Wednesday, March 3, 2010

If I had listened to the SPCA in 2008 and obeyed Halifax's wishes...

...Brindi would be dead and gone at the tender age of 5.

In the last days of July, 2008, after HRM ripped Brindi out of my house, I asked the SPCA's chief investigator Roger Joyce to help me save her life. He promised to look into it and do all he could. Hearing nothing, I emailed him a day or two later, and he replied with the digital equivalent of a shrug and a brush-off.

A few months later, Sean Kelly, now SPCA president, greeted me and Brindi fan Bob Riley in a hotel meeting room just before the SPCA's big press conference. In that chat, which we noted later, he smiled unapologetically while patiently explaining to us that the SPCA simply could not take the risk of speaking up to Halifax about Brindi, just one dog, because of their contract. It was up in March (last year) and if they lost it, they would not be able to help any other dogs. It was Brindi or these other dogs... 

He assured me then, and later in Facebook messages, that he spoke for the board of directors. It was hard to believe it until a former SPCA member later confirmed it. He had served briefly on the shelter committee that Sean created a few months later, and quit because of Brindi. He told me that he was upset that the board was willing to allow my beloved companion to die for the sake of a lot of other strays. 

For the next six months, the SPCA repeatedly told the public that they had no say about Brindi. To protect themselves, their most vocal members went on blogs all over the internet to repeat the same message. Imagine, exonerating the only group in the province possessing the power and duty to protect protecting animal life, for refusing to help save an animal dog on death row.  

As far as I know, the SPCA stuck to this position, but maybe it was different behind closed doors. For certain, their public position as of January 2009 was very different from behind-doors, after the supreme court case went badly for HRM. From then on, not only did they try very hard to influence HRM. They began sending email to HRM officials every few weeks, demanding they be allowed to "re-home" Brindi. They even wanted HRM to force me to begin paying them boarding costs for Brindi, which they insisted were higher than $25 a day. Note that by then, the SPCA was making close to half a million a year on the pound contract - unbelievable profit margin on a handful of cages inside their shelter building they call a pound. But they wanted even more money, and they wanted it from me, a person who had just spent tens of thousands on a successful case against the city, that did not even result in getting my dog back. 

I never knew of these letters, of course - not until June, when an HRM councilor showed them to me in a chance encounter at a gas station. I saw about eight of these emails on his blackberry; he said he could not copy them to me. I was stunned. The SPCA was still telling the public they had no part in the outcome. Behind the scenes, they wanted to make sure I never got Brindi back. And knowing my circumstances, they wanted me to pay them for the pleasure, even when they must have known it was (is) illegal to continue impounding Brindi (technically, it was never legal, once the law was quashed). 

Note that just two days before the court ruling announcement, the SPCA publicly criticized the very part of the animal control by-law that would be quashed. They posted a notice to this effect online, without mention of me, the case, or even Brindi. Yet, in the same statement, they were careful to repeat another other myth about the need for "confidentiality" - something they never observed, as I found out along the way. 

NOW - ages later, my dog's health forever compromised, the new Executive Director of the SPCA, Kristin Williams, is publicly asking HRM not to put Brindi down. Great! THe problem is, they still want to give her to somebody else.
"Sentencing Recommendation"

Superintendent Bill Moore

Community Projects
Halifax Regional Police

February 12, 2010


In follow up to our conversation yesterday, I would like to request that the Crown Attorney in
the Rogier/Brindi case make a further submission to the court to suggest an alternative
sentence to euthanasia.

The Nova Scotia SPCA would be willing to assist HRM in making alternative arrangements for
Brindi; such as adoption to home in which her needs could be met, and the community could be
assured of public safety.

It is the Society’s belief that Brindi could be safely placed. Brindi has demonstrated over the
last 18 months that she can live peacefully and happily with a responsible owner.

Please feel free to contact me directly to discuss further.

Best Regards,

Kristin Williams
Executive Director
Nova Scotia SPCA

Pardon my French, but what incredible BALLS these people have!! How would the SPCA know what a good home is, given what they did Brindi in exchange for money? They don't even walk her, to this day, though they walk the other shelter dogs. Why not? It is the request of HRM. It's not legal to hold her, and it is not good care for Brindi to prevent her from being properly exercised.  

Excuse me for saying, but obody should listen to the SPCA when it comes to what is best for my dog Brindi. I wonder whether - as a group - they can say what is best for any dog when it comes to the law. The SPCA never said a word in public about by-law A300 until two days before a judge ruled in my favor against HRM. Neither the timing nor the content was coincidental. Their statement only discussed section 8(2)d, which it deemed wrong all of a sudden. The SPCA kept silent about other similarly bad or unconstitutional portions, much as it keeps silent about the seal hunts. Yet the SPCA is entitled to lobby for better laws - in fact, that is part of its job for the province. Doing a responsible job? 

Remember also that Sean Kelly and gang, for all their smiles and shows of sympathy to my face at the press conference, would have greatly preferred if I had done nothing to save Brindi's life in the first place. They would have much preferred if I had just stood by and allowed them to inject my dog with poison on August 7, 2008, as HRM Animal Services ordered. By then, not one behavioral assessment had been  done by anybody; HRM turned down my request that month with a simple no. Nobody gave them a problem about it, least of all the SPCA. 

So, Brindi would be dead going on two years now, if I had not fought for her life - as it turns out, at great cost to me, financially, materially, emotionally, and any other way you can think of. 

But the SPCA has no problem saying in public that I am not responsible enough to have her back. 

How do they even know the meaning of the word "responsible"? Is Kristin Williams unaware of the enormous breach of trust that her organization is perpetuating? They have been operating with a huge conflict of interest that they simply denied existed, not once seeking ways to deal with it that could help dogs and owners  - like, say, implementing a plan to have professional assessments to verify HRM's wisdom before they give the needle. 

Does Williams not grasp that I saved Brindi from their clutches once before? Does she realize that had I not adopted her eight months earlier, the SPCA would have killed Brindi right after the Celtic Pets seizure? They did away with any and every animal they could in that deluge, and Brindi would have been that no-kill facility for well over two years - i.e., "unadoptable" in their book. Mind you, during the same period they were happy to continue tolerating the scores of gas-chamber "euthanizations" carried out by their own Cape Breton branch. I heard Kelly express the view that if the SPCA tried to stop the gas, the branch might secede from the SPCA. (Why that would bee worse than allowing gruesome killings in their name, nobody said. At least then the SPCA could have laid charges for cruelty!)

As far as how I am so certain they would have killed Brindi after that seizure? Simple. Sean Kelly told me himself as much in January 2009 when I commented on how poor Brindi's condition was, compared to how excellent it was when I adopted her after two years up there: "We never would have had her that long." Aha. They put down a lot of healthy, good dogs back then, and I read about them and shuddered - and assured Brindi she was safe and nobody would ever put her in a cage again. Boy, was I wrong.

And now that Brindi narrowly escaped death twice at their hands, the SPCA executives believe they have the right to weigh in on what is best for her? Really??? 

After they declined to help me at the start or anytime afterwards, and took issue with my efforts to save Brindi, the SPCA went on to punish me as much and as often and as cruelly as they could, forcing me to stay out in subzero temps, imposing manichean "conditions" on visits - that is, when they could deny my right to visit her no longer. They even accused me in public of issuing death threats, a very efficient way to discredit me in the public's eyes after my case did the job of correcting the worst part of a law they never bothered to think about, let alone try to change. 

Death threats??? Based on Sean Kelly's sayso that he heard from friends who heard from their friends that somebody, me or others, may have uttered something about a death threat, none other than the RCMP started a criminal investigation. The RCMP had zero evidence, yet they questioned several people right away. They made one of my friends so nervous about this that he was afraid to tell me about it himself, and had a mutual friend call me with the message. He was the one that the SPCA shelter manager in the fall of 2008 had the same RCMP falsely arrest for "criminal harassment" - charges that they dropped themselves the very next morning. 

You'd think that six months afterwards, the police would be a bit more skeptical when the SPCA cried wolf again. But there you go: it's the kind of institution that the public at large has a hard time believing is anything but pure and good. Ask Janice Bingley and her family about their experience, and it's suddenly not so hard to believe. Yet the public are sympathetic to the cause of protecting animals, and so naturally want to protect the SPCA against all threats, real or imagined. Generally speaking, that's a good impulse. Too bad the institution is not always worthy of it.

From the death threat hoax on, I found I could no longer get coverage in the media, regardless of what happened. I was now a criminal in their eyes - "too controversial" for the CBC to announce a benefit concert last August! Perhaps the media are uncomfortable or reluctant to make the SPCA look bad. But still - news is news. PETA writes a letter of support asking that Brindi be sent home? Who cares! Not one media outlet published it.Think what you like about PETA, but ask yourself, when is the last time they ever supported a case like this? Never. PETA is the world's largest animal welfare group; it has even argued against owning animals as pets! But when they come out in support of Brindi and me, it's not news in Nova Scotia.

To this day, the taint of the SPCA's death threat accusations linger, and a certain group of SPCA die-hards do all they can to keep it alive on the internet. Heck, Sean Kelly based his numerous restrictions on my half-hour weekly visits on the idea I might physically harm staff. Only after the cancer scare, when Brindi developed four cysts, was I able to get permission for regular visits - April, 2009. Biopsies proved the cysts harmless, which was a huge relief. But the vet said they were probably the result of blocked pores. Blocked pores = dirty coat. My concerns about her care were confirmed once again. One bath every six months is not enough in a shelter or at home, god knows how many times somebody brushed her, if ever. Over the course of the year, I had to request baths about four times. Once I asked if I could do it, and was politely declined.

Then there are the bones. Through all these painful horrible months, one of the only things I could console myself with was, at least Brindi gets to enjoy a good beef bone now and then. All year, I brought them regularly, reassuring me also that her teeth and gums would remain healthy. WRONG. I did not find out until mid-2009 that she didn't get the bones. By then the damage to her teeth was permanent and her gums bled any time she grabbed a ball. Still, their vet denied my urgent requests for teeth cleanings. In June or July, though, the word was "damaged enamel". But then the solution was only oral rinses and toothbrushing - no cleaning. 

Why no bones? Answers varied. Not an appropriate treat (no substitute was given); they cause problems among the other dogs - ?? Brindi is supposed to be isolated from other dogs, right? ...They are forbidden as "high value items"... For a long time, I thought "high value" meant iPods or silk dresses - made no sense - but it turns out it means "high value to the dog". Yes, high value to her health. Which you have neglected irresponsibly and irreversibly. They could hardly be genuinely worried about Brindi becoming more aggressive with bones. Otherwise, the shelter manager would not have grabbed one out of Brindi's mouth last spring and dangled it over her head while she talked to me. You'd better be pretty sure of a dog's behavior before you take a bone away from it! Not a problem with Brindi. So what was the problem? 

Let's not forget also the fundamental misdeed of continuing to keep Brindi in a short-term care shelter well past the maximum period of 30 days. If they really know what is best for Brindi, why did they never tell HRM, "Hey, we can no longer insure the health and well-being of this dog, so you'd better find a long-term kennel to take her on, or send her to a foster home - or better yet, GIVE HER BACK, because we know, though we are no experts, that THIS DOG IS NOT DANGEROUS, and certainly not too dangerous to live." Wouldn't that have been the responsible thing to do? They would not have lost a dime on that. Please! They haven't even renewed her vaccinations, and they refused to turn over her medical records when there was a cancer scare.

Then there is the issue of "training". Back in October 2008 Kelly let me know, as if to console me, that he and shelter staff (none of them real trainers) were "training" Brindi. This made me cringe forever, and as it turned out, for good reason, because in January, the first time I was able to visit Brindi, I found to my horror that she had been taught some really bad behavior by Sean himself. 

Jumping on people is one of the behaviors that I made CERTAIN that Brindi NEVER did - or even knew about. In fact, she really didn't even know that she could. She jumped up a bit once or twice the day after I got her, and I quickly said no. She didn't need much more than that; I don't recall her ever trying to do it again, nor did I ever allow anybody else to encourage her to do it.

But there, in the freezing cold, was Sean Kelly right in front of my eyes, getting Brindi to jump up on him and giving her encouragement, praise, and treats! Later somebody sent me a youtube video showing him teaching another dog to jump on him. I heard that some real trainers stepped in to admonish against it. But who knows if he listened? This man now heads the SPCA.

That day, after the sixth time he did it, I could not stand it, and I had to ask him to stop, though I was careful to explain as patiently as I could. Doubtless my audacity provided grounds for the libelous letter from HRM a few days letter, claiming that I had behaved so rudely and horribly to the SPCA staff (he is not staff) that they did not want me there again and HRM could not force them to. Even for half a million dollars? But kill an innocent animal, no problem? (By the way, outside a courtroom not much later, I received a pretty sincere apology from Kishan Persaud for that letter, and he even volunteered to see about visits.)

In my humble, unprofessional opinion, Sean Kelly ruined Brindi forever when it comes to jumping. A very expert trainer told me that once a dog is praised for something, they believe they'll get praise again for the same behavior - bad or good - and they'll want to do it again. Yes, she obeys me now, and even in our short first two visits learned not to jump on me again (she knocked me down in January!), but just a month or two ago, I saw how she'd jump up on a staff member. The woman seemed at a loss. I was furious inside. The truth is, I can no longer be confident that she won't jump on a stranger or a child. Chances are, with consistent handling, she would not do it again, but there is always that possibility, whereas I really was totally sure before - she sat still for infants crawling on her, she sat still when male friends tried to get her to jump on them and roughhouse, etc. Thanks, Sean! 

Yes, now I am guilty in the eyes of the court. But those charges were the result of a few accidental mishaps, not systematic treatment and training. I was as consistent as possible with Brindi's training. Living alone gave me the benefit of control; nobody to confuse her with different handling. I never worried about leaving my full plate of food on the bed with her while I went downstairs to get a glass of milk, taking my time. That plate was there when I got back, always. Am I bragging? Yes. Does she need to learn not to chase dogs on the property or feel threatened by them anywhere else? Yes, that is something that I need the help of a trainer to do. Still, she is a pretty good dog on the whole, and some of the nicer staff at the shelter noticed this. Believe me, Brindi didn't know any commands when I got her, and I followed everything I was taught in and out of classes.

Let's imagine for a moment that, as some have claimed, I am all ego, and not at all able or willing to be a responsible dog owner/caregiver. Can the SPCA be trusted to find a good home for Brindi? Do they even know what a good home is? I am afraid I really don't care to find out. I do not want to risk what is left of Brindi's life. HRM has now dumped the SPCA contract. But is there any hope it will disregard their opinion on what is best for my dog? Hardly. Will a judge consider that they might have other reasons for "re-homing"? I wish...

But as somebody said - isn't it a bit like the fox watching the henhouse?