Category Archives: politics



Let’s go!

StarmanThis week marks the 50th anniversary of the historic first flight into space by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. At the time, it was the biggest victory yet for the Soviet Union in the space race that had begun with the launch of Sputnik four years earlier. And the rocket that catapulted Gagarin into space also launched him to global celebrity.

Gagarin, however, never flew in space again. In 1968, seven years after his world-changing flight, he died in an airplane crash.

Due to the secretive nature of the Soviet Union, much of Gagarin’s life was a mystery to Western historians for many years. But that changed when Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony published the first biography of Gagarin in English, Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin.

Originally published more than a decade ago, Starman has been released in a new edition to mark the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight. This remains the definitive biography of the famous cosmonaut, tracing his life from his roots as a young child on a collective farm to his untimely death at the age of 34. Along the way, Doran and Bizony reveal some surprising truths. Although Gagarin completed close to 95 per cent of a full orbit (taking off from Kazakhstan and coming down in Russia somewhat short of where he departed from), he didn’t complete that orbit by staying in the capsule the entire time. Shortly before plunging to the ground, he ejected and descended under a personal parachute.

According to Bizony, the decision to eject was made for safety reasons. But fears the Soviets would be denied the honour of having been the first to launch a person into orbit meant that piece of information stayed tightly under wraps.

“It would be a very churlish world indeed that didn’t give [them] the honour of having been the country to first launch a man into orbit, but that’s what the Russians feared. They feared that if it got out that Yuri Gagarin didn’t stay with his capsule those last few thousand feet as it plunged through the atmosphere to landing on the ground, somehow the prize of claiming the world’s first human orbit would be taken away from them.”

After his descent, Gagarin became an instant celebrity and spent the next few years struggling to deal with his fame, the public relations it required and the strain it put on his marriage.

As people around the world come together tonight to celebrate his achievement, it’s clear his star has yet to fade. As Bizony says, although Gagarin’s life may have been cut short, his legacy most certainly won’t.

“He was, and for as long as human beings still have the words to utter the phrase, always will be the first man in space.”

Облетев Землю в корабле-спутнике, я увидел, как прекрасна наша планета. Люди, будем хранить и приумножать эту красоту, а не разрушать её!

Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!

Source: CBC Books


The Dog Song

I’m just a walking my dog
Singing my song
Strolling along
Yeah it’s just me and my dog
Catching some sun
We can’t go wrong

Well just go right to the pound
And find yourself a hound
And make that doggie proud
‘Cause that’s what it’s all about

Nellie McKay Dog Song

Playful, quirky, hilarious, endearing: not attributes of your typical political agitator. But singer-songwriter-producer-activist Nellie McKay merits the description. Her music is whimsical, colorful, catchy and as engaging as it is restless. Toying with antique genres and yet undeniably contemporary, it flirts with multiple styles of delivery while maintaining a sharp social conscience.

For these and other eccentricities, McKay has gained a devoted fan following. On stage and off, she’s an outspoken advocate of animal rights, a friend and ally to any arch political quip and — lucky for us — artistically uncompromising.

Excerpted from TED dot com

Image: “Lost Girls”

Nellie McKay website

Hershey’s Rally

Ontario’s controversial ban on pit bulls — now five years old — is under fire once again as a coalition of dog-loving groups rallied Sunday to support MPP Cheri di Novo’s efforts to have the law changed. Hundreds of people and dozens of well-behaved muzzled dogs “substantially similar to the elusive pit bull” gathered at Coronation Park on the Toronto waterfront on Sunday afternoon to protest Ontario’s ban on pit bulls and to demand the repeal of breed-specific legislation.

They’re ripping family pets away from people based on very vague legislation,” said Rui Branco, who successfully fought the City of Brampton earlier this year by proving his dog, Brittany, was not a pit bull. The American bulldog-boxer mix was seized and held by the city for three months before an independent veterinarian was able to determine it was not a pit bull.

“An animal control officer looked at her and said she was a pit bull. Then she was taken away from us.”

Hershey's RallyThe first speaker, reporter Anita Robeson, described the case of Ginger, a pit bull taken into custody after defending herself in a park after an attack by a German shepherd/collie cross. Ginger’s owner, Philip Huggins, has spent more than $75K in legal fees to try to protect her from being killed.

Anita pointed out that the vague legislation allows many dogs to be seized as illegal pit bulls, with the onus resting entirely on their owners to disprove the allegations. Dog bans have been shown by experts to be ineffective, she said, however the media frequently misrepresents the facts.

A case in point was the death of a young girl in the US. The dogs were described as “family pets” but in fact, they were neglected, unsocialized victims of abuse who had been confined to the basement in terrible shape with no food or water.

Anita encouraged us to write to our MPPs asking for tougher penalties for abusers, not discriminatory bans and death for innocent dogs.

The second speaker, Dr. David Kreaden, recounted his personal experience in adopting his dog. A contractor had brought his big, gentle, brown-eyed dog to Kreaden’s house, and he learned that it was an American Staffordshire Terrier. He researched dog breeds and behaviour on the CKC site and learned about the staffie’s reputation as a “nanny dog”. Then he adopted “Spud”.

According to Kreaden, pit-bull type dogs tested did well on behavioural tests, ahead of many other dog breeds. A Southampton study tested over 1,000 pit-bull types and only one was disqualified. The study recommended pit-bull types as one of the top ten dogs for families.

So why was Michael Bryant and the McGuinty government so quick to pass breed-specific legislation? Kreaden theorized that the Ontario Liberals had already broken several election promises not to raise taxes, and BSL was a diversionary tactic. Since the legislation was enacted, 12,000 dogs have been killed or sent to research labs.

Kreaden closed by encouraging us to take control when the next provincial election is called.

Marcie Laking, Vice-President of Toronto Humane Society, told us that this subject is very close to her heart, as she has a 10-year-old pit bull. Although Toronto Humane Society is unable to adopt out illegal pit bulls, the shelter will make every effort to save them and will not put them down because of their breed. Marcie told us that it has been proven scientifically that BSL does not work and certainly does not reduce dog bites.

She then introduced Bill Bruce, Director of Calgary Animal Services, who is visiting Toronto this week to consult with Toronto Humane Society. Rally organizers and attendees were thrilled that Bill took the time to attend and talk about the Calgary model, which does work.

Bill BruceHe gave the example of a dog tied up outside a restaurant. People don’t know how to read such a dog’s anxiety, and fear-biting can occur. Calgary Animal Services provides education on responsible dog ownership (along with zero-tolerance bylaw enforcement) and on preventing dog bites. This blogger notes that, during a period of population doubling in Calgary, incidences of dog aggression have decreased 75%. It’s also helpful to know that, while 80% of bite victims are children who know the dog, education in the lower grades and reinforcement by parents has reduced bites by 80% in Calgary.

Even with the influx of pit-bulls from Ontario, Bill quipped.

We are dealing with a human problem, said Bill, and not an animal problem, so the challenge is to modify human behaviour. In Calgary, the City does not get in the way of responsible pet owners. There are no pet limits and no breed-specific legislation, although there are consequences for irresponsible pet owners.

Bill’s four principles of responsible pet ownership are:

• Licensing and identification
• Spay/neuter
• Socialization, care and training
• Taking action so pets do not become a nuisance.

Hershey's RallyAs long as you do these four things, Bill said, it is none of Calgary Animal Services’ business.

He cited a study by the Canine Research Council, noting that the incidence of mis-identification of dog breed is 80%. Take note, Michael Bryant.

Calgary measures dog behaviour on a 200-point analysis of factors, and classifies bite severity based on the levels developed by Dr. Ian Dunbar. Levels 1 and 2, Bill said, are what he classifies as opportunities to modify behaviour before the biting escalates. The serious dog bites are happening in the home, not in public.

Last year, Calgary recorded 58 dog bites, down from hundreds before the programs were put in place. New York City reports 24 bites per 100K population. The US average is 68 bites per 100K. For Calgary, the number is five.

The Calgary model puts the responsibility on the owner, and Calgary Animal Services provides expectations, consequences and support.

Cyndi Knill then stepped up to the microphone to tell us the story of the two Jennifers – Jennifer Wind, a rescuer, and Jennifer Waite, who ultimately ended up adopting Hershey in whose honour the new bill is named. Hershey had been an over-bred puppy mill mother, caged 24/7. Her jaw had been broken in two places with no veterinary intervention, and had been left to heal on its own. With Jennifer, Hershey went on to become a confident and healthy therapy dog in Halton Hills. Hershey received an award from Toronto Humane Society as Therapy Dog of the Year.

But, under the new breed-specific legislation, she had to be muzzled and could no longer be a therapy dog. People asked after her for months after her forced retirement.

In March, 2009, Hershey passed away, but she will never be forgotten.

Cyndi asked how many “Hershey’s” we have lost because of this bad law, and how many were never even born.

Jennifer Waite’s heartfelt tribute to her dogs was posted on a Remembrance Wall set up at the rally:

“Dear Hershey and Twix, I moved out of the city to safer pastures, away from pointing fingers and cruel comments. You both taught me so much about life, love and patience. Although now gone, you will never be forgotten.”

John Kincaid, a longtime member of the Dog Legislation Council of Canada, spoke to us about the 27 purebreeds that are targeted as “substantially similar” to pit-bulls, and warned that the law is about removal of choice, and search and seizure; an Animal Control officer can enter your home on an anonymous tip and seize your dog. This is reverse onus; you are guilty until you can prove yourself innocent. The bill targets the poor, he said, who cannot afford to hire a lawyer while your dog languishes at the pound. If an animal control officer says your dog is a pit-bull, you can be facing $25K in legal fees easily.

What do you need to do, he asked. Read the legislation, write your MPP, demand that Hershey’s Law (Bill 60) be passed and Bill 132 rescinded. For the sake of your right to choose and the sake of your dog.

Hershey's RallyDanny Truong told us that he took his dog, Bowser, to the veterinarian at 10 months of age to be neutered. Mississauga Animal Services was called and Bowser was seized and threatened with euthanasia. Danny was a college student at the time. He had no idea that his dog might even be a pit-bull or that Bowser was young enough to be illegal. He went to work full-time and spent his college tuition to defend his dog. The trial date is January, 2011.

Rui Branco was also at the rally with his boxer mix, Brittany. His dogs had both been seized by Brampton Animal Control. An independent veterinarian confirmed that they were not pit-bulls and the dogs were released after a three-month ordeal for their family.

Cheri di Novo
The audience burst into cheers when Parkdale/High Park MPP, Cheri di Novo, took the stage.

She began by paraphrasing the famous quote from Gandhi, that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” then went on to describe how she entered politics to give voice to the voiceless. She thanked the audience for standing up for these dogs and their families.

Cheri cited examples of Westminster Dog Show champions who would be banned in Ontario, describing the warrantless-entry powers of Animal Control who can enter your home, target your animals on the basis of a vague description, incarcerate and kill your dog, then hand you the bill. These powers are used against your animals and against you, she said.

Cheri has an English bull terrier who, if her nose were shorter and her ears floppy, she would be incarcerated. She speculated that the media would be all over the story if Don Cherry’s “Blue” were seized.

She noted that, on this very evening when a Candlelight Vigil would be held at Queen’s Park for the dogs lost to Ontario’s implementation of breed-specific legislation, a vigil was also being held for bike-courier, Darcy Sheppard, who was killed one year ago and Michael Bryant, author of the breed-specific legislation, got more leniency than the dogs that have been incarcerated and killed.

Cheri told us that there is no question that we will win on this issue. It is just a matter of when. If not before the next provincial election, then certainly after it…The Conservatives are wholeheartedly behind Hershey’s Bill, along with the NDP and some of the Liberal back-benchers.

What can you do, she asked, to make this happen? Pester your MPP’s and find out where they stand on the repeal of breed-specific legislation. Email them. MPP’s are getting emails about this issue daily; the only campaign that has had more emails is the anti-HST one. Sign petitions. Get out to the all-candidates meetings and ask where they stand on this issue.

We’ve been angry at the deaths of hundreds of innocent dogs and at the trauma to their families. But anger won’t sustain us, Cheri said. Love is the only thing that will – love of your dogs, love of each other, and love of the cause of justice.

At the finale, the dogs and their companions marched around the soundstage as the band played the Pit Bull Blues!

As dusk approached, rally participants walked their dogs peacefully to Pawsway at Harbourfront, then headed to Queen’s Park for a Candlelight Vigil.

Images of Queen’s Park and four pitties: Donna Dempsie

Videos and more information on the rally here.

Stop Canine Profiling

Toronto Star

The Calgary Model

In North America we do not have a problem with pet overpopulation, stray animals, nuisance or vicious animals – we have a problem with responsible pet ownership. Virtually every animal that ends up in a shelter or on the street is there because a human relationship failed them…It’s always the animal that pays in the end.

Bill BruceBill Bruce, Director of Calgary Animal and Bylaw Services attacks the problem head-on with a three-pronged approach to responsible pet ownership, incorporating licensing, public education and enforcement, with supporting agencies all working together to achieve the same goals.

As long as owners license their pets, have them spayed or neutered, take proper care of them and ensure they don’t show signs of aggression, such as charging or excessive barking, they won’t have to deal with Bill.

His mission is “To encourage a safe, healthy, vibrant community for people and pets through the development, education, and compliance of bylaws that reflect community values”.

When Bill took over the Calgary program, it was struggling. Calgary was not always so pet-friendly or safe from dog bites. The city had 621 dog bites a year in the mid-1980s, even though its population was then much smaller at just over 600,000 people. The city also was euthanizing many more dogs at the time and had a policy against adopting out “pit bulls.”

It is clear that Calgarians are now strongly behind Bill’s fair treatment and service value as the community is engaged and funding is in place. The citizen satisfaction rate is 91%, second only to the Fire Department.

Calgary, when it comes to animal control, is the envy of the continent.
~ Calgary Sun

The keys to Calgary’s success:

  • no mandatory spay/neuter
  • no breed specific legislation
  • no pet limit laws
  • providing valued services rather than simply punishing citizens into compliance
  • buy in and cooperation among community stakeholders through mediation
  • extensive education and PR campaign to emphasize responsible pet ownership
  • low license fees and modest fee differential for intact pets

Tough LoveAll dogs and cats 3 months or older require a license. Fees are reasonable but there is a fine for unlicensed animals. A free 6-month license is provided for all adopted dogs and cats. Media campaigns have sent the message that “My license is my ticket home”. The program allows Animal Services to identify that a lost animal has a caregiver and that animal is just one phone call away from going home.

If a pet is picked up at-large and is licensed, it is not dropped off at the shelter to await discovery by its owner. The Animal Services Officer has a laptop in the truck with a direct link to the licensing database, a cell phone & a GPS, allowing the owner to be contacted and the animal to be taken directly home without ever setting foot in the shelter. The pet that goes directly home does not cost Animal Services in time or resources. It is an animal that does not bring disease to or catch disease within the facility. Only if an owner cannot be located is the animal taken to Animal Services.

The city now boasts a licensing compliance rate for dogs of 92% as of June 2009, a return to owner rate of 85% and a euthanasia rate of only 6%. A newly implemented licensing program for cats already has a licensing compliance rate of 54%, a return to owner rate of 56% and an 18% euthanasia rate. A majority of those animals being euthanized are for behavioural issues and poor health or injuries. Had these cats been microchipped, tattooed, or licensed, they could have been returned to their owners. Calgary has the highest return-to-owner and lowest pet euthanasia rates on the continent.

Licensing goes hand in hand with the I Heart My Pet rewards program, launched in March 2010. The rewards card provides a means for pet owners to recoup the cost of their licensing fees through savings on products and services offered by 40 partner merchants

Aggressive animal incidents are almost non-existent. Over the past 18 years, the city of Calgary has cut their number of dog bites and chases by more than 50% (all the while, the human and dog population of Calgary has doubled).

“You, as a pet owner are 100 percent responsible.”

Freedom City
Education is another key component of Bill’s approach. It raises awareness, removes misconceptions, changes behaviour and helps prevent problems before they happen. Calgarians have become voluntary partners in compliance. Educational programs revolve around responsible citizenship and pet ownership including licensing and spaying/neutering. No-cost interactive education starts in schools as early as Grade 1, with a “Dogs in Our Society” program which focuses on pet ownership and safety. Other programs include “PAWS Dog Bite Prevention”, “Urban Coyotes”, “Freedom City” (about bylaws and safety), “Junior Bylaw Project” and “Think Responsibly” (a general safety program).

Calgary also supports off-leash areas for dogs, recognizing that they are important for socialization. In off-leash areas, dogs must be licensed and under control at all times. Owners must pick up after their dog, and dogs must not threaten people, other animals or wildlife.

In addition, Calgary has no limit laws, no breed specific laws, no mandatory spay/neuter ordinances and no interference from animals rights groups.

“If you’ve got a ‘pit bull’ and it’s properly licensed and it’s not bothering anybody and it’s well cared for – it’s none of the government’s business.”

Calgary’s bylaw officers have taken a stand against breed banning, and responded to dog bite concerns with a tougher licensing program and stronger enforcement. The City of Calgary also spends considerable funds on dog safety public awareness and education campaigns. Research shows that just 1 hour of dog safety training in grades 2 and 3 can reduce these attacks by 80%.

“We don’t punish breeds, we punish behavior. The bottom line is, we believe all dogs are capable of biting.”

Bill measures the success of these programs by looking at intake numbers, return-to-owner rates, aggressive animal incidents, euthanasia rates (and a breakdown of causes), percent of animals licensed, number of bylaw infractions charged, and financial performance. Overall, he reports a decrease intake, aggressive animal numbers, bylaw infractions and euthanasia. The other measures enjoy positive increase.

Bill’s objective, to have no more homeless pets in Calgary within five years, also hinges on new initiatives like subsidized spay/neuter (funded by cat licensing), increased licensing including a possible lifetime license with microchip program, and an increase in the Drive Home program.

More on the Calgary model:

Calgary Animal and Bylaw Services website
KC Dog Blog
The Bill Bruce California Tour
Tough Love
Calgary Dog Attacks Fall to Lowest Levels in 25 Years
Canadian City Changes Tack to Cut Dog Deaths
Calgary Creates a Model for Dealing with Dangerous Dogs
It’s About Human Responsibility

Who’s the Dog?

This past weekend, we had the privilege of attending a dog behaviour seminar with Sam Malatesta of Who’s the Dog. Toronto Humane Society graciously provided their premises for the event.

Of course, it was not so much about dog behaviour as a challenge for us as companions to do some serious self-reflection…

Show me your dog and I’ll tell you what manner of man you are.

Shiba Inu and Pit Bull

I went into the seminar with 13 years of experience with shiba inus – a Japanese spitz breed known for being as primitive as they come. Shibas are used for hunting small game in rural Japan and they are extremely independent and intelligent. They are wild primitive dogs. Not your average Golden Retriever, and definitely not for the average North American family, no matter how folks might head to the pet store after watching Hachiko.

My regret is that my older girl was subjected to endless commands to “sit” and “down”; my only training to deal with a first dog was the breeder’s advice to not let her be the boss. She has turned out to be a beautiful dog in spite of me. I truly hope she has forgotten the stupid alpha rolls. My 7 year old puppy mill rescue essentially learned from her – in a split second and without all the tedious repetitions – and was more fortunate in that we worked with his natural inclinations to please.

Oh, by the way, that little puppy that’s play-bowing its gigantic opponent is a sesame shiba inu… ;o)

Sam’s work over the past 25 years has been to develop methods that will allow us to give our dogs freedom and confidence. We earn their respect and they totally trust us.

In the seminar, Sam talked about earning trust and respect, being the solid rock on which the dog could absolutely depend, leading by example, knowing the dog’s limits and having the self-discipline to help the dog work within those limits then move beyond them, never allowing the dog to fail and never demeaning the dog.

He pointed out that dogs are basically predators; that is, killers, and they are territorial pack animals. But what we want is a companion, a servant and worker, and a dog that is social.

How do we achieve this with a puppy or an older dog, perhaps one from a shelter?

This is where his Whelping Box model comes in. The “weeks” that he refers to below are really metaphorical segments in the growth of a dog.

In week 1 in a whelping box, the puppies gravitate towards their mother for food and affection. They may spend 15 – 20 minutes at a time with her. In the behavioural world, where we are dealing with the first segment of interacting with a dog, we create a controlled environment – a house, backyard – with no other dogs and no other people, and the only command the puppies need to learn is “come”.

In week 2 (or segment 2, which can last longer than a week if necessary), we introduce socialization. There is some environmental change. The new dog may be taken out to the driveway or the front of the house to meet a safe and stationary person. Time for the interaction increases to 20 – 25 minutes. From a training point of view, a dog learns “heel” and “sit” (my shibas never learned “heel”…oh, well, they are wild after all. They learned Iditarod mushing.)

In week or segment 3, puppies start to play. This builds spirit and can lead to dominance. They start to establish territory. From a training point of view, a dog learns “stay” and how to respect space.

In week or segment 4, puppies are still attached to mom for food and affection. In a defensive situation, the mother steps in front of the puppies. Weaning begins, and a secondary care-giver takes over feeding. At this point, exercises focus on socialization with commands including “heel”, “sit”, “stay”, “down” and recall. Training may now introduce direct human contact and indirect interaction with a stationary dog.

In week or segment 5, there are more environmental changes. The mother is gone for a longer period. The puppies begin to fight for space. They develop full-blown prey drive. Training now involves a sidewalk situation with a milling crowd and integration with other dogs in play situations.

In week or segment 6, we have puppies that are completely weaned. They have the courage to face the real world and can be integrated into the home.

So, we must not default to a scientific approach where we only apply corrective stimuli; the onus on us is to know the dog in our heart and soul and be aware of his/her needs. If a dog mistrusts us, it is because of our betrayal.

Sam worked through exercises where dogs and their companions were dealing with anxiety, obsession, separation and possession. They walked it out. It was amazing to see the dogs calm down from a heightened state; their human companions, sometimes not so much…

Especially important for me was his advice that old dogs don’t need to be trained; they just need to feel safe. We had a lovely old dog in the class who was losing her sight. She barked constantly unless she was in the safe haven of her carrier, even though she had German shepherds and pit bulls milling around her. Her companion learned how to teach her to use her senses of hearing and smell so that they could connect.

We all get to be old…if we’re lucky.

Sam spent some time talking about successful no-kill rescues with whom he’d worked, such as Midwest Boston Terrier Association. He talked about some of the programs that were in place in successful no-kill rescue organizations and he had a few suggestions for Toronto Humane Society.

  • Evaluate volunteers and foster homes. These people are tremendous assets to a shelter. They also need consistent standards.
  • On intake, look at the personality of the potential adopter, how the animal will react to the transfer, and how long the decompression period needs to be and what needs to happen for the animal to stabilize.
  • Consider aftercare. Not just a 72-hour hotline for adopted animals, but an ongoing problem solving service.
  • Implement an anti-surrender program, to provide problem-solving and support for families so that they can keep their animal.
  • Customer service!
  • Make the animals visible. Highlight the activities that go on in the dog-walking yards. Provide video presentations about the animals (not the organization – who cares about that?) Make it easy to do a comprehensive computer lookup to find out who’s available for adoption. Make animals available for viewing in public areas. Have ambassador volunteers interacting in public areas with the animals.
  • Low-cost spay/neuter clinic, of course!
  • Reduced-cost training facilities.

Concentrate on how we help the animals, how we bring people in and how we keep them coming back.

Sam made a good point when he asked what the community is getting back for its adoption fees and donations. Rehabilitation costs money but doing it and getting the word out could reap benefits in terms of goodwill and donations. Euthanasia will not. It’s the old story that when you get something right, you benefit from word of mouth. The flip side is also true.

Oh yes, he also talked about euthanasia and animal evaluation. Sam is in line with us on no-kill; out of something like 1600 GSDs that he has bred over his lifetime, only 2 have been euthanized and they were dire behavioural cases. He is adamantly against SAFER testing and told us his demonstration dogs, who are absolutely superb, would not pass it.

No Country for Animals

pigKevin Newman’s latest documentary, No Country for Animals opens with a question about human rights and animal welfare: “In Canada, we pride ourselves on racial and sexual equality, but what about the rights of other species?”

How Canada holds up to the rest of the world is a worthwhile comparison. Canada is well behind international standards that regulate housing and transportation for animals used in industry. Canada is the namesake of the documentary.

The latest installment of the ‘Revealed’ documentary series. No Country for Animals, directed by Karen Pinker,  examines Canada’s deplorable record on animal welfare and looks at the people who are fighting to bring about much-needed change. It was  telecast tonight on Global.

Without being unnecessarily graphic, No Country for Animals exposes Quebec’s notorious puppy mills and examines the mistreatment of animals raised for food. We see the gestation crates where animals spend their entire lives confined in standing positions, and overcrowded abattoir-bound trucks where livestock can go for days without food or water.

It all happens because Canada has very outdated, ineffectual laws protecting animals and when cruelty charges are made, they are often dismissed. “In Canada, animals are property,” explains one activist. Our legal standards protecting animals lag far behind the European Union or California, for example, where major steps have been taken to protect animals and enhance their lives.

This documentary introduces viewers to some of the people who are fighting to bring about change in this country. There’s Nicole Joncas challenging the Quebec courts to close their horrific puppy mills, or Twyla Francois, armed with an undercover camera, campaigning vigorously to bring attention to the mistreatment of farm animals. We meet Canada’s first lawyer to specialize in animal law, and a new, young generation dedicated to the fight to improve the lives of animals through legal and educational means.

The documentary opens with Twyla Francois, a filmmaker and investigator. Many of her informants are  investigators for provincial authorities. After a shot of the Woofstock festival in Toronto, she says that we spend $4.5 billion every year to pamper our pets, while permitting legal abuse to other animals.

Leslie Bisgould, the first Canadian animal lawyer informs us that the penalty for smashing someone’s SUV  is far greater than for beating their dog.

Alanna Devine, Director of Animal Welfare for the Montreal SPCA says that less than one-quarter of one percent of those accused of animal cruelty are ever convicted. You have to prove intentional neglect. The Criminal Code provisions, crafted in 1892, talks about preventing “unnecessary suffering”, but the implication is that anything we deem “necessary” goes unpunished.

Nicole Joncas runs an animal rescue in Quebec. We see scenes in a  puppy mill. All the dogs are screaming; the noise is unbearable. They are terrified. Some are sick or badly injured. Quebec has the dubious distinction of being the puppy mill capital of Canada, with over 2,000 mass breeding operations.

Nicole is frustrated. She reported the mill to everyone but no one was listening. She spoke to Anima Quebec who have four inspectors for the entire province. They looked into it, but ended up just telling the owners to clean things up.

In addition to federal legislation from the 19th century, each province has its own laws. A 2009 study by the Animal Legal Defence Fund ranks Quebec’s laws as the worst.

Cut to shots of a pig farm, where institutionalized violence takes place on private property. Twyla says that these animals are considered to be nothing because they were born for this purpose, but there is no difference between them and a dog or cat, in terms of what they feel.

She grew up on a farm in Manitoba. Her father was a  butcher. When she was a 13-year-old member of 4-H,  grooming her pet calf, she realized what happened to farm animals and became vegan. Twyla is now a chief inspector for CETFA (Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals).

She shows us shots of a transport trailer, with no enrichment or protection from the elements. She tells us that pigs freeze to the metal in winter. Cattle and sheep travel for up to 52 hours with no food, water or a break. This is in line with CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) guidelines. CFIA will  not discuss changes.

So Twyla takes matters into her own hands. She goes to cattle auctions to enforce regulations.

“We know the regulations better than the CFIA,” she says.

At one particularly problematic auction, she finds a badly injured calf and convinces a government veterinarian that it needs to be euthanized. She counts this day as a success because the suffering ended for one animal.

Cut to shots of poultry being thrown into the back of a truck like sacks of potatoes. This is completely legal, says Twyla. The workers consider it standard practice. Cruelty has been institutionalized.

We return to the pig farm. 95% of sows in Canada are confined for their short and unhappy lives in gestation crates which are 2 feet by 7 feet. They go crazy.

Paul Shapiro (HSUS) is shown speaking to an audience of Manitoba agricultural students. He mentions Proposition 2, passed in California to eliminate gestation crates. The victory was a landslide. We see some videos asking voters to say Yes to Prop 2. Twyla would like that  to happen here.

Across the pond to Amsterdam where we follow a discussion about animal rights, which are debated much more vigorously in Europe. Lesli Bisgould, the lawyer, reminds us that, in Canada, animals are property and can be used in any way by their owners.

However, the founding document of the European Union, the Treaty of Amsterdam, recognizes animals as sentient beings. The people filmed in Amsterdam don’t understand why Canadians don’t seem to care. Canadians, after all, helped save Europe during World War II.

We cut to a Dutch farmer nicknamed the “Pig Whisperer”. He tells us pigs are funny, nice, social animals. The Dutch government has passed protection laws stating that pigs must not live in crates. But Canada has no proposal on the books to get rid of them. His farm used to be a factory farm, but now the pens are always open, there’s straw on the floor, and pigs roam. Toys are mandated in every pen.

In other European countries such as Sweden and the U.K., confinement pens have likewise been banned. The Swiss constitution actually recognizes the dignity of all creatures.

We cut to an Italian border crossing, where the Italian police do routine inspections of livestock trucks. This never happens in Canada. Dr. Mario Sapino, the chief veterinarian, is there. Animal activists are too, working alongside the police and inspectors. The truck has ventilation and food, but Dr. Sapino says that the animals are packed in too closely and are touching each other. The driver is fined the equivalent of $5,000.

European cattle get a break every 14 hours, compared to our 52. Dr. Sapino says that no one in Europe would ever consider transporting animals that long.

In Canada, we blame our geography. Most animals are raised in the prairies and slaughtered in Ontario and Quebec.

European eyes are now on Canada. They worry that their own standards are not  high enough. Then they see ours.

Nicole has tried to sue the Government of Quebec for failing to enforce its animal cruelty laws. She tells us that her case was thrown out, so she moved to a court of appeal. Things have become complicated by the fact that the puppy mill in question has gone bankrupt. That’s what they do; shut down then move to another town.

The court of appeal told her that this was a political question, not a legal one, therefore not under their jurisdiction.

“This has been the hardest four years of my life,” she says.

Lesli Bisgould tells us that law students believe that animal rights is the next legal frontier. Animal law courses are springing up in universities and a new breed of lawyers is graduating.

Alanna Devine tells us that, 25 years ago, environmental law was considered unusual; now it’s very common. Animal law is gaining acceptance as a career.

We see two McGill law students chatting over Skype with a lawyer in Zurich, who was the very first prosecutor in the world to take on animal cruelty cases.

Nicole is now considering a consumer-based campaign against puppy mills – a class-action suit. She says she’s seeing a glimmer of movement from the Quebec Government, who are now providing more money for inspectors.

But what about Canadian consumers? How ready are we to change?

We see a field full of happy black boards crunching on walnuts at Perth Pork Products. The farmer used to use indoor methods to keep prices low. Now he raises heritage breeds for boutique butchers such as Mario Fiorucci of The Healthy Butcher in Toronto.

Mario visits every farm he buys from to ensure that the animals are raised humanely. He sees a business opportunity as customers become aware of more humane options. Price is always an issue, of course, and consumers can pay 25 – 50% more at the butcher shop for humanely raised animals. But North Americans have become addicted to cheap food.

Arthur Schafer, Ethicist at the University of Manitoba, tells us that most people don’t want to eat meat raised inhumanely. He says the public needs to be informed, and that there’s evidence that Canadians want to know where their meat comes from.

Meanwhile, Mario offers hands-on classes to aspiring chefs. He says that, with higher prices, people try to eat less or no meat, and they  focus on higher quality.

This is our choice.

Twyla visits The Healthy Butcher and talks with Mario. She questions just how humane “humane meat” is. Animals are still commodified. They are still transported and slaughtered.

The small animals in the butcher case, like the chickens, do her in. She is looking at the whole animal, not just anonymous parts.

Alanna Devine says that changes will not be fast; they will be incremental. She lives for the small victories.

Twyla does it because she dreams of the day that Canadians will finally get it, and start to make humane choices.

If you missed it, you can watch it here.

Rally for Governance of the OSPCA

Yesterday, a group of us attended a rally at Queen’s Park to support MPP Frank Klees (Newmarket – Aurora) in bringing important amendments to Bill 50 which currently grants sweeping police powers to the OSPCA – powers that have been abused and which were thrust into the public eye most recently with the ringworm outbreak at their Newmarket shelter. You’ll recall that the OSPCA intended to quietly euthanize all 350 animals for a highly treatable condition. The story was leaked and public outrage halted the killing plans. But not before 102 animals had been put down.

My head is still spinning from the heartbreaking stories told by speakers at the rally.

Frank Klees spoke about the need to take legislative change forward demanding oversight by the Ministry of Community Safety, and the separation of policing powers from sheltering within the OSPCA.

Cheri diNovo (MPP, Parkdale – High Park) was present as a speaker at the Bill 50 rally as well as the Civil Liberties/G-20 rally which followed, and she eloquently pointed out the chilling comparison.

The stories followed.

SusanSusan Pitney recounted the seizure of her elderly beagle, Little  One, who is diabetic and blind. This happened last August. A year ago. And Susan has been fighting relentlessly to overturn the OSPCA’s decision and get her companion back. She does not know where Little One is or whether she is still alive.  Read the story in Susan’s own words.

SunnySunny Reuter became interested in provincial animal legislation after the OSPCA seized and killed her dog Arko while she and her daughter were on vacation in August 2003. Arko was a Turkish Akbash dog, a lean white sheep guarding breed. Elderly and thin, he was mistaken for an emaciated Great Pyrenees while being boarded at a Schomberg facility and euthanized hours before Sunny returned. Sunny faced criminal charges which were dropped when she was able to produce a veterinarian’s report verifying Arko’s good health prior to boarding.

Sunny also recounted the story of the “Limping Pig”, whereby a rare 800-pound prize black boar was seized by the OSPCA at Canaan Farm in Niagara. Jack, the boar born with a limp, was inhumanely shot in his pen because the OSPCA assumed he had been abused. The farmer was criminally charged. Those charges were dropped pre-trial.

Sunny’s eloquent remembrance of her dog, Arko, and her summary of the issues with the OSPCA is here and here.

ColleenColleen Hervieux passionately recounted the seizure of the horses on her northern farm and its devastating effect on her family.

As Cheri diNovo stated, “I’m more and more concerned, the more I hear deputants today, that the OSPCA seems to be some kind of rogue organization with no accountability, no oversight from anybody, and, for those who are caught by the OSPCA, no right of appeal.”

Another family had 87 animals seized on a first visit. The father suffered a heart attack immediately thereafter. The animals were ordered returned to the farm by the Animal Care Review Board. The family could not afford to pay OSPCA seizure costs. Criminal charges were laid. The farmer states he pled guilty to a single charge of a dirty budgie cage. The Ontario SPCA is currently suing this family civilly.

The rally was organized by “Reform Ontario Animal Rights” (R.O.A.R.). Join their Facebook page for more background.

Download Frank Klees’ petition here and present the original signed copies to your MPP. Ask your MPP to read the petition into Hansard and notify you when that is done. Although you can forward the signed petitions to Frank Klees, this is preaching to the choir. It’s important to get the word out to your own MPP and ensure that s/he is onside with these important changes to the legislation.