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(Warning: this post contain a somewhat graphic image. It's the first image in the post, so scroll by that one and look away if you don't want to see it. The rest aren't so bad. All photos in this post were taken by E.J. Lazaga unless stated otherwise.)

I've been having a hard time with this for a few months now and usually when I have a hard time writing something, it's because I'm uncertain about it.

In February this year, I became a director of the Toronto Humane Society. This is a temporary, appointed position to fill in a vacancy left by a departing director and this position will last about another three weeks when the Annual General Meeting will be held and where, if I am to stay on the board, I will need to be voted in by the membership.

The last time I was elected for anything was when I was ten and chosen by my cohorts to throw a snowball at the high school bully down the block who had caved in our snowfort. The following action resulted in a fat lip. Hopefully, these elections will be less exciting.

But the elections aren't what I'm uncertain about. I'm offering my services and if the membership chooses to accept the offer then I've got more work on my plate. If they choose a better prepared candidate over me then I can finally catch up on "Game of Thrones" - people at work are talking about the show and I've got nothing to add to that conversation.

The thing I was uncertain about, with regards to the THS, was the same thing a lot of people in Toronto are uncertain about when it comes to the THS and that is whether or not the THS is a worthwhile enough agency to contribute one's time, energy and money. The THS does good work - there's no doubt about that - but a lot of individuals, rescue groups, other agencies - like Toronto Animal Services - do good work. With the THS comes significant overhead costs, funding issues, constant rumblings of internal discord and then there's that matter of trust. The bad taste left behind by the scandals of the previous administration (who are all gone now) still keeps the public doubting the sincerity and efficacy of the organization.

So, given my own doubts, I kept asking myself, Do I really want to get mired in the politics of the Toronto Humane Society?

Then, I heard about Angel.

Angel arrived at the THS in early February of this year.

She was an owner surrender. The owners could no longer take care of her or her medical bills. The demodex mange which had taken over her entire body seemed relentless, allegedly made worse by an improper prescription of steroids by a vet. Angel was bleeding. She was in pain. Almost all her fur had fallen out or had been scratched off. Her feet were so swollen, they looked like they'd been skinned. Parts of her face looked like hamburger.

Eric Jensen, a THS staffer at the front desk saw Angel when she was brought in. He said he'd never seen an animal look worse.

Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly given what we know about dogs, Angel still managed to walk up to him and wag her tail.

The THS took Angel in and Eric volunteered to foster her. Angel turned out to be a six month old pup, a probable mix of Bull Terrier, Boxer, Collie and others. Her initial regimen was two medicated baths a week to treat and relieve her mange ridden skin, daily doses of medicine and supplements, bi-weekly skin scrapes to check on the progress of the mange, along with shots of antibiotics.

Three hundred mites were found on Angel's first skin scrape. I've seen skin scrapes. It's only a very small patch of skin from which the vet samples.

The following photos, taken on each of Angel's visits to the THS vets over the next three months, tell the story better than I possibly could. Start from the first image above then scroll through all the following images. If these don't renew your hope for whatever goodness in this world you seek, then I don't know what will.

February 22, 2013

March 2, 2013 (notice her duck boots to keep her from scratching herself)

March 15, 2013

March 30, 2013

April 13, 2013

April 27, 2013

Not surprisingly, Eric has decided to adopt Angel. The way he describes her now, Angel sounds like so many other nine month old puppies: tons of energy, happy and friendly with everyone, tail wags so hard it's like a weapon, loves fetch, has started carrying a ball around. And, her last skin scrape yielded no mites.

Eric also has another foster dog and a sixteen year old palliative care foster cat. I ask him about the other staff, if they all have fosters in their care as well and generally they do. The care of animals started out as a responsibility for most of them long before it became a job.

This is what amazes me most about the Toronto Humane Society: all these people who have gathered together to help animals. People don't go into animal welfare as a career expecting to get famous or rich or powerful. Salaries are not great and job security is uncertain. There aren't even the lavish, more publicly celebrated accolades associated with other charities of a more anthropocentric nature to look forward to. Animal welfare work is a compulsion to do good for those creatures who will probably never be able to say thank you but who thank you nevertheless with their good health and better lives.

We need the Toronto Humane Society because it's not just a shelter for homeless animals but it also provides inspiration for those who believe people are capable of looking beyond themselves and that compassion for others extends to compassion for the most vulnerable.

The Toronto Humane Society is and needs to be a good and better role model.

Going forward with Pound Dogs, I'm going to start occasionally posting more in-depth profiles of some of the dogs who arrive at the THS looking for shelter. I'd like to share their journeys with you from their intake to, hopefully, their adoption.

If you don't already, I hope you'll consider supporting the THS, maybe by becoming a member or making a donation. It's a good thing they do and you know they're going to need your help to keep doing it.

Here are some stats on the THS for 2012:

Almost 3000 animals were adopted out.

Over 2000 animals have been fixed since the THS Low Cost Spay Neuter Clinic was open last summer.

Over 36,000 volunteer hours were logged.

Over 1000 palliative, special needs and juvenile animals were placed into foster care.
(Above photo by Eric Jensen)

22 Comments to “Renewal at the Toronto Humane Society”

  1. Julie says:

    Thank you for writing…and for sharing the story of Angel - very touching indeed. People need to know about this and so many other stories/photos you share.

  2. Unknown says:

    Beautiful post. Tears. I'm so happy Angel recovered. She looks great! What you all do at THS is unparalleled. Good job Eric!

  3. Anonymous says:

    What a wonderful post...just made a donation to the THS.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The time it took for Angel to be treated and cured just shows the lengths the THS will go to to, to save an animal in distress. Good for you!!!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    As I read this, I was weeping, first with empathy for Angel's pain, then with joy that the THS and Eric Jensen took her in and made her well again. In a world where the daily news makes one doubt that there is much good in humankind, a story like this restores faith. Bless everyone involved in caring for Angel, and caring for all of the animals who depend upon us.
    Fred, I hope that you are elected to the THS Board. You are right, I have been conflicted about whether or not to support the organization after the "bad years." Many people i speak with feel the same way; we hope that this time the change "sticks" and that those who caused the horrors of those years never infiltrate the organization again. Having someone such as yourself, a tireless advocate for shelter animals who also has a no-nonsense approach to two-legged BS, would be a good thing for the THS Board, in my opinion. Good luck!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I wish you could stay away from THS. Based on what I read from the media, THS is dysfunctional. I would hope all the existing animals be re-homed to other shelters immediately and people would visit other rescue groups or shelters instead.
    Instead of spending time on their office politics, why wouldn't you keep them away from THS.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Good stuff buffalo-chicken, good stuff

  8. Anonymous says:

    Ugh, I cannot believe how some people will not believe in change. THS is doing an amazing job.

  9. Angel reminds me of Gracije, one of the first Serbijan dogs we got into Canada. When she came to us, she had such bad demodex she has only small patches of fur: most of her skin was thick, bleeding scabs. But time and love makes a huge difference, and I will never forget the wonderful photos of her and her doggie pal romping in her first Canadian winter.

    Go for it, Big Guy! If nothing else, it will ensure that the THS has a focussed advocate for the animals on the Board, who will always keep the important stuff in mind. The more there are like that, the less likely that the Bad Old Days can return.

  10. Bev McMullan-Kungl says:

    After reading this article about the THS and eyes have been opened. We really must stop believing in everything the media tells us. In some cases, it's a lot of hype. Sure the THS had some problems (mostly due to bad leadership)but there were also people who volunteered, there, who really did care about the welfare of the animals coming through its doors. My heart broke when I read Angel's story and what she must have gone through before she came to THS. I want to give THS a huge thank you as well as to Eric who adopted this beautiful creature. I will, again, donate to THS. Thank you so much for sharing this story of Angel and the wonderful THS.

  11. As I looked through the pictures, my heart soared with every improved one! What a beautiful dog.
    Eric, it is amazing that you wouldn't give up on this little one. What a great life she has ahead of her.
    Thank you and the THS and all animal crusaders!

  12. J. Kimble says:

    Fred, I am constantly awed by the work you do from the goodness of your heart.- showing these wonderful animals in a way that is honest and open, yet endearing and inspirational. As stated by Benjamin Hoff: "Lots of people talk to animals. Not very many listen though. That's the problem." Thank YOU for listening to so many pups in need - and teaching us to listen too. Wishing Angel and all four-legged (or sometimes less) friends someone who will see them... and hear them too! I hope you are elected to the TSH Board - they and the animals in their care could do no better!

  13. anna says:

    I admit I was once at odds with you about Tim Trow, for whatever happened later, he did save the carriage horses from the terrible life of dragging tourists around Toronto's extremely hot and busy streets. And for that I will always be grateful having seen the horses during their struggle. And you were gracious in your reply.

    That said I have followed your Blogs faithfully every day since they began. Admiring the beautiful photographs and your caring for the dogs of TAS. Many finding wonderful homes because of your stories about them.

    At first I was not sure about the New Humane Society, stories were told of no older animals being taken in and other worrying rumours. But having followed the THS since then and seeing older animals up for adoption and other caring things happening such as Angel's treatment, the feral cat program and the willingness to work with other animal groups. I am now a FULL supporter and member of the THS. I even hauled 20 years of saved pennies down to their collection!
    I know your compassion is for all suffering animals not just dogs, so I am sure that you will be an excellent Board member! I wish you the best of luck!

  14. Darrel says:

    What a great story! I still don't know about THS, but this is something to feel good about. Good luck Fred... hopefully you will still be around TAS though!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Here we go again. who to believe, I have just received information via the internet telling me that the THS is failing badly in so many ways and will disappear shortly and TAS will "take over" That the spay neuter program is a terrible failure and that the feral cat program is not working. a list of who to vote for to over throw the present board. Just when some of us had begun to support the THS again now we are confused and disturbed. Who to believe? All we care about is getting the best help for very needy animals and sometimes it seems that we might as well give up. As a volunteer at TAS and a board member of the THS do you have an insight you might share to calm our worries

  16. Fred says:

    Great question Anon, one which I should really write a whole post upon but for now, just a short(er) reply. The THS is not failing bady, nor will TAS take over the THS.

    TAS won't take over the THS, or the THS' duties, because animal welfare is not TAS' primary mandate. I wish it were but it isn't. TAS is a by-law enforcement arm of the City of Toronto. Any rescue work they do is a bonus but that is not their primary mandate. TAS has absolutely no interest in taking over THS because the City of Toronto has no interest in taking over a privately held charity.

    The THS is not failing badly. It has failings but it is not failing badly. It has a long way to go, but that is not failing badly.

    When the recent board inherited the THS, the THS was in shambles. The board had to rebuild the organization almost from scratch and the job wasn't made any easier with many of the old guard still in charge of the day to day running of the facility.

    In the three years since, the place has been completely overhauled with respect to policy, care of animals, staff and management. Some people may disagree with some of these policy changes but that is to be expected in a democratic system trying to fix something badly broken. The option is to muzzle dissent and we all know where that lead in the past.

    Here's the thing I think which animal welfare will always suffer from: everyone pretty much agrees with 90% of the solutions required to fix the big problems but then we all get caught up in arguing and wasting emotional energy and time over the 10% we don't agree on. I'm fine with discussing that 10% but let's get the 90% we all agree on fixed first. That will be enough of a challenge. The THS is not immune to this problem but I think they are getting better at managing it.

    The other big problem the THS faces is that it still suffers from reduced funding and public support due to lingering doubts created by the past administration and an inability to communicate to the public that things have changed for the better. People won't support something if they are not emotionally connected to it and they aren't going to be emotionally connected if they don't know what's going on. That's why I want to profile dogs from the THS, to show people what's going on.

    The big overall challenge for the THS is not whether or not they can continue to save animals. They can. They aren't failing at that. The challenge is whether or not the THS can be one of the best at saving animals - which they should be given the city they are in, the wealth of the people in the city, and the compassion people in Toronto have towards companion animals.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the answer Fred. The TAS and THS are different but working together as they now do gives animals a better chance.

    You are so right about people supporting something they are emotionally drawn towards. Haven't we all rushed to donate when our hearts are broken yet again by the story of a person or animal in need! But we tend to put that aside in our busy lives if not reminded now and then. A higher profile for THS would be good and bring in the finances to do more I am sure.

    Checking some of the sites trying to find homes for pets I often wished they had the photographs that you provided for TAS (and I hope you will still be doing that and maybe some of the cats from both places too) As you say Toronto and its compassionate people could have one of the best Animal Shelters in the world and be proud of that. Let us hope all who care about the animals among us work together to achieve that.

    I do have a book about the history of the Society and wonder if they are still for sale at THS. John Kelso and his attempt to start a chid and animal rescue group with the first donation of $2 and his first mandate to help the old tired horses of that era is very moving to me and would give people of today a view of the THS through all those ages! A THS with all its warts has always been worth supporting

  18. Anonymous says:

    THS is certainly NOT doing a good job. Dont get me wrong, the animals are doing much better than they were in the days of Tim Trow, but their employees are still treated like garbage. In the time I was there (post Trow), close to 40 employees were fired. Open your eyes and don't believe their bullshit.

  19. Anonymous says:

    to Anon May 12 2013 at 4.07

    Where you a paid employee at THS? Volunteers usually have a different more animal protective philosophy than those to whom THS Is just another job. This was demonstrated clearly during the infamous strike at the THS years ago. The striking staff used the animals to intimidate and cause pain to the volunteers who went in to clean out cages etc. The volunteers, (mostly women who only cared about the animals) had to deal with the overdosing of deworming medications when cleaning out the cages. The pitiful sight of a dog strangled to death by a too short rope and its body left there for the young girl volunteer who had complained about its situation to find find when she next came in. Animals being quickly killed ("Just gone" the staff said) if a volunteer asked to adopt one, and much more. There are times when firing would be morally right. But then, as I assume now, the workers were protected. SO I doubt very much that if indeed 40 workers have been fired in the last few years that it was not without a very just cause. And working conditions would be monitored to the workers satisfaction I am sure.

    The staff of today seem wonderful and caring. Possibly because the bad ones have been removed! No one wants another strike especially the animals so vulnerable to their "keepers"

  20. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately staffing issues are the THS's best kept secret. Pretty much everyone who works or has worked there is extremely committed to the organization and the animals, which upper management knows and takes full advantage of. After all, fire one round of great staff, hire another group- there's no shortage of animal lovers willing to take the job. The reason that this isn't acknowledged is because the people who currently work there don't want to get involved at the risk of offending management and therefore putting a target on their own back, and the people who are fired or who leave because of the issues are virtually ignored. Check out this post by one small group of terminated employees:

    The thing is it's easy to brush off these employees, no matter how wonderful, as disgruntled ones and leave it at that. A rotating door approach to hiring and firing is NOT good for the animals. After all that we've been through, they need consistency of care. I am well aware that most of you will ignore what I'm saying, but I feel that it's my obligation to speak for those who have been abandoned by an organization they gave their heart and soul to.

  21. mlou says:

    The animals in the City of Toronto need both TAS and THS. There is some overlap in services and in some areas, not. One thing is certain, both organizations do have a focus on animal welfare. While TAS is the by-law arm of the City, that by-law is used to respond to animal care complaints in Toronto out in the field and if it becomes necessary to use a different piece of legislation to deal with the issue, TAS calls another agency in. A focus on animal welfare is also shown by the resources that are now being allocated to spay/neuter programs to prevent pet overpopulation. All animals in Toronto have a brighter future now that the two agencies are working together. This model is also proven to be successful in many communities in the U.S. and in Calgary.

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.