Humane society president denies charges

Jesse McLean
Lesley Ciarula Taylor
Staff Reporters

Friday, Nov. 27, 2009.

Charged with animal cruelty in a surprise raid, the president of the Toronto Humane Society said Friday the accusations were baseless.

"There is no substance to the charges. I’ve never been unkind to an animal in my life," Tim Trow told the Star when reached at his home Friday morning "My life is geared towards trying to help animals. The Toronto Humane Society is a wonderful place."

Trow, chief veterinarian Steve Sheridan and three other senior officials with the society were arrested Thursday afternoon following a raid by police and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The five face a handful of criminal charges, including cruelty to animals. All were released on bail late Thursday night. The group is scheduled to appear in court sometime in January, police said.

On Friday morning, Trow said that his future with the Toronto Humane Society depended on what happens with the charges he faces.

"I’m in this to help animals, not to help my ego," he said.

When told that four animals were euthanized shortly after the OSPCA took over the shelter Thursday, Trow called it an "unfortunate reality."

He said a similar number of animals were euthanized on a daily basis while he was in charge of the society.

"There’s a massive pet population and that’s a very normal number of animals on a day that unfortunately need to be euthanized," said Trow. "That’s not uncommon. We had to euthanize 500 animals last year – just dogs and cats."

The four animals that were euthanized Thursday night at the humane society building on River St. "were in immediate distress," said Kevin Strooband, investigator with the OSPCA. "There was no alternative."

Another 1,000 animals, most of them cats, remain inside the humane society building while staff from the OSPCA and the humane society examine and care for them, said Strooband.

"They’re generally not in bad shape," he said.

He doesn’t expect many more, if any, to be euthanized. "There are vets looking after them."

Society spokesman Ian McConachie, who was barred from the River St. building Friday morning, said the OSPCA "takes a more liberal approach" to which animals need to be euthanized.

"They may be euthanizing animals we would not."

That was one reason he wanted to get inside, he said, to see if humane society policies were being flouted.

The raid was "designed to hurt the reputation" of the 122-year-old humane society, McConachie said. The society and the OSPCA have "never seen eye-to-eye. There is a lot of bad political blood" between them.

McConachie speculated that the OSPCA timed the raid to hurt the humane society’s Christmastime fund-raising efforts with its "smear campaign."

McConachie was arrested on trespassing charges by police when he tried to get into the building, but was later released without charges.

The investigation and treatment of the animals will continue through the weekend and the humane society will remain closed to the public. The plan, said Strooband, is to reopen Tuesday and offer all of those 1,000 animals for adoption.

Part of the investigation involves a search to determine if there was any obstruction during the previous OSPCA raid in June, when animals or information could have been hidden.

"There is a lot of information in that building that we need to get to," to determine if there was an attempt to "circumvent our inspection," said Strooband.

Strooband said they are looking for evidence of animals hidden during the earlier raid.

Police and the OSPCA executed search warrants to look for evidence, including one for Trow’s Davisville home.

Trow was in a meeting room, which, like most rooms in the building, is shared with animals, when investigators raided the shelter.

"I was shocked. Surprised," he said. "The whole situation is very sad."

OSPCA officials planned to open the shelter’s doors to media at 2 p.m. Friday to give a walk-through of the cages where animals were allegedly left to die.

What would be the fate of Bandit, the pit bull that Trow rescued and kept as a pet after it bit a 3-year-old boy in 2004? Bandit had attacked a police officer Thursday during the raid and was pepper-sprayed.

"I am going to review the documents and decide after that" what will happen to Bandit, Strooband said Friday. If a court says the dog must be destroyed, it will, he said.

Strooband was with the officer that Bandit attacked and said the dog went straight for the officer.

The 80 humane society staff still working include veterinarians, vet technicians and animal care officers, all of whom Strooband agreed are fairly shell-shocked by the surprise raid, arrests and uproar. "Our information is that there have been more staff caring for the animals since June 2" when the initial raid took place.

Some may be happy with the raid and others angry, he said, but overall "the staff are great." Strooband said he is hopeful the province will appoint someone other than the OSPCA to run the shelter come Tuesday.

Trow and three others were charged by Toronto police with one or more counts of conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, cruelty to animals and obstruction of a peace officer. The other three are Gary McCracken, the humane society’s general manager, supervisor Andy Bechtel and manager Romeo Bernardino.

Sheridan was charged with conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and cruelty to animals.

All five, as well as the society board of directors, were also charged with five provincial charges of animal cruelty under the Ontario SPCA act.

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/731639–humane-society-president-denies-charges?bn=1

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