It was with deep disappointment that I read in council’s agenda for its last meeting that Councillors Steve Butland and Susan Myers planned to present a resolution calling for Spruce Haven Zoo to be exempted from the proposed new Animal Care and Control By-law, which calls for the banning of zoos within the city.
The two councillors are asking for the exemption on the basis that the operators of Spruce Haven, Ken and Helen Marshall, have committed to winding down their operation and to not accepting any new animals, but have requested that they be allowed to keep the animals they have until their natural demise.
The councillors point out that for more than 30 years the owners of Spruce Haven have accepted and cared for sick and injured animals brought to them by residents of Sault Ste. Marie as refuge when no other options existed.
They also note Spruce Haven conducted hundreds of educational outings for area schools.
They don’t say a word about the welfare of the animals who remain at the zoo.
The very thing that brought about the proposal to ban zoos in the city was the fact they live in cramped quarters, with room only to pace back and forth, and have for all their time at the zoo.
Videos on the Internet show two adult lions in a cage hardly suitable in size for a couple of cubs; Ben the bear is seen getting in only nine paces before being forced to turn around to repeat the boring process; a coyote is almost in a frenzy as he continuously circles his pen.
The pacing behaviour of this coyote is called a stereotypy, according to an Internet source. It describes the pacing behaviour as a meaningless repetitive movement that many animals in captivity display but that is not found in the wild. The behaviour is typically considered to mean the animal is trying to cope with its environment and is often associated with boredom. These kinds of behaviours are minimized or, in some cases, eliminated, when animals are put into larger, more complex environments that give them choice and control.
The Spruce Haven Zoo is very small with only a handful of carnivores. Moving them to more appropriate accommodation, a project in which Zoocheck Canada is prepared to assist, is entirely feasible. If done, it would allow the animals to live out the remainder of their lives in conditions that allow them to roam, explore and be active.
Butland and Myers, seemingly shunning compassion, would have the animals at Spruce Haven live out their lives in what could best be described as appalling circumstances.
We can only hope there are enough councillors with some feeling of empathy for the animals that this isn’t allowed to happen.
Council was scheduled to debate the by-law on Monday but had to postpone it because Spruce Haven’s lawyer, Jonathon Poitras, was unable to attend because of illness.
Despite the postponement Andrew Lentini, a representative of Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA), was allowed to address the issue because he had travelled from Toronto to do so.
He told council that the proposed by-law does not take into consideration the welfare of the animals when it comes to moving them, nor does it take into account the exotic animal black market trade nor the underground exotic animal industry.
I have no idea what is behind his comments about the exotic animal black market trade or the underground exotic animal industry and how they are relevant to the by-law that would see Spruce Haven Zoo close, but I believe he is on the wrong track when he says the by-law does not take into account the welfare of the animals in that they would have to be moved.
Zoocheck has offered to relocate the Spruce Haven animals to sanctuaries at no cost to the city or the zoo, so that the animals can live out the remainder of their lives in better, more enhanced conditions.
I can’t see that they will suffer any more harm under a move than they will if they have to remain under the conditions in which they have lived for so long.
Zoocheck, which years ago worked hard to get the city out of the zoo business it was running at Bellevue Park, has a petition going in support of the by-law that would bring about the closure of Spruce Haven.
It had 7,046 signatures when I sat down to write a column on the issue in November and had 8,827 as I was writing this.
Part of the petition reads:
“Spruce Haven Zoo has had many years to improve conditions for Ben and the other animals, but there is little evidence that meaningful improvements have been made for many of them. In this time of heightened concern for the welfare of animals, this situation should not be allowed to continue.
“Therefore we the undersigned urge the Mayor and Members of Sault Ste. Marie City Council to move forward with the proposed prohibition on zoos as soon as possible.”
I agree and from the number who have signed the petition, I believe this thought has legs in the community.
It is time to think of the animals, rather than the business run by the Marshalls.
And I have a question about how the business would wind down.
As the animals begin to die off and it becomes no longer viable as a business, with not enough animals left to be enough of an attraction that they could ask people to pay to see, what will the Marshalls do then? With nothing in the way of revenue coming in, will they run Spruce Haven on their own dime until the last animal dies?
Somehow I doubt Butland and Myers took this into account when they penned their resolution providing an exemption from the proposed by-law to Spruce Haven.
Ward 3 Coun. Judy Hupponen has been pushing for a bylaw prohibiting zoos in Sault Ste. Marie.
“I truly believe that we must do something to remove the animals at Spruce Haven,” she said in an email to me last fall. “I’m going to assist in any way I can as a city representative.”
As I said in my column on Nov. 4, there should be no grandfathering of the Spruce Haven Zoo. That would only be maintaining what it is obvious to many people, the welfare of the animals their priority, are against.
It is a priority I hope the majority of council will share.