The irony in the case of the 21 pit bulls “rescued” from a dog fighting ring by the OSPCA in Tilbury, Ontario, is as heart-breaking as it is infuriating. The OSPCA (Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), the agency whose mandate is to protect animals from cruelty, who were responsible for removing these dogs from a horrific situation, have now submitted an application to the Chatham Court, asking to have these dogs euthanized, citing that they are not fit for rehabilitation. Let me reiterate: 21 innocent victims of dog fighting, something into which these dogs were forced at the hands of humans, may now die at the hands of the agency who are supposed to save them. These 21 pit bulls have remained in the custody of the OSPCA, reportedly in complete isolation, with no daily rehabilitation nor personal affection of any kind, for nearly 6 months. It hurts me to think of how these dogs must be feeling. It literally keeps me awake at night.
This case is further complicated because the dogs that were seized have been labelled as “pit bull type dogs” by the OSPCA, who are illegal in Ontario where BSL (Breed Specific Legislation) laws apply. The OSPCA states that they cannot, in good conscience, release these dogs to any rescue or rehabilitation centre in the province because of the ban. That is somewhat understandable, in light of the ban, however, several dog rescues, behaviourists and sanctuaries from out of province, including in the US, have offered to help these dogs, covering all costs. Those who have offered to help, thus far, have been completely ignored by the OSPCA. My own attempts to contact the OSPCA have also been ignored, with the exception of an initial reply, directing me to the public statement about this case on their website, which stated that euthanasia is always a last resort for the OSPCA, blah blah blah … I have since e-mailed asking what specific care the dogs have received, in relation to the psychological and physical abuse that these animals have endured. No response. I am left to assume that is because the answer is “none”.
The background of this case is as follows: On October 9th, 2015, the OSPCA, along with the Chatham-Kent Police Services, seized 31 dogs they labelled as “pit bull type dogs” and multiple items associated with dog fighting. Three people were arrested (a fourth person was arrested at a later date) and they have each been charged with over 100 offences, including counts of Unlawfully Owning a Pit Bull Type Dog and Cruelty to Animals. Just yesterday, another 7 pit bulls were seized in connection to this case, and another arrest was made. I have yet to hear any information about the OSPCA with relation to these 7 pit bulls. As if this case wasn’t tragic enough, fourteen puppies have been born since the pit bulls were seized last October. I have not heard anything about the status of their care but that will be my next e-mail to the OSPCA. I certainly hope those puppies do not have to endure the prejudice of BSL from those at the OSPCA.
Initially, a publication ban was imposed on this case, however, in a recent article from CTV News, very disturbing details were given on evidence in this case. It was reported that among the items seized in relation to dog fighting were treadmills, steroids, training and fight schedules, breaking sticks, fight contracts and rape stands, to name a few. At the time when the dogs were seized, it was reported that most of them bore scars that indicate they were used in dog fighting. In light of this evidence, I will refrain from using the words “alleged” or “suspected” in reference to the charges of dog fighting. I am not an idiot.
There are so many disturbing factors in this case that I don’t even know where to begin. The more details you learn, the harder it is to get your head around how the hell something like this could be allowed to happen. I will not even bother to go into details about how ludicrous BSL is in the first place – that’s for another separate Blog entry entirely.
OSPCA Inspector Brad Dewar, to whom I have addressed all of my (ignored) e-mails, was first called to this residence where the dogs and paraphernalia were seized back in June of last year, at the request of the Chatham-Kent Police Department, after reports of suspected dog fighting were filed. Dewar reported seeing pit bulls chained to stakes on the property, and yet no intervention was made at that time.
Equally disturbing is the fact one of the accused in this case was previously convicted of dog fighting, using pit bulls, in 1998. He appealed his sentence and his 30 days’ jail time was overturned. He only had to pay a $1,000 fine. In contrast, last week in Florida, a man was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being involved in dog fighting with a lifelong ban on ever owning another dog. That’s more like it.
What is almost laughable, if it wasn’t so damned sad, is that the lawyer for the accused in this case wants the dogs returned to their owners if they are found not guilty of the charges. The OSPCA say they do not own these dogs – they are still the property of the accused – and therefore do not have the authority to make any decisions for them until the court hearing on March 10th. This is why there is a public outcry over 3 dogs that were already put down in this case. How was the OSPCA allowed to destroy these dogs? And what qualifies them to apply to destroy the remaining dogs?
I went to my local OSPCA recently, to ask some questions, and they informed me that whenever pit bulls are turned into their offices, which has been very rare since the ban was imposed in 2005, they are sent to Saskatoon’s SPCA. While these dogs were not rescued from dog fighting (I was told they are most often stray dogs), my point is there are other options, despite Dewar’s comments that they have no options to send the dogs out of province.
On Saturday, February 20th, my family and I attended a peaceful protest for these pit bulls, outside of the OSPCA headquarters in Newmarket, Ontario. This protest event was hosted by the BSL Awareness and the Ontario Pit Bull Co-op advocacy groups who work tirelessly in cases like these. It was a road-side picket, with about 60 people in attendance, and most attendees proudly displayed signs they had made with their feelings on the situation made loud and clear. It was a good opportunity to network with fellow pit bull advocates. I was given the opportunity to publicly voice my discontent on City TV, as I was interviewed by reporter Audra Brown who reported on the event. In speaking to Audra, she told me about her own conversation with the OSPCA about this case. She said that they were adamant with her that the breed of dog had nothing to do with their decision to euthanize these dogs – I politely explained to her why that was complete bullshit. And she said that the OSPCA said advocates cannot always liken every dog fighting case to that of Michael Vick because different “training” (the OSPCA’s word, definitely NOT mine) methods are used with different equipment. I consider myself very well informed on the Vick case and so I explained to Audra that of the 51 pit bulls that were rescued from that God-awful situation, 48 were fit for rehabilitation and many of those dogs went on to live lives as members of families, some with young children, and some have even been certified as therapy dogs. There have never been any reports of aggression from those dogs who were adopted. I understand that not all rescued and rehabilitated dogs can live with children, and some of them cannot live in a home at all and remain at rescues and sanctuaries for the rest of their lives. But there is absolutely no way that I will believe that if 48 dogs who endured a true hell on earth can be rehabilitated, that these 21 cannot and need to die instead.
The community of pit bull lovers, parents and advocates out there is a beautiful thing. I have been involved in advocacy for this breed for over 3 years and have never seen our local community come together as vociferously as they are now. Recently, Canadian icon Don Cherry added his voice to the outcry over these pit bulls. I have read that an alliance of lawyers have said they will try to intervene in this case, in order to get a fair evaluation for these dogs, hopefully leading to their release to an outside agency for a genuine rescue and subsequent rehabilitation. I pray for their success.
I am aware that rehabilitating dogs is no fairytale experience. While it is not something in which I have personally been involved, I know that there is a substantial investment of time, money and resources required on the part of the rescue agency. It is no easy undertaking by any means. But for the admirable people among us who do rescue and rehabilitate dogs, and I know some of these people, the rewards are immeasurable. And most importantly, it is possible to rehabilitate the most abused dogs. How dare members of the OSPCA, an agency who, in light of the BSL in Ontario, have very little experience dealing with pit bulls, make the assumption that these 21 dogs (possibly now 28) are beyond help. They have NO authority.
This case has a personal irony for me. I understand too well the toll that being abused can take. Both physical and psychological abuse is corrosive and it can take years to even begin to reverse its effects. The journey to finding yourself again is a long process. For these dogs, the journey to rehabilitation, assuming they are given that chance, may be a long one. But this is a journey that can be so worthwhile if rescue workers (and I mean true rescue workers, not the OSPCA who, in light of this case, I now consider as hypocritical as PETA when it comes to the protection of animals) are successful. As innocent victims, these dogs deserve the chance to go on and live better lives with people who will truly love them. These dogs have so much love to give back! The irony for me comes from the fact that a pit bull was largely responsible for my own rehabilitation towards a better life. My American Staffordshire Terrier (deemed a “pit bull type dog”) is a rescue dog and while we do not know the extent of her abuse and neglect from her previous life, we certainly know that she learned to love with all her heart and is a most valued member of our family today. When I came into her life (she was a package deal with my (now) husband), I was very broken and she helped put me back together, teaching me about trust and unconditional love like only a dog can. She does the term “Nanny Dog” great justice with our infant daughter. They say that often times, when you rescue a dog, the dog rescues you right back. I can vouch for that. While I cannot generalize all pit bulls to be like my own, I know that these 21 dogs deserve a chance at their own stories of redemption.
Those of us advocating for these dogs are fighting an uphill battle. But we never lose hope. Without hope, you have nothing. One of my favourite quotes is from the late Nelson Mandela who once said: “It always seems impossible, until it’s done”. We cannot give up the fight for these dogs who cannot fight for themselves. We cannot let the OSPCA decide what happens to them. The moral good has to prevail here and we will not rest until our voices for the voiceless are heard loud and clear. For ways that you can help in this case, please visit this website: Help Us Save 21 Dogs
There is another peaceful protest planned at the Newmarket OSPCA office on Sunday, March 6, and again at the Chatham-Kent courthouse on Thursday, March 10, at which time a Justice of the Peace will decide the fate of these 21 innocent victims. Please stand with us for these dogs. Be their voice.