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Dog Days of Summer: My experience of Toronto Animal Services


On August 1st I took possession of a loft-style apartment that I’m renting in Toronto, and began moving my stuff that week. August 13th was the close of sale of my condo in Collingwood — and the day I had to get the rest of my possessions out. Predictably, what I thought would fit in one truck load ended up requiring two truck trips back and forth. I did the move myself and was exhausted; it was the move from hell!
It was great having all my gear in the new place, but it remained an uninhabitable pile of boxes for several days. The very time when I ought to have unpacked was taken up by a camping trip I’d promised the kids, in a rustic cabin already rented.
The day after my return — still chest deep in boxes — I had to catch up with a magazine deadline and edit numerous articles. With no Internet at home (yet) I spent the middle of the day working on my laptop down the street at a Starbucks coffee shop. I’d taken my dog – a Bijon Frise with the ridiculous name Diesel (from his first owner) – for a walk and decided to keep him with me. Diesel is something of a rescue dog whom I acquired from an irresponsible former owner who neglected him, including such stunts as leaving him alone for entire weekends without food and water, and locking him in a cage in the basement while he went on all-night drinking binges.
I tied Diesel up in the shade outside the coffee shop and periodically checked on him. As he had done under similar circumstances for each of the days when tied to a long chain at the camp site, he mostly slept.
At one point I became engrossed editing a lengthy article and didn’t check on him for longer than usual. I decided he’d been out there too long and that I should take him home.
But when I looked outside, he was gone! My first thought was that he’d broken his leash, which was a bit frayed, and I imagined having to drive through the neighborhood calling his name, desperately. Yet his leash was gone too, and I’d tied it up quite solidly. Hmm. What to do? Had someone stolen him?
I asked the Starbucks counter staff if they’d seen someone take my dog, and they referred me to the security guard of the building in which the coffee shop was housed. I eventually located the guard who told me that someone had complained about a dog being abandoned, and he’d called Toronto Animal Services to have the dog picked up.
I commented that I’d been in the coffee shop the whole time, and the dog was tied up almost directly in front of the door. Shouldn’t it have been obvious that the owner was inside? He answered that he had, in fact, inquired inside the coffee shop, but that no one had responded. I noticed that the security guard had a very quiet voice – I had to strain to hear him in the lobby – so I presume that instead of loudly calling out, he’d questioned a few people in his quiet voice and left.
In any case, he provided me with a reference number and the phone number of Toronto Animal Services, which I called immediately. The service has an office about five minutes drive from where I live, so I imagined I could pick up my dog almost right away.
Sadly, this was not to be the case.
It turned out my dog was taken to Toronto Animal Services’ building in Downsview, in the northern-most part of the city. They didn’t have the dog yet (he was still en route). I was told to call back.
I called mid-afternoon and, sure enough, Diesel had arrived. I was then told a very different story from what the security guard had said — that Diesel had bitten someone, and that’s why Toronto Animal Services had been called. But I was then told that since no one had come forward, I could come and collect my dog.
I spent close to 90 minutes in rush hour traffic getting to the Downsview station, only to be told that – since my last phone call – someone had come forward to complain about having been bitten, and that I wouldn’t be able to take my dog. Apparently the bite from my, ahem, 11-pound lapdog had not caused injury, but was enough to “draw blood.” Therefore, the dog had to be kept in quarantine for 10 days.
I asked why, and was told rather vaguely that it was a standard precaution against rabies.
I was able to provide the name of my vet from whom Toronto Animal Services could verify that he was up to date on all his shots, and the counter staff person agreed that they knew he didn’t have rabies; she offered that “it’s likely you’ll be able to quarantine him at home.”
However, before that would be allowed, the people from the health department would have to examine the dog and make a determination about whether he had to remain in quarantine at the Toronto Animal Services building, or could be kept at home.
This was a Thursday, and I was told the health department person wouldn’t be likely to see the dog until early the next week.
To make a long story short, I never heard back from the health department person and was kept on tenterhooks throughout the following week, each day being told conflicting stories about the health department people having already seen the dog, or having not seen him yet. In any case, I never heard from the health department at all and no release was issued by them to Toronto Animal Services, so Diesel served the full ten day quarantine at their Downsview building.
I’ll spare you the details of the phone calls I made, the long periods waiting on hold, and my mother’s attempt at one point to get help from a friend at the Toronto Humane Society to help move things along.
Thankfully, on the tenth day I was able to collect my dog – but only after a woman at the front counter suggested I might not be able to take him home because the address on my drivers license wasn’t yet updated to match my new Toronto address (argh!); she had me wait ten minutes while she checked with her superior.
Interestingly, while I waited for Diesel to be processed (like a little convict being released from jail) a couple showed up at the front desk with a Persian cat for whom they were seeking a new home. Toronto Animal Services provides an adoption service for cats and dogs, and a bulletin board in the front hall shows photos of happy new owners of recycled pets.
“We have no space for cats right now,” the woman at the front told the couple, who then tried to pitch the woman on the various reasons why their cat deserves a new home.
“We have no space for cats,” the woman repeated, this time adding “We euthanize on Fridays.”
The couple had a puzzled look on their face. This banter continued back and forth for a few minutes, before I interjected, “You could try the Toronto Humane Society.”
I thought it a bit strange that the Toronto Animal Services staff were so quick to steer the couple toward having their animal put down without suggesting the THS option.
As I stood waiting, I noticed a three-ring binder on the counter; it contained plastic sleeves that would normally hold photographs. The front of the binder told visitors that this was the dog adoption book, but someone had taped a notice atop this stating that there are no dogs for adoption at this time.
I felt suspicion that the reason there were no photos of dogs in the adoption book might be correlated to the special services performed on Fridays, which the staff had appeared to encourage for the couple with the cat.
The whole experience offered a couple of lessons and insights for me, moving back to the city from quaint little Collingwood.
First, I have to own up to my own culpability. While there were extenuating circumstances, I realize it was not a good idea to bring my dog to the coffee shop (or anywhere else) and leave him tied up for more than a few minutes. I really (really!) don’t do that normally – it was just one of those things while I was in limbo moving house. It’s not so much that it does the dog any harm, as long as he’s in the shade, freshly walked and water is available to him. It’s just that there are too many variables in the frantic city that can lead to strange altercations.
Second, I make no excuses for my dog biting. He’s now required to be muzzled in public, and I have problem with that. I’m a responsible dog owner and am okay with him wearing a muzzle, although I have to say it looks a bit ridiculous on the fluffy white living plush toy that is my dog. It reminds me of the “killer rabbit” sequence in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail. I plan to find a metal cage-type replacement for his nylon muzzle, so he at least looks terrifying in a Silence of the Lambs sort of way. I look forward to answering people’s questions about why he’s made to wear it. “Oh, he’s killed once already,” I’ll say.
I have to say, though, that the ten-day quarantine made no sense to me at all. It couldn’t seriously be about rabies, as I could prove he was up to date on his shots. Was it about punishing the dog? He wouldn’t have made any connection between his actions and being made to “do time” in the Big House. It seemed to be more about punishing me, the owner. Whatever the case, I feel that Toronto Animal Services needs to improve its customer service (greatly) and get the health services people in to examine offending animals in a timely manner, and determine whether they can be quarantined at home in a shorter period of time than the quarantine period itself.
I also think that people interested in animal welfare need to take a close look at Toronto Animal Services’ handling of animals in respect to euthanizing. This isn’t spite on my part; strange circumstances simply caused me to have a glimpse into an organization I’d never otherwise notice. It’d be interesting to learn how many dogs and cats and other animals it puts to sleep, and what percentage of pets that come through the front door are killed versus the percentage put up for adoption. What are the criteria for deciding that time has “run out” for the animals sitting on death row?
The offhand manner in which the staff person told the couple with the cat that they “euthanize on Fridays” and the lack of even a single dog available for adoption makes me suspect that Toronto Animal Services may be more of a killing machine for animals than we dare think, instead of the place of care and concern for our wayward pets I feel it ought to be.
Footnote: My dog is, and was previously, neutered, licensed, micro-chipped and up to date on all his shots, including preventative treatment for heart worm, fleas, “kennel cough” and rabies, etc. He gets a long walk every morning and afternoon, including other “pee breaks” and, since I work from home, enjoys almost constant companionship.


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