Is this goodwill to all men (and dogs)? The Nova Scotia SPCA has cancelled all visits for Brindi by her owner Francesca Rogier, who is currently involved in a provincial court battle to have her dog returned to her after she was seized by Animal Control in July 2008 and scheduled to be put down for incidents involving other dogs. In January 2009, a NS supreme court judge quashed the euthanasia order issued by an animal control officer. But Brindi was held by Animal Services, who then formally laid the first charges against Rogier related to municipal By-Law A-300.
“I’m speechless,” Rogier commented when asked about why these visits were abruptly terminated. “Two weeks before Xmas and it’s bad enough Brindi won’t be back home with me – but to cut visits? Are they totally heartless?“ She admits there was some disagreement between herself and the shelter director, Sandra Flemming, over the latter’s decision to confine the visits to an indoor waiting room, but does not feel the decision is fair.
HRM lawyer Kishan Persaud’s letter announcing the decision to cancel visits claims Rogier failed to observe the dozen or so rules that were created for her visits last April by the SPCA. These rules restrict visits to thirty minutes in an outdoor pen, prohibit Rogier from photographing Brindi, bringing a friend along, speaking with staff or volunteers, or giving Brindi “high value items”, a term which Rogier said was unclear to her until she learned the shelter was taking away marrow bones she gave to her dog at the end of each visit. “The rules first said I couldn’t be inside the shelter building. Now they say I have to be in the building.”
Nevertheless, Rogier feels that for the most part, the visits went relatively smoothly. She would toss a ball around, then sit with Brindi in the narrow strip of trees and rocks at the edge of the pen, rather than on the hard gravel – careful to avoid the dog feces strewn about.
Members of Humane Halifax, a group launched to call for better animal control in HRM, challenge the president of the SPCA, Mr. Sean Kelly, to show them and all citizens of HRM where in their policy manual (or any document) it says they can deprive someone of the right to see their dog while there is an ongoing court case.
“It’s especially cruel during a season where they know it pains Francesca the most to be deprived of seeing her pet,” said Robert Riley, a retiree living in Cole Harbour. Riley and other Humane Halifax members question both the legal basis is for this decision, and for the continued detention of the dog. The NS SPCA may be under contract with HRM, but, Riley said, “They say they are all about preventing cruelty- do they not see the cruelty in depriving an animal the simple joys of seeing the one person in the world who loves her the most and the one with whom she has the strongest bond?”
Rogier adds, “The president of the SPCA is well aware that Brindi should not even be there.” She feels that keeping her there for so long effectively constitutes cruelty. They must know this, she says, and given a positive behavior assessment, they certainly know Brindi is not a “dangerous dog”. “But instead of helping to get the dog back home, they follow the orders of Animal Services, claiming their hands are tied by their pound contract. To have a public charity supposedly dedicated to combating cruelty first decline to stop the euthanasia order, then be complicit in such cruelty in return for money, is inexcusable, hypocritical, and abhorrent. It goes against everything they say they stand for.“
The contract between the SPCA and Animal Services is worth over $400,000 and constitutes roughly half of the annual budget of the NS SPCA. According to Rogier, “They know that their own facilities are not equipped to house an animal such as Brindi for over thirty days – especially where she is deprived of regular walks outside.”
A June press release on the SPCA website, spcans.ca, states that the shelter is not a long-term facility. Such sub-standard care has already led to potentially life-threatening pancreatitis. “Yet they refuse to recommend to HRM Animal Services that they find better housing options,” Rogier complains. “When it’s an issue of cruelty or neglect, Mr. Kelly, it is up to the SPCA to step in. That’s your job.“
After Brindi suffered a serious bout of her disease in November, the SPCA and HRM claimed Rogier was responsible for the illness due to “contraband” treats she allegedly gave Brindi in the weekly visits. Rogier said her vet was not convinced, citing lack of exercise and a fatty diet as contributing causes. But on the basis that closer supervision was necessary, the visits were brought indoors to a room where Brindi gazed longingly out the windows on to the street. Rogier found this was stressful to them both. She assured Flemming she did not and would not do anything to cause her dog’s illness, but when she asked if they could go outside again, the answer was “no”.
“Then she threatened to cancel all future visits,” said Rogier. “It’s a bad situation for everybody, but I feel it is really unfair to us, especially during the time of year when being with family is so important. Brindi is my only family here,” she added sadly.
On learning the visits were cut, HRM councilor David Hendsbee did not conceal his anger in an email to SPCA and HRM officials. “This is ludicrous and absurd.” Offering to act as a “witness” to the visits beginning this Friday, he added, “This issue is getting way out of control. Some sanity and reason must be restored! The only reason [for this decision] I can fathom or suggest is that Brindi is truly sicker than what the owner is being told.”
According to Riley, MP Peter Stoffer (NDP) also does not support HRM’s decision to euthanize Brindi. “A few months ago, he told me that the mayor can put a stop to this anytime.”