Monday, May 17, 2010


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:

How quickly the tide can turn. Just a few months ago, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had positioned itself as the white knight, riding to the rescue of animals at the Toronto Humane Society’s shelter on River Street at the height of the fracas between the two organizations. But this week, any armour the OSPCA may have had was pierced by its own petard. The outcry over reports that 350 cats and dogs were to be euthanized at the Society’s Newmarket shelter was heard nationwide. Protesters massed at the gates, screaming “murderers!” at frightened staff and leading the media coverage in the process. A recently-fired staffer gave angry interviews, denouncing the plan. Veterinarians told reporters there’s no need for the animals to be put down over something as relatively minor as ringworm. The aforementioned Toronto Humane Society joined the pile-on, seizing the opportunity to denounce its nemesis. And amid the storm, the OSPCA said relatively little, letting the other, noisier voices frame the story. That’s why moving quickly to ensure prominence in the media coverage is essential for any organization in the midst of a crisis situation. It was Thursday morning before the Society held a news conference, at which chair Rob Godfrey announced that there would be “no mass euthanization” after all, and admitted the “miscommunication” which was now so painfully self-evident. It was the OSPCA which floated the 350 animals figure to begin with – the match that touched off the firestorm in the first place. Godfrey said most of the right things on Thursday – admitting mistakes in both communications and in internal protocols surrounding disease outbreaks, and committing to a full investigation as to what went wrong and why. But the damage had been done by then, and Godfrey’s ill-advised attempts at humour amid such an emotionally-charged situation was simply baffling (“It’s a good day to be a turtle at the OSPCA.”). Finally, although the chair definitely needed to be out front on this, where were the organization’s staff veterinarians, who would have been the most credible possible supplementary voices with respect to the animals at issue and their condition? This was a crisis of the Society’s own making, and one from which it will not soon recover.

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