Animal welfare vacuum looms in Norfolk

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Some on Norfolk council worry that the county could be stampeded into filling the void left by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“I want to make sure this isn’t treated as an opportunity to download this expense onto municipalities that historically has been the province’s responsibility,” Charlotteville Coun. Chris Van Paassen told Norfolk council on April 2.

“Let’s push the province to take care of its responsibility.”

Van Paassen was responding to a presentation by Brenda Thompson, owner of the Whispering Hearts Horse Rescue near Hagersville and a co-founder of the group Animal Welfare Watch.

Thompson and AWW co-founder Michael Zimmerman, a former provincial bureaucrat in charge of animal welfare issues, have been monitoring the situation since the OSPCA said last year that it would no longer investigate animal abuse and neglect complaints.

AWW believes municipalities have a role to play in filling the void but municipal politicians like Van Paassen are pushing back on the funding question. OSPCA says it is getting out of enforcement, in part, because of the high costs involved.

At last Tuesday’s meeting, Norfolk council asked Mayor Kristal Chopp to write a letter to a long list of provincial officials asking for their plan now that OSPCA is preparing to step aside.


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“What are you doing with this issue?” Van Paassen said. “You can’t leave this in limbo forever. The problem started yesterday.”

Thompson has been discussing the situation with provincial officials. She recently led an AWW protest at Queen’s Park regarding the pending enforcement vacuum.

From what she’s gathered, Thompson said the province will likely ask municipalities to pick up some of the slack.

As it stands, Thompson said the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests will likely end up in charge of animal welfare in the area of wildlife. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs stands to inherit horses and other livestock.

Thompson added municipalities may be called on to deal with pets and other domesticated animals. Likely candidates to carry out this enforcement, she said, are police. If so, Thompson said they will require additional training.

Under Ontario law, only a qualified veterinarian can euthanize an animal that is suffering or near death. Police and SPCA officers cannot. Thompson said police are under enough stress without taking on the abuse and neglect of animals.

“A lot of people don’t understand that,” Thompson said. “So my question is: With police having to respond to these incidents – we are in trouble. That’s absolutely unacceptable to me.”

Even as the OSPCA was dealing with mounting cost pressures, it suffered another blow in January when a judge ruled it is unconstitutional for charitable non-profits to engage in enforcement activity without civilian oversight.


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Since its founding in the 1800s, the OSPCA has evolved without clear lines of public accountability.

Thompson said the legal decision creates a significant void, especially in places like Norfolk County.

“Norfolk County has a lot of animal cruelty,” she said. “Norfolk County has fallen short in the area of animal protection. Norfolk County is known for animal cruelty. Some of the worst horse cruelty cases come from Norfolk County.

“And there are puppy mills. This is affecting you locally, municipally, even though it is the province that is failing.”

Fritz Enzlin, Norfolk’s chief building and bylaw enforcement official, says OSPCA officers are trained to the same level as police officers.

This is as it should be, Enzlin said, because they frequently deal with criminal activity. He added that municipal bylaw officers don’t have this level of expertise.

Chopp’s letter will be sent to a host of provincial officials, including Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett.

“This letter should state that we don’t want this downloaded onto us,” said Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus.

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