If you ask rescuers what they are working towards, what they hope to see in the future, a great majority of them will tell you that they are looking forward to a day when all animals will be treated well (well, at least the species they rescue) and people will be held accountable for their abuse of animals – or something along those lines. While we can all get behind the sentiment of the wish… are we prepared for the consequences of the fight to make this dream a reality? Do we really want this hope to become reality if we have no control over the way it is envisioned?
I think Jessica Johnson and others like her would have to say “No”. The Yorkshire Terrier breeder was shocked to find that an OSPCA officer had entered her house through her bedroom window in May of 2011, let at least one other officer in to her home as well as two police officers. Had Jessica been growing pot in her basement? No. Had Jessica been the suspect in a murder investigation? No again. The OSCPA had obtained a warrant to enter her home and inspect her animals because they received an anonymous tip that told them her Yorkshire Terriers were living in filth. One tip. No one had even talked to the tipster as the information was left on an answering machine. So, here we are, in a first world nation with all the rights and privileges it provides… and someone can just leave an unsubstantiated tip on an answering machine…. and voila – OSPCA officers are banging down your door to see if you take proper care of Fluffy and Fido.
Everyone might have been less concerned if there were real problems found (err on the side of caution, right?) – except for the fact that there was nearly nothing wrong with Miss Johnson’s 5 adult Yorkies or her 8 puppies. Upon veterinarian examination, only one adult Yorkie, Vicki, was found to have any problem that required veterinarian intervention – severe gingivitis although not with problematic outward signs. The OSPCA, in their full authority, ordered the owner to fix the problem and brushed the dust off their hands. Case over. Except that it wasn’t.
Jessica Johnson is a disabled retiree who can’t afford to fix Vicki’s teeth. The veterinarian estimate for the procedure came in at between $500 and $1000. Jessica, who lives in a province and country that doesn’t recognize the right for humans to have proper dental care is being forced, by an animal welfare agency to provide that same care to her little dog. How is this right? The OSPCA’s lawyer maintains that no one should have any number of animals that they can’t properly care for. What is the definition of proper care? Is it a certain type or quality of food? Is it a certain type of housing or compliance with all of your veterinarian’s recommendations? Is it taking your animal to a veterinarian a certain number of times in a year, in it’s lifetime? What if you can’t afford to take care of what happens to your animals because of a lifechange or you just can’t see taking out a loan or spending your life savings to save your animal?
This may be a case of a woman caught in a bad situation, who breeds dogs when she can’t really afford to deal with anything that goes wrong. That could be called negligent by animal welfarists, but then again so could the family who owns a dog who is living on a shoestring budget. How about the homesless person whose only friend is their cat or their dog? If we start down an idealistic road led by people who use public funds to pay for the animals in their care… will we be able to stomach the journey or the destination? So far in Canada, it is not illegal to own an animal who needs or who may need expensive veterinary care in the future and to not be able to afford it, anymore than it is illegal to have a child that you can’t pay for orthodontic care for.
Regardless of whether or not you personally agree with Jessica Johnson’s right to have her animals and to breed them, it is so very important that you stand up for those rights. Otherwise we are looking at a world where the family dog will have more rights and privileges than our children, where a private charity that is given police powers can enter your home at any given time to defend those rights… and where the only people truly allowed to own animals will be those who are independently wealthy or who at least have healthy bank accounts. Can you live with that? I know I can’t.
There is a saying in rescue circles that many people, myself included, find offensive. “If you can’t afford a healthy adoption fee, you can’t afford to take care of an animal.” As far as my experience tells me however, money spent on something does not equal respect or care. Ask all the kids with expensive Ipods and cell phones, or people who can afford expensive cars and houses…. do they appreciate or care for them better than the family or child who had to scrimp and save for something with much less monetary value?
Does the fact that Jessica Johnson can’t afford expensive veterinary care mean that she can’t take care of her dogs? Clearly not. Far from the urine and feces soaked home that the OSPCA claimed Jessica’s dogs lived in, her home was clean, her dogs were clean, and the only smell came from Jessica herself (due to her disability). Instead of the apology Jessica rightfully deserved, she was harassed and pushed by the OSPCA to the point where they are now locked in an Animal Care hearing that has lasted for 6 days and is expected to go 4 more. Without pro bono representation, Jessica would not have been able to defend herself against the OSPCA and their lawyer… who, since the OSPCA is a publicly funded charity, is in essence being funded by the goodhearted people of Ontario. I wonder if this is where they expected their donations to go?
The moral of the story? In a nutshell, be careful which animal welfare bandwagon you jump on. One day it might be coming for you or your neighbor.