I am providing an update on the Chatham 21 case, in light of the fact that the criminal case is back in court this month (October 31st, 2016) and the case with the OSPCA is back in court next month (November 3rd, 2016). Also, I have not written a blog post on this case since back in March, sadly, because there has not been any progress to report. All sources for case information in this post were cited in previous blog posts.
The irony in the case of the 21 “pit bulls” that were “rescued” from a dog fighting ring by the OSPCA in Tilbury, located in Chatham-Kent, Ontario, is painful for anyone who cares about animals. 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 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 dogs have remained in the custody of the OSPCA, reportedly in complete isolation, with no daily rehabilitation nor personal affection of any kind, for one year.
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 Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) 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 would be 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 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 (there were 32 on the premises but one was found dead) that they immediately labelled as “pit bull type dogs” along with multiple items associated with dog fighting. Three people were arrested (a fourth and fifth person were arrested later, in connection to this case) and they have each been charged with over 100 offences, including counts of Unlawfully Owning a Pit Bull Type Dog and Cruelty to Animals. In December of 2015, 3 of these 31 dogs were sadly euthanized due to medical reasons, as per the OSPCA. In February of this year, the OSPCA submitted an application to the court for an order to euthanize 21 of the remaining 28 dogs, essentially citing that they were damaged goods, hence the hashtag/mission name “Save the 21”. They also claimed that the remaining 7 dogs were fit for rehabilitation. It was since reported that 13 puppies were born around November of last year, while these dogs were in custody of the OSPCA, and no information has been made available as to their well-being nor whereabouts. In March of this year, another 7 pit bull type dogs were seized in connection to this case, and the fifth arrest was made. To date, no proof of life nor proof of well-being for any of these dogs has been provided by the OSPCA, despite requests from several key people, including MPP Rick Nicholls of Chatham-Kent. Three MPPS have stood before the Ontario Legislative Assembly raising concerns about this case (Nicholls, MPPJennifer French of Oshawa and MPP Cheri DiNovo of High Park) but thus far, they have been essentially ignored. I too have contacted my local MPP, Sylvia Jones, regarding this case and she has forwarded my concerns to Yasir Naqvi, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services … once again, we were ignored. I feel this all showcases an immense abuse of authority on the part of the OSPCA. Especially when you consider that this costs the taxpayers of Ontario considerably – the costs associated with caring for the dogs, the court hearings, etc.
The two motions to intervene in this case were initially filed by Bullies in Need, who has since partnered with Animal Justice, under whom the intervention is now filed, and by Dog Tales, a private rescue facility that specializes in the care and rehabilitation of abused and neglected animals from around the world. Both intervenors have requested individual assessments of the dogs by a third party, they have both vowed to send all dogs who are able to be rehabilitated out of province for adoption. Dog Tales is committed to rehabilitating the dogs with world-renowned dog trainer Brian Kilcommons and have stated that any dog that cannot be rehabilitated will remain in their care. Dog Tales has also said that they will allow the OSPCA to remain as involved as they would like to be in the process. Most notably, Dog Tales has offered to cover all costs pertaining to this case, thus relieving the OSPCA and subsequently Ontario tax payers. Either the provincial government or the local municipal council could grant an exemption to these rescues, granting them a special designation to go around the issues of BSL. But to date, the offers from both Bullies in Need and Dog Tales have not been accepted by the courts and the dogs remain in limbo, caged, isolated, for over a year.
Thanks to social media, thousands of advocates and people interested in animal welfare have taken an interest in this case, including Canadian icon Don Cherry and several guardians of the Vicktory Dogs in the U.S. Several petitions have been collected, hosting thousands of signatures, and thousands of letters/calls/e-mails have been directed to the OSPCA, including nearly a hundred of my own e-mails.
Jacqueline Johnson, guardian of several rescued dogs, including a Vicktory Dog, wrote an open letter to the Judge presiding over this case, citing her first-hand experience with dogs who were victims of dog fighting and asking for individual assessments, pleading for the Judge to do the right thing. And Heather Gutshall, who runs Handsome Dan’s rescue (named after her Vicktory Dog) and is a certified dog trainer and behavioural consultant, offered her services to these dogs at no charge. Her offers were completely ignored. She highlighted the extraordinary successes of the Vicktory Dogs, citing that they were not found to be dangerous dogs at all, but that they were simply extremely unsociable, having had no exposure to the outside world.
Initially, a publication ban was imposed on this case, however, in an article from CTV News, dated February 28th of this year, 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 refrain from using the words “alleged” or “suspected” in reference to the charges of dog fighting, even though that is the correct reference. But I am not an idiot.
There are so many disturbing factors in this case:
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 2015, 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, earlier this year 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! Much harsher penalties are needed to deter dog fighting.
Initially, the lawyer for the accused in this case wanted the dogs returned to their owners if they were 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 hearings are resolved. 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?
My family and I have attended several peaceful protests for these dogs, both outside of the OSPCA headquarters in Newmarket and outside the Chatham courthouse. In speaking with a City TV reporter back in February, 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 expressed to her my beliefs that this is completely untrue. She added 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: 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.
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 bull-type dogs, make the assumption that these 21 dogs 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. 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. I have a very big problem with the notion that abused beings are damaged goods. 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.
For those of us involved in this case, advocating for the lives of these dogs, the overwhelming sorrow comes from the length of time for which they have now been incarcerated with the OSPCA. The longer they are held in cages, the more difficult their rehabilitation will be. And considering the offer made from Dog Tales, that was all so unnecessary. There is a tragic story in “Beyond the Myth: A Documentary About Pit Bulls” (a fantastic documentary, if you can stomach the deeply sad stories and infuriating ignorance due to BSL) in which a family’s pit bull is taken away from them and kept locked up by an animal agency while their case goes before the courts. Their dog spends weeks in a cage and every time the family visits, they notice that the dog they once knew is slowly slipping away, becoming increasingly depressed and non-responsive. The family makes the agonizing decision to euthanize their own dog, a beloved family member, in order to save him from any further suffering, as the case is delayed repeatedly. After all of the stories I have heard over my years of advocacy, this one stills stands out and comes to mind often as I work on this case.
The next peaceful protest, in support of the Chatham 21, is scheduled for Saturday, October 22nd, which happens to be “National Pit Bull Awareness Day”, amidst “Pit Bull Awareness Month” of October, outside of the OSPCA headquarters in Newmarket. On October 13th, an Ontario Court Judge set another date for pre-trial discussion in the criminal case, which is currently set for October 31st. Until then, these 5 perpetrators remain out on bail. November 3rd is the next scheduled court hearing for the OSPCA’s court application, when motions are scheduled to be heard from the intervenors in this case. There will also be another peaceful protest outside the courthouse at that time.
- Thank you to Kathy Green for her tireless advocacy work on this case and for sharing her updated information with me, for inclusion in this post.