"FOI Committee Submission"
February 27, 2004
Prepared for the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act
by Kimberly Daum
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
BC SPCA Community Consultation Summary Report and Recommendations
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
the Report that started it all
convenience, you may also read both of these reports online
Dog Eat Dog Divorce:
A Comparative Analysis
New Eyes, New Directions,
A Strategic Plan for the BC
SPCA 2002-2006 DRAFT
BC SPCA Community Consultation Summary Report and Recommendations
April 22, 2002
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,
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
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.
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
Ideally the public would like to see centrally
located shelters (or at least easily accessible by transit)
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).
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
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.
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,
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.
Animal shelters (drew) the strongest response
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
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
hospital is underutilized (Vogel,
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,
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,
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
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
makes sense that the whole thing be looked
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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
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.
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).
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
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.
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
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
(Whistle-blowing is) a process in which
moral accounts of organizational behavior are at odds
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
BC CTV News at Six, Lisa Rossington, March
BC CTV News at Six, Jina You, March 21,
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,
Bill Good Show, CKNW Radio, March 21,
Brimacombe, Doug, Memo to Staff and Volunteers,
BC SPCA Hospital, April 10, 2002.
Citizens Yell for Accountability website,
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,
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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"
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"
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
The panel cites and seems to agree with
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
animals lying sick and unattended
for day or even weeks (p.9).
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