provisions against cruelty (p.5). The panel believes that the BC SCPA has broad discretion with respect to its interpretation of the act" that it is not using. Here the panel refers to a "great deal" of public anger (p.7). 3

The panel cites and seems to agree with this submission:

How is it that neglect, while included in the Act as a definition of distress has been made invisible by the BC SPCA? The dictionary defines the word neglect as 1. to ignore or disregard, 2. to fail to attend to properly, 3. to leave undone - n, 1. a neglecting, 2. lack of proper care, 3. a being neglected - adj. There does not seem to be any doubt in my mind that the ability to deal with neglect has been available to the BC SCPA, but, for whatever reason, the choice has been made to overlook it (p.6).

One might suggest the SPCA should get out of the business of enforcing anti-cruelty laws if it is unable to effectively carry out its mandate. But that opinion needs sober second thought. The government provides the SPCA $70,000 a year, and enforcement is expensive. Police and RCMP can enforce cruelty laws but rarely do. The province is in fiscal restraint. And we have to be realistic: What is the likelihood that the government will take on animal welfare and provide the public with a new enforcement body to do

3.There were 150 anti-cruelty enforcement submissions in total, second only to shelters with 170. Shelters and enforcement were the hottest issues and, when combined with pet over-population, accounted for 35 percent of the total 1,000-plus submissions. Inhumane conditions for animals are clearly what most concern the public.

the job the SPCA has been expected to do? Is it likely to increase funding under public pressure? Perhaps. But either way, for now at least, the SPCA is the only nominated and authorized body we have to pressure for better performance. And the panel has attempted to provide that. For example, it recommends the establishment of an "Animal Case Law Work Group" to liaise with Crown in hopes of conducting successful prosecutions.

The anti-cruelty enforcement committee was a strong one. It had several educated, effective and vocal members on it -- people who know law and enforce it outside of the SPCA. Members of that committee must be called into the Case Law Group. If we cannot trust the SPCA, in the interim we can put our faith in the professionals and other passionate people who sat on the committee, few of whom are likely to let the SPCA slide into the future unchecked.

If the SPCA really intends to rehabilitate itself and clean up its own kennel, it will fund the Ombudsman's Office immediately to ensure and oversee that it enforces and performs adequately to protect animals from cruelty under the broad discretion of the Act, including in its own facilities.

Holding The Brass Accountable: The report does not directly touch on an accountability issue that vets reported to the author - an almost wholesale housecleaning of senior SPCA personnel at Vancouver Regional, and the B.C. head office, as some personnel have since transferred there. Because of the SPCA brand name, the governing body cannot reasonably be separated from or absolved for the actions of the branch. Submissions to the panel also referred to the SPCA's problem personnel: "The standards of care given to animals and the attitude of staff "(p.39).

The BC SPCA CEO has said that SPCA personnel who do not cooperate with the society's new direction will be terminated, after having been given a chance to comply. One is inclined to believe the CEO in this context: the executive director of Vancouver Regional was fired for cause,4 and executives in Victoria were recently paid out and fired without cause.

But compliance does not satisfy or quiet those critics who insist that senior personnel in charge of anti-cruelty enforcement and shelter operations and animal health have already proven themselves unqualified for and uncommitted to animals' welfare generally. They say the SPCA's overwhelming failures in anti-cruelty enforcement, shelter and animal health care are due to bad management and its overall attitude, policies and practices. They argue that SPCA senior personnel knew or ought to have known about failures recurring in those departments. That nothing was done to improve conditions despite numerous complaints and public pressure shows that the system fails its commitment from the top and bleeds to the bottom in its facilities and in the community. If restructuring and reform was possible after public and media scrutiny, it was also possible before it. So, SPCA head office and branch senior personnel should be held responsible for the systemic problems found within the SPCA.
4 The former executive director of the Vancouver Regional Branch has a wrongful dismissal case pending.

The critics also say that compliance does not ensure concern and common sense and alone does not qualify one for a position or to keep the position he/she has. Arguably, the report shows that many submitters are able to interpret the Act and assess sick and distressed animals better than senior SPCA personnel, so the critics may have a case. If submitter's knowledge about and understanding of law and animal health care and welfare appears superior to that of SPCA senior personnel, it certainly begs the questions: Can they be considered professional, competent and qualified to direct and supervise rank-and-file enforcement, shelter and clinic staff? What does it say about the SPCA's education department if SPCA personnel are less informed about law and animal welfare than the submitters? And, how is the education department able to inform and counsel new or inexperienced animal caretakers if it has been unable to inform its own personnel?

The problems of the past were said to start from the top. Complaints about individual SPCA personnel have been futile in the past, though critics say that the CEO is well aware of the individuals who attract the majority of complaints. Despite the public process, many complainants have not changed their minds about the need to clean house. Rather, some have hardened their position. Therefore, it may be an appropriate time for a changing of the guard. Fresh perspective and renewed commitment in the form of new personnel would certainly reassure the public that the failures of the past are more likely to be remedied.

Lastly, an SPCA ombudsman must be available to take personnel and operational complaints from the public to ensure the SPCA manages its operations to the public's satisfaction in future, or it will not soon be at the "forefront" or restore its role as a leader of animal welfare.

The Working Stiff:

It appears that most staff/volunteer problems are occurring in the Lower Mainland and Victoria where staff is unionized (p.14).

Several comment on …questionable practices at Langley, Coquitlam and Maple Ridge (P.9).

A critical and extremely complex legal problem exists in the form a 10-year collective agreement between CUPE and the Vancouver Regional Branch, which includes Langley, Coquitlam and Maple Ridge as well as six other shelters, serving 19 communities, and accounting for about 30 percent of the 32 SPCA branches. From the report, we know that relations between staff and volunteers, particularly in areas where staff are unionized, are extremely strained and unproductive, to the animals' detriment. That volunteers recognize the need to call in and can do nothing about staff not calling in a vet is the most extreme example of how problematic this situation is. The SPCA must hold CUPE accountable, and the public needs to support the SPCA in whatever remedies it takes to deal with this destructive personnel situation. Working stiff accountability: another good reason for the SPCA ombudsman.

Accountability in the community consultation process itself: The SPCA appointed all panel members, chose the categories for discussion, set committees and had some influence between the panel's first and final draft of the report. This influence, apparently, was to raise the bar a bit on matters of accountability.

Cindy Soules was contracted by the SPCA to gate-keep and assure the public that the society could not cherry-pick submissions for presentation to the panel. From the strength of the submissions within the final report, it is clear Soules was effective in her role. However, a perception of a conflict-of-interest exists. Soules was on the Vancouver Regional Board and resigned in protest sometime before the community consultation process began. That she was later hired by the SPCA to liaise between it and the panel is commonly called co-opting the critic. Upon hearing this just recently, the author was shocked, since a senior person at SPCA head office gave his assurance before the process began that the liaison between the SPCA and the panel had no affiliation with the society. By most accounts, both within and outside of the SPCA, Soules has utmost integrity, is solidly on the side of animals and did an exemplary job. Of those outside of the SPCA, two of three regret that she does not have a permanent SPCA position with authority.

However, Cindy Soules, regardless of her talent and dedication to animals, should not have been given the position she was. That said, the writer is unaware of any evidence that she did any damage to the process. The public could be more comfortable if the independent panel had not released drafts of its report to the SPCA but, again, the author is unaware of any evidence that the SPCA influenced the panel to the detriment of animals as a result.


Advocacy: In the past, the SPCA has used its considerable and interminable internal processes to stymie other groups' advocacy. In addition, the SPCA both publicly and privately tagged individuals and groups who lobbied for change as out-of-touch or extremists, pitted rural against urban issues, as if they are not equally important, and blasted off letters to newspapers, employers or professional bodies to discredit and/or retaliate against critics. It even considered and/or filed lawsuits in response to specific critics. There is ample evidence that the SPCA used heavy-handed behavior both in public and private.

It blocked anti-tether laws by telling the ministry they were not needed and, apparently, prevented for two years the chance to include pets in rental housing legislation by never delivering an endorsement and plan -- a "policy tool kit," including responsible guidelines for pets in rentals - that it had promised to the ministry.

Given that government has always viewed the SPCA as the sole authority on animal welfare, the ministry would not act on any groups' proposed legislation without an endorsement from the SPCA. Therefore, the SPCA ruled the roost over all animal advocacy with the provincial government. So what did the SPCA do with that power?

Well, the chair's report in the agricultural animals section reads like a commercial for the SPCA's advocacy: the SPCA funds animal husbandry at UBC, reviews live animal transport, awards a humane farmer every year, and is launching a humane labeling initiative on food (p.27). Cheers, for all that. But where is the advocacy, funding and support for which desperate volunteers and animal groups have been screaming, such as mandatory spay/neuter laws, a ban on puppy mills and the subsequent sale of those animals in pet stores, stronger cruelty laws and penalties, and laws to allow pets in rentals (p.16-17)? Where is the effort for people's pets? Why were pets left to languish in SPCA jails and private pet stores while pet lovers in rental homes went without pets they would have loved to adopt? It seems homes would prevent the SPCA from euthanizing animals. So, how did the panel do on this issue?

Most urgent: "Establish an Advocacy Advisory Group of academics, veterinarians, and representatives of other organizations - to develop an advocacy agenda and set priorities. Actively recruit volunteer advocates" (p.42). And, the panel suggests the SPCA launch two advocacy campaigns in 2002. The SPCA action plan commits to only one advocacy campaign for 2002, and the initial lobby will be decided through the advocacy group's priority setting.

The SPCA record on animal advocacy cannot be separated from its public and community relations. Therefore, one might put the recommendation more plainly: Put away your knives and get out of the way of other animal groups that have addressed the issues and filled roles the SPCA had no interest in, and get behind the groups that are ready with their research and have generated momentum without any help from you. The SPCA does not have to be, nor should it be at this stage of distrust, the lead authority, especially for pets. At this juncture, it has credibility with the public only in conjunction with other groups. The SPCA should stand behind, not in front of, other groups to be of help; advocacy and the SPCA's relations with the community would both be better for it.

And, as far as the 2002 campaign goes, the SPCA must ensure it involves other animal groups at the news conference table and is directly related not to farm animals but to pets. They need a commercial too. 5


Discussion: It would have been helpful if the independent panel had insisted that missing parties (from important stakeholder groups such as independent vets, animal behaviorists and trainers, and ministry representatives) be actively and publicly encouraged to sit on committees about hospitals and shelters' veterinary care, no kill definitions, accountability mechanisms and legislative protocols, rather than relying solely on what the SPCA formatted and set up. It would have been helpful, but the panel still operated in good faith, was often conscientious, and made many sound recommendations, in a process designed wholly by the SPCA. And though it fell short or

5 A Terrific and Timely Step for Pet Advocacy: On January 14, 2002 the SPCA released an open letter to the B.C. government and to the minister in charge of the Residential Tenancy Act, urging legislation to allow pets in rental housing, in support of POWER, the lead group on this issue. One hopes the SPCA will continue to actively support the campaign.

failed in some instances, it did a public service. But suffice to say, given the available participants and information with which the panel had to work, there are critical gaps where the SPCA was not asked or compelled by the panel to fill them.

The role of the public: More than 1,000 British Columbians weighed into the consultation process. Contributors formed consensus on many key matters, were well informed, and often provided responsible and doable remedies superior to those of the panel and SPCA. Volunteers, speaking for themselves and inadvertently for veterinarians, made the most meaningful of all contributions to the process. The public has efficiently displaced the SPCA as the moral authority on animal welfare. If it truly wants the SPCA to be accountable to an authority other than itself, the public will have to do more.

Small center branches and staff: The panel traveled to six regions of the province and found a "pool of talented and dedicated staff" (p.3). Many know that several branches outside the Lower Mainland and Victoria have been doing more and better with less. To some extent, those branches and staff are being tarred with Lower Mainland and Victoria brushes, which is not fair. These SPCA personnel may also want to push, internally, for independent accountability in the form of an ombudsman to protect their interests and reputations in future. Because they are known to provide better care, they could expect to see their successes reported quarterly by the ombudsman.

Lobbying head office for an ombudsman would also be a public service as "even dissenters believe the BC SPCA should continue to be the primary animal protection agency in BC," but that is unlikely unless the "collective sense of trust and confidence" in it is restored "by taking action where critics see shortcomings" (p.2). That no independent body exists to take complaints about the SPCA is certainly an obvious and unacceptable shortcoming to the public.

The SPCA brand is important because it is the primary place that donors have parked their animal welfare dollars. It is the largest animal welfare fund we have. Even the hardiest critics worry for the animals if the brand is lost and individual donors splinter off in all directions or disappear altogether. It is not as the panel suggested solely because of "good will" that dissenters truly want the SPCA to reform, succeed and redeem itself; it also includes a good deal of common sense. So, the public is relying on branches performing above the usual SPCA standards, those with good reputations and community relations, to save the SPCA brand by holding head office accountable internally and by supporting external safe guards to ensure that all SPCA facilities meet the standards they have set. These branches must both show and tell the head office how it is done.

Conclusion:

…animals lying sick and unattended for day or even weeks (p.9).

Many …say that the BC SPCA must be more actively involved in preventing cruelty, not waiting until an animal has completely deteriorated and may be beyond help (p.6).

Did the SPCA and its old attitudes influence the panel's priorities, conclusions and recommendations? Vogel's heart seems in the right place. So, one cannot explain why, after stressing the mission's importance in bold in her overview and pulling no punches in delivering the public's feedback, she missed the heart of the mission in so many of her recommendations.

Evidence of harsh and inhumane treatment of animals within SPCA facilities was the most startling finding. Yet, Vogel did nothing to emphasize, remedy, or hold the SPCA to account. Instead she recommended humane euthanasia delivery and mandatory customer service training but did nothing to ensure immediate treatment for all sick SPCA animals. She recommended animal care guidelines without mention of medical care and protocols, offered a flawed, "not adoptable," definition and euthanasia criterion that includes the cruel untreated = untreatable = dead equation, without insisting on behavioral assessment and training teams for problem animals at risk of death today.

As with inside the SPCA, animals are at risk of "completely deteriorating" and being rendered "beyond help" in the public domain, but the panel provides no independent accountability mechanisms to ensure that the SPCA adequately enforces the Act in both instances. After noting that the public trust is broken and must be restored, it gives the SPCA no direction but back to itself. It provides no safeguards for the animals that rely on donors seeking accountability. The equivalent of a trust me, SPCA-controlled complaint and reporting system provides no protection to animals, the brand and the millions in donations that have historically been drawn to animal welfare.

So, where is the heart of animal welfare, immediate improved care of animals, and on-the-ground interventions and remedies? Where is the mission to prevent cruelty to animals and promote their welfare?

The chair's cover letter to the SPCA says, "The animals are expecting - and deserve -- great things." But, the failures of the panel report and the SPCA's preliminary action plan too often and too closely expose the most severe and fundamental failures of the society's past performance. Since these systemic problems have not been fixed, one fears they will undermine the mission in the future.

Vogel's letter also cites Immanual Kant who said, "We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals." One cannot yet be convinced the SPCA's heart is in the right place. There is no question that the SPCA has failed to address the sometimes harsh and inhumane conditions in its own facilities; it simply has no immediate or adequate remedies. The many administrative plans that might have some effect do not help a sick or problem animal today and are not convincing unless one has absolute faith in the society and its abilities.

The fact that findings in Vogel's report confirm allegations of unsympathetic and inhumane treatment of and harsh conditions for animals within the SPCA's care and facilities puts into utmost question its ability to meet the mission in the public domain. That neither the panel nor SPCA presented the public with urgent and humane treatments and solutions for sick and abused/problem animals, even after so much consultation and criticism, underscores the public's key and relentless question: Is the SPCA truly committed to animal welfare, to promoting it, and to protecting animals from cruelty?

The SPCA's aim for the community consultation process as described by the panel was to "lead to a new publicly supported model of animal care and protection in B.C." (p.1). Has the process, the panel's report and the SPCA's preliminary action plan created such a model? Or, does it more closely resemble a Red Cross blood scandal in the animal kingdom?

The BC SPCA has not yet created a model of animal care and protection that the public can reasonably support. It does not yet understand its mission. Therefore, now that the dirty laundry is aired, it must clean house and be held firmly accountable by an independent body to ensure the prevention of cruelty to animals and the promotion of their welfare in B.C.

The consultation was a worthwhile process to have for the record, but This Dog Don't Hunt, so until there is an ombudsman we must be ever vigilant and continue "to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves."


Kimberly Daum is a freelance journalist in Vancouver. This paper is not comprehensive nor does it claim or intend to be. The report is not commissioned and is the author's attempt to contribute to the public dialogue about the SPCA. It follows a two-year investigation of the SPCA on which she never reported to make way for the community consultation process. This paper is her first, perhaps not final, public report about the society. It is available at the Vancouver Public Library. In these new days of SPCA accountability to the public, the author hopes the society will post her critical analysis on the BC SPCA website.


CYABC is now able to accept donations in CDN funds with PayPal.
Please click on link below to donate


All Rights Reserved. Copyright © Free Spirit Media, Inc.April 2002.


CYABC is pleased to announce that we have become an
Amazon.com affilliate. CYA receives 15% of any purchases
made directly from our link to their site.
So please, if you are looking to order from
Amazon.com, do it from here.



In Association with Amazon.com

Search:
Keywords:
In Association with Amazon.com

 


CYABC News

 Comment by Maria
Welcome to Our New Site!
  Donations
 Comment by Admin
Welcome to our new Website!

If you have any questions or comments please email the webmaster

All Rights Reserved. Copyright © Free Spirit Media, Inc.April 2002.