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
Riley Smith is an enthusiastic and versatile critical thinker who has been with SaultOnline since January 2018. 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. She is Google Marketing Fundamentals certified, and is also working towards a Certificate in Diversity and Intercultural Relations. When she's not reporting, you can find her MC'ing the Soo Greyhound home hockey games, spending time with her basset hound, Douggie, or seeing the world one breathtaking view at a time.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Great write up,very dissappointed in the SPCA,called a few times about a dog in distress,was outside in this terrible heat with no water,he is nev er walked,never any excercise but because he has a doghouse they will not do anything to help this poor dog,my heart breaks to watch this everyday,today he was in the pouring rain and just frantic with the thunder,terrible situation

    • Keep calling them until they are forced to do something. Same situation happened with me and the person at the HS told me “they can’t make the person love the animal.” I was very upset and called the OSPCA.

  2. My baby is a rescue dog. I got him at 10 months. He was severely malnurished and its sad because he is a “giant breed” st bernard great dane mix and hes the sweetest dog ever. Im his 4 th home proving that people like puppies but when hey get big people dont want them. Hes been with me since january and he went from 80 lbs to 150 lbs in 6 months and hes so hezlthy now. It breaks my heart to think what hes been put through. If you have the opportunity to rescue please do. Its the best decision ive made for sure. Theres a lot of puppies yes but just think how many older dogs want to feel the love too. Dogs love unconditionally…the best love out there!!

  3. Not a city problem but a country problem. This country needs to change many rules including locking our borders of out of country dogs, STOPPING ALL non registered breeding without LARGE fees paid to local shelters, (if you want to breed you pay large fees to a shelter and you need to provide proof of vetting for every animal produced), removal of animals that are not vetted for shots and care, and start charging people for EVERY KITTEN that is produced! Cats are a bigger problem than dogs.

  4. Who wrote this by-law and why isn’t there a stand being taken against backyard breeders WITHIN THE NEW LAW? Backyard breeding has to be stopped completely for animals to be safe and healthy. Or, for that matter, where’s the set of guidelines as to when it’s appropriate for animal control to euthanize animals? Or other behaviours animal control has to follow to ensure animals are safe. Being allowed to kill an animal on sight if the officer *thinks* they pose a danger is MADNESS. I thought it might help this city to get another dog rescue with pups brought in from high-kill areas (reducing/eliminating the over-reliance on very bad local buying/adopting habits) but I wouldn’t dare participate in such a thing knowing the city has such terrifyingly lax rules about keeping animals safe. Y’all should be embarrassed by this by-law and demand better from your municipal government.

  5. First off we need a low (or reduced cost) spay/neuter clinic in the Sault. Any vets want to step up? Didn’t think so. Second, the adoption process needs to have a home screening process (not a fist full of cash and a pulse). Third, calling in a complaint of animal abuse or neglect has to be taken seriously and I’m not sure that is always being done.

  6. i think.when propper adoptions are made from the humane society a prepayment for a microchip should be part of it as well that way the pet is ensured to be fixed and hopefully never lost either

  7. Thank you Riley. It’s about time Animals had a voice in this city and people understood just how bad it truly is. We all need to work together to create change in our city and we all need to do our part to put an end to this vicious cycle. I hope this article encourages more people to report animal abuse and neglect and mostly I hope it makes people realize that animals are not property, they are not merely a product and most importantly they are not disposable. I deeply appreciate your time and support on this issue.

  8. Good article. As someone who came home to SSM recently its almost culture shock at the difference in ways animals are treated here versus in a large city.

    Ssm is about 15 years behind the game. NCiN and TAAG are literally ground breaking up here. These groups have their work cut out from them. Everyone up here just wants the animal. They dont want to vet it. They dont want to feed it quality food. They dont want to follow the flow to adopt from rescues and dont uderstand why they cant get free animals if there are so many. No one wants no for an answer, and god forbid we say no if its in the animals best interest. They just go find one on kijiji or fbook and Rescues take in the animals later down the road.

  9. Local sites should not allow people to advertise pets for sale that were born in the homes of unlicensed, non accredited breeders. Every time I turn around I am seeing backyard breeders advertising puppies for sale for exorbitant prices. Some are even scam ads from out of country.

  10. When will rescues and reputable breeders stop discriminating against those in Apartments I had to buy my dog from a “facebook” breeder. Got a nice dog he is 100 pounds now and goes for lots of walks

    • There are good reasons for them doing this, especially for large breeds. How many hours of the day is this dog left alone in the apartment?

      • Nothing wrong with dog in apartment Ted, provided animal is walked daily. If you own pet no matter what you live in, your animal requires exercise daily

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