He did what he could to save man’s best friend, but now Tre Smith, a Toronto Humane Society inspector, is in the dog house.
On July 31, Smith was alerted to a Rottweiler named Cyrus trapped in a sealed and roasting car during a blistering heat wave, with internal temperatures approaching 70C. With the creature near death, he broke the window, sending the owner out to answer his car alarm. With a choice between letting the dog die and hanging on to a man accused of animal cruelty, Smith made a difficult decision. He handcuffed the man to his car and left him there to tend to Cyrus.
“He (the suspect) was threatening and abusive and for my own safety and for the safety of the other people around me and for the safety of Cyrus, I needed to tend to Cyrus to save his life,” Smith explained.
By the time police arrived, the captive man was bleeding, having been allegedly attacked by angry bystanders who witnessed the incident. “The police hadn’t got here just yet but they were almost here, and I had to leave because the dog was non-responsive, had stopped breathing and I had to stimulate the dog just to bring him back,” he recalled then. “So I had to leave for the life of the dog.”
But that decision has now cost Smith dearly. The Ontario SPCA suspended his agent’s license pending an internal review. He can still work at the Humane Society, but cannot investigate animal cruelty cases. The OSPCA fully supports Officer Smith’s actions to save Cyrus, but the ensuing assault on the abuser could be problematic for the humane organizations.
By contrast, the accused, Paul Soderholm, who will appear in court in September and who is now listed on a North American animal abuse database, faces a maximum penalty under Ontario’s antiquated animal cruelty laws, of $2,000 and 6 months in jail – a mere slap on the wrist.
While cruelty charges have been laid against the owner, there’s a terrible irony in the fact that the man accused of the crime could one day get his animal back. It’s an old dilemma Smith faces every day in his difficult but rewarding job. Soderholm claims to have rescued Cyrus as an abused puppy five years ago, and “would never do anything to harm him”. Whoops! Short memory here! He just wants his beloved pet back. We assume he would be reimbursing the Toronto Humane Society for the $10,000 in veterinary fees to save the dog (in addition to the costs of replacing his beloved car window), but then, we’d rather see Cyrus in a loving home elsewhere. Lucky for him our laws are so gutless; otherwise, he could be liable for, say, $10,000 in fines and a real jail term.
“[The laws are] not tough enough,” Officer Smith makes clear. “They don’t have any teeth. We’re gumming our way through this thing. How can anyone expect us to do our job properly if we don’t have the tools, the resources and the laws and the people to back us up?”
“There is an avenue that he can proceed with to try and get his animal back in the meantime before this is seen before the courts.” He is referring to the province’s Animal Care Review Board which, last fall, returned two dalmatian puppies to their abuser in the Toronto Beaches. The Board’s decision was subsequently reversed, and those puppies are happily in new homes. That story is here.
Smith recalls that the province was looking at toughening up the laws, but when the Legislature broke for the election, the new rules still hadn’t passed – and won’t until after the vote in October.
The good news is that, although Cyrus was near death and facing possible brain damage as a result of his ordeal, he is making a full recovery at the Toronto Humane Society. The friendly and alert rottweiler has already received over many offers of adoption. A Facebook group supporting Officer Smith has over 4,000 members.
In the meantime, the dogfight between the OSPCA and the Toronto Humane Society continues. With 20:20 hindsight, we would all have done this differently, wouldn’t we? After all, the 170+ animal cruelty inspectors in Ontario do this work every day.
The silver lining related to Officer Smith’s tough decision is a groundswell of anger on the part of the public, and the awareness of the urgent need for more relevant animal cruelty legislation. The current legislation dates from the 1800s, and sadly supports abusers better than it does their victims. Most states in the US are way ahead of the industrial and financial heart of Canada, which is roughly on par with Mississippi. Bringing the anti-cruelty legislation into the 21st century is something that both the OSPCA and Toronto Humane Society can agree on.
What Can You Do?
Email the Toronto Humane Society and let Tre Smith know what you think.
Write to the OSPCA to offer your support for animal cruelty legislation that really has teeth.
Write to Monte Kwinter, Ontario Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. He has been working with a task force to put tighter legislation in place. Let’s make this a priority in Ontario.
Tre Smith image is copyright Toronto Humane Society.