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Why did this dog have to die? Toronto Animal Services protocols under fire

Last Updated Mar 8, 2016 at 6:41 pm EST

A Markam veterinarian assistant is asking why Toronto Animal Services euthanized a stray Rottweiler that exhibited no signs of behavioral issues just five days after he was turned over to them.

Sarah Castorina, head veterinarian assistant at the Markham Veterinarian Clinic, turned the Rottweiler over to the Toronto Animal Services branch in Scarborough after a client found him on Sewells Road in Markham.

“He is a found dog,” Castorina said. “If anyone is going to look for him, they are not going to look in my backyard. They’re going to look in the shelters.”

Castorina said the dog was a little skinny and emaciated, with no identification or microchip. She thought the dog was about 1-1/2 to 2 years old and nicknamed him Sewell, after the street he was found on.

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“My first instinct was that he came from the scrap yard or that he was dumped,” she said. “But I don’t want to assume things because I don’t know.”

Castorina, a certified canine trainer and behaviourist, said Sewell was extremely well-behaved when in her care.

“He was a little nervous, never growled, never barked at me, never showed me his teeth,” she said. “So loveable. I had him around dogs, cats, he was walking through the clinic … he was fine with us.”

After a night in the clinic’s kennel, Castorina took Sewell to Toronto Animal Services on Feb. 25. On the drive over, the dog didn’t make a sound – no howling or crying. When he wasn’t sniffing around or laying down and peering out the window, he would come over and lick the back of her hand.

“There was not a spot on his body he wouldn’t want me to touch. He was just love me, love me, love me,” she said. “He was sweet as can be, this dog is honestly nicer than my own dog.”

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At the Scarborough animal services office, Castorina was told the dog would be held for five business days to allow the owner to claim him. After that he would go through an adoption test to determine whether he was adoptable or if he would have to be euthanized.

“I was so confidant because he was such a sweet dog; there was no possible way he wouldn’t pass the test,” she said.

Castorina checked on Sewell on Feb. 27, and was told the dog was fine and that no one had claimed him. She volunteered to adopt the dog if no one stepped forward by March 2. Unknown to Castorina, a friend and co-worker also called the shelter to adopt the dog if the owner did not come forward.

On March 3, Castorina called the shelter for the latest update. It was then she was told that the dog had been euthanized the night before.

According to Elizabeth Glibbery at Toronto Animal Services, the dog was euthanized after a behaviour assessment was attempted.

“He had strong food, dog and people aggression and during the assessment he responded to several scenarios with hostile behaviour,” she said. “In fact the assessment had to be stopped because it was too dangerous to continue.”

Glibbery said the dog was too dangerous to be adopted.

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“Our mandate is to ensure public safety and the welfare of all our animals,” she said. “In this case there were too many triggers to place the dog for adoption.”

Clare Forndran, media director at Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary, said five days isn’t enough time to evaluate a dog’s behaviour.

“Five days isn’t enough to rehabiltate a dog, that’s for sure,” Fordran said. “I would have hoped that this poor dog would have been given more of a chance.”

She said when a dog is in a shelter environment, it is already stressed out and their entire world has been turned upside-down.

“Behaviours in a shelter can certainly be elevated when they are under stress, especially if you are evaluating a dog within a couple days of them arriving,” Forndran said.

Castorina is frustrated that Sewell was put down despite her willingness – and the willingness of others – to adopt him.

“I will open my home and work with this dog, even though I don’t see anything wrong with him, And you are saying no, death is the only option for him?” Castorina said.

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Glibbery says that’s Toronto Animal Services policy.

“Toronto Animal Services is dedicated to transitioning all our animals to good homes,” she said. “Where we have dogs that demonstrate traits that will result in dog bites, we never release it into the public except where we receive court orders to do so.”

Fordran says the city is lucky to have an institution like Toronto Animal Services because they help so many animals find homes. But she said many shelters are overcrowded or facing budget constraints.

“Anyone who is working with animals in a shelter, they do care about animals,” said Fordran. “Often it just comes down to limited resources, unfortunately, and orders and people are just doing what they are told to do.”

To Castorina it sounded more like ‘oh his five days are up, lets euthanize him now,’ and she is questioning what Toronto Animal Services is.

“The Toronto Animal Services let me down,” she said. “They let this dog down.”

TAS animal outcomes, 2014
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