03/22/2012 09:10 EDT | Updated 05/22/2012 05:12 EDT

What is So "Humane" About Humane Societies?

It may come as a shock to many that the "new" improved Toronto Humane Society (THS) is viewed by a leading defender of animals as a "Kill Shelter."

This, after the celebrated 2009 "raid" by the OSPCA on the THS that resulted in new management and (presumably) greater care of animals.

In fact, all the animal shelters in the Toronto area (Ontario, really) are considered "kill shelters" by a relatively new group dedicated to animals -- the Organization for the Rescue of Animals (ORA), and by noted author Nathan Winograd, director of the No-Kill Advocacy Centre in the U.S.

ORA is staging a seminar and leadership workshop at Toronto's Metro Convention Convention Centre on April 14, featuring Winograd as star attraction: Building a No-Kill Community.

Winograd is a doer as well as a talker. He argues -- and has proof -- that a no-kill policy for humane societies and animal shelters saves the community money, is more efficient, and is certainly more humane. Places like San Francisco, Charlottesville, Va., Atlanta, parts of Texas, and Tomkins County SPCA, N.Y., have replaced euthanasia with spay/neuter clinics that have resulted in huge municipal savings and fewer stray animals.

Winograd and ORA view any shelter that saves or adopts-out 90 per cent of animals as a "no-kill" shelter. By that criteria, the THS, OSPCA and Toronto Animal Services (TAS) are "kill shelters," more interested in controlling the dog and cat population than saving or having them adopted.

In San Francisco, for example, even feral cats which inundate the city are trapped, spayed, neutered, and released instead of killed -- at enormous savings while also reducing the feral cat population. The formula could work for Toronto or any big city.

Winograd and ORA are persuasive advocates, but have difficulty getting politicians, the public, and (especially) the media interested, despite the abundance of evidence supporting no-kill policies.

In his book, Redemption and Irreconcilable Differences, Winograd is adamant: "Shelter killing is not the result of over-population; it is the result of shelter managers who find it easier to kill animals than save them . . . . shelter killing is unnecessary and unethical . . . an excuse for poorly performing shelter managers who want to blame others for their own failures."

It's ironic that the seminar/workshop is being held in Toronto (at $50 for both, $35 for one), since unbeknownst to some of those involved with ORA, the THS had a seven per cent kill ratio in 2009 that persuaded the OSPCA to stage its well-publicized THS raid; key personnel were charged with cruelty to animals, trundled off in handcuffs, but later cleared when charges were thrown out by a judge.

Since then, the "revitalized" THS is selective about the animals it accepts: it limits numbers of animals, won't accept strays, makes adoption time-consuming. Some animals are directed to the TAS for disposal. A far cry from the original mandate of the THS.

Given that a spay/neuter policy is less costly and more efficient than euthanasia, one wonders at the reluctance of the province or city to investigate further.

Ever since animal control (the pound) was removed from THS control, costs of TAS have soared, and killing increased. Try to adopt an animal from TAS -- or try to find out their kill ratio. Difficult. Secrecy abounds.

But TAS isn't the problem: Its basic purpose is animal control -- not saving or having animals adopted, which should be the THS' role. The OSPCA has always seemed more concerned with government grants, money, and power than animal welfare.

The Ontario Legislature has a Private Member's bill before it to curb police powers exercised by OSPCA inspectors -- powers that no public charity should be responsible for. Anyway, it will be interesting to see issues that are raised at the ORA seminar on Apr. 14.