Has Social Media Skewed Animal Care in the Sault?

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Backyard breeding, puppy mills, animal abuse and animal cruelty are all words that we’ve heard time and time again. These issues are not new by any means, however in the age of the internet – where information and resources are easily accessible – the nature of animal care and adoption has become a slippery slope of misinformation and obscured facts.

Backyard, amateur or unofficial small-scale breeding, is the single greatest cause of pet overpopulation. Backyard breeders as well as puppy mills or large-scale commercial dog breeding operations where profit is placed above the well-being of animals are rampant across our country. While both have a number of different motives, a lot of it comes down to the ability to turn a quick buck by breeding and selling animals at an alarming rate.

Organizations such as the Sault Ste. Marie SPCA & Humane Society, mandated by the municipality with animal control, and The Animal Assistance Group (TAAG) have been coping with these issues for years. However, social media is giving amateur breeders and those in the puppy mill industry a quick, easy and accessible platform to reach out those interested in purchasing a pet.

“In the last 6-7 years, in all different aspects of the shelter operations we have seen a lot of changes, but the most influential one is with social media. We get bypassed. And then people will turn around and say, ‘why didn’t you…’ and ‘how did you not know….’ well we can’t be on top of all these sites and still run a shelter, still perform animal control and monitor Facebook 24/7 and separate fact from fiction. It has to be reportable to us,” said Cindy Ross, CEO of the Sault Humane Society.

The problem?

Since the breeder’s concern is profit, the animals usually aren’t tested for genetic or health problems and the animals are brought together regardless of their quality. What’s worse is that a majority of homeless or abandoned pets come from this category. This issue is further perpetuated by the fact that there are no background checks done on people who adopt from illegitimate breeders.

Andrea Caldwell, a local animal advocate, said “People are too apathetic. If you are going to be a consumer you need to know where the dog is coming from because you are ultimately financing and enabling backyard breeders… It’s supply and demand. The apathy is just growing.”

Moreover, she warned “Most of these breeders don’t even care. They will give away cats to people who have bred and lost cats.”

Andrea Caldwell spoke with SaultOnline very passionately about this issue. She has devoted countless hours rescuing pets (primarily cats) from awful situations and giving them the care they won’t find on the streets. A lot of the information she learns about animals in need is through surfing social media, where countless posts go up everyday of people searching for lost, stolen or missing pets, or looking to breed/purchase a pet. She described the animal situation from her perspective as crisis-level. “A lot of the abandoned cats I end up with or TAAG ends up with are starving or they have kidney failure, need surgery, have broken bones, FIV or feline leukemia. And the dogs have parvo, so many of these homes are just completely contaminated with parvo where these dogs come from. Then not to mention the fact that they are roaming, unfixed and not cared for.”

Since cats and dogs do not legally have to be spayed or neutered it makes it extremely difficult to stop illegitimate breeders, putting a lot of the onus of responsible animal care on potential buyers. Ross said, “I don’t ever recall giving out a breeding permit here in the Sault for cats. There are no registered cat breeders in town, and yet there are so many stray cats. None of them are registered.”

And the cat situation in the Sault is a much bigger problem than the dog one, according to the SPCA, who said that puppies get adopted much easier than cats. “Cats are held to lower standard in society’s eyes,” Ross said.

“People are out there and we can’t stop them (from breeding). We can offer help, but that’s it. You can’t force someone not to breed or to neuter their pet… It’s a difficult situation. We are constantly trying to find innovative ways to solve it,” Ross described.

(Incentives are offered through SPCA for those who neuter/spay and register their pets, which can be found here).

Speaking to the social media issue, Caldwell explained that you generally won’t find a reputable breeder on a ‘Fur Babies’ or ‘Lost and Found Dogs’ page. She explained, “You see all these ‘breeders’ online in these groups cocking off to people and cursing. Reputable breeders don’t cock off. They value their customers, they have a contract.”

So how can we be better and more responsible to the animals in our community?

Caldwell believes that a huge part of the issue is a lack of teaching and irresponsible pet care habits being passed down generation to generation.

“Animals are dying, and we aren’t doing anything about it,” she said, “Parents don’t teach their children kindness to animals. People lose their dogs and they don’t even go out and actually look for them. They just jump on Facebook and say ‘oh my pet was stolen.’ You have people with iPhones saying they can’t afford cat food but then constantly giving away and selling kittens on the Fur Babies site. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Ross noted that part of the problem is the mentality with which we approach animal life. “We still regard animals as property. As a TV, or a phone. It is property. We don’t give it a sense of being, and it’s wrong.”

To combat animal abuse and animal cruelty in our community, be it malicious or unintentional, Ross recommends first and foremost calling the SPCA.

“The lack of reporting is a huge issue. There are so many rumours and people hyping things up, especially on social media, that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. Sometimes people will wait until there is a history (of abuse/cruelty) and then they will call us saying ‘I’ve had it,’ and list historical things but we can’t go back unfortunately. We can only deal with something in that moment or something we have evidence of.”

Ross further emphasized the importance, stating that they try to find solutions for every situation that comes across their doorstep.

“A huge misconception is that we put down a lot of animals. It is not true. We deal with all sorts of protective issues, and even though this is not the place for long-term housing, we do it everyday. It isn’t ideal but we don’t want to use euthanasia unless we have to. Don’t be afraid to bring an animal here, and don’t be afraid to call us and report if something doesn’t seem right.”

Constable Sonny Spina with the Sault Ste. Marie City Police strongly seconds this notion.

“We have a great working relationship with the SPCA. If they need a hand, we go with them. If the situation calls for it, we lay a charge. Ultimately, the SPCA are the experts in animal control and we bring them in as quickly as we can,” he told SaultOnline.

Amidst confusion over animal control and care jurisdiction, Spina emphasized the SPCA’s role above all else.

“We don’t initiate investigations. If we receive a complaint, we can take a look at it. If we get calls about pets in cars, we are going. Criminal charges, like animal cruelty or bites or injuries by an  animal, we get involved, but turn it over to the Humane Society once charges are laid. They (The SPCA) are the appropriate agency to deal with.”

Moreover, it is worth noting that the SPCA and the OSPCA are two different organizations. While they are here for the same overall reason, their mandates are different. The OSPCA has provincial jurisdiction, allowing them to deal with animal cruelty. The SPCA locally can only deal specifically with municipal by-laws. To report animal cruelty to the local OSPCA case worket call 310-SPCA, from there, the local shelter assists with housing needs as necessary.

The New By-Law

A new municipal by-law, enacted on May 14th 2018, is going to be “a huge game changer, and quite monumental” according to Ross. It states,

“Every owner of an animal shall treat the animal in a humane manner, including but not limited to the provision of a clean and sanitary environment free from the accumulation of excrement, adequate and appropriate food, unfrozen clean water, shelter that is waterproof and protects the animal from exposure to the elements and is appropriate for its size and breed, and veterinary medical care when the animal exhibits signs of pain, illness, or suffering, the opportunity for physical activity sufficient to maintain good health.”

The full by-law can be found here by clicking ‘By-law 2018-19 Animal Care and Control.’

Ross told SaultOnline that this new by-law will give the SPCA the ability to be more proactive in preventing and controlling animal abuse and cruelty before it gets to a criminal point. She explained, “the goal with the by-law for us is to be able to address the calls that come to us. It is so frustrating to get a concern or complaint called in and not having the guiding tools or legal authority to take care of it or do certain things. This will give us the ability to enforce the animal care component before animals get to a level of distress needed to prove cruelty on the provincial level.”

It will work as a ticket system, allowing for the SPCA to fine people immediately when they break the by-laws.

Even with the newly enacted by-law, it is critical to state again the importance of going to the SPCA first for all animal related concerns, especially adoption. Ross said, “We have history, we have background, we have application process, we have a contract process and it allows us to follow up and ensure that the pets that leave here are getting spayed and neutered and are healthy and getting fed properly.”

For more information on the SPCA and their services, click here.

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Riley Smith is an enthusiastic and versatile critical thinker who has just joined the Sault Online team! She holds a double Honours Degree in History and Political Science from Algoma University, and a Postgraduate Certificate in Public Relations and Event Management from Sault College. In addition to obtaining her Google Marketing Fundamentals certification, she is also working towards a Certificate in Diversity and Intercultural Relations, part-time. She has hands-on experience in social media marketing, media relations, public relations writing, event planning, and stakeholder and client relations, developed through post-secondary schooling and placement at Cavera Inc., as well as experience as the First Nations and Stakeholder Engagement Coordinator for the Missanabie Cree First Nation.

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