New animal welfare group unveiled

Horse protest catalyst for Animal Welfare Watch

A new animal welfare group – Animal Welfare Watch – was unveiled in Hagersville Monday night. The driving force behind the group is Michael Zimmerman, a former provincial bureaucrat tasked with animal welfare, Brenda Thompson of the Whispering Hearts Horse Rescue in Hagersville, and their shared belief that the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is no longer an effective vehicle for animal welfare.

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HAGERSVILLE – A new animal welfare association in Ontario was unveiled in Hagersville Monday night.

Animal Welfare Watch was formed in response to an outpouring of concern last month for the living conditions of three horses at a hobby farm in Townsend Centre east of Waterford.

The driving force behind AWW is Brenda Thompson, operator of the Whispering Hearts Horse Rescue in Hagersville, and Michael Zimmerman, a former provincial bureaucrat who was the animal welfare co-ordinator for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

AWW was announced at the Royal Canadian Legion in Hagersville in front of a crowd of 80 people. Most are concerned about reports that the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) is having difficulty discharging its mandate due to administrative and organizational challenges.

“The two of us are starting this but we need all of you to be part of it,” Thompson said. “There is nothing hidden here. There is no hidden agenda. But we need to do something right away. After what I went through in Waterford I said enough is enough.”

A spontaneous protest formed outside the property in Townsend Centre Nov. 30 in response to reports that three horses there were in bad condition and getting worse.

A veterinarian attended and euthanized one of the horses in front of dozens of protestors. The OSPCA said it was aware of the horses and was monitoring their condition.

However, the protestors were concerned because the OSPCA had quietly decided earlier this year that it would no longer respond to complaints about horses or other large farm animals.

When the Townsend Centre protest erupted, Thompson was circulating a petition which complained that the OSPCA was not exercising its mandate and that animals were suffering as a result.

On the same day as the Nov. 30 protest, Thompson presented her petition to Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett. The petition had 840 signatures.

Zimmerman said he cheered when he heard about the weekend-long protest east of Waterford. Zimmerman said there have been serious problems at the OSPCA for many years and that he has carefully documented them.

“That was so energizing for me,” Zimmerman said. “I felt for the longest time that I was beating my head against a brick wall.”

Zimmerman said a major problem with the OSPCA is organizational.

OSPCA, he told the crowd, is a decentralized collection of 13 branches and 28 affiliates. The latter include organizations such as local humane societies.

Zimmerman said everyone is protective of their turf and that they don’t co-operate on fundraising. Thanks to infighting, Zimmerman said the OSPCA isn’t conducting enforcement in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa. As such, Zimmerman said OSPCA is largely absent in about half the province.

AWW’s ultimate objective is to disband the OSPCA and allocate its responsibilities to municipalities, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests.

Thompson has an appointment Jan. 22 with a senior policy advisor with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. This is the ministry with oversight responsibility for the OSPCA. Thompson told the crowd Monday that she intends to collect another 13,000 signatures on her petition in time for that meeting.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com

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