How the election could help Quebec move towards a better system for animal welfare
Citizens of Montreal, we have a problem. It’s time we talked about how our city handles animal welfare because the current way is completely unacceptable.
Over the summer, news outlets went wild over the calèche horse that collapsed in the Old Port. I am the first to admit utilizing animal labour for our own monetary gain is horrible. But what about the animals we interact with on a daily basis? What about stray dogs and cats we see on the streets?
It starts with shelters. It’s great that we have them here in Montreal, however, the public is ignorant about how the city deals with shelters and animal services. Montreal is split into boroughs which are all responsible for their own dealings in animal services. To clarify, animal services can include things like how the boroughs deal with surrendered pets, strays and cleaning up roadkill. According to the Montreal SPCA website, their services include investigations and inspections, foster programs, lost and found animals and the TNRM program (trap-neuter-release-and-maintain) for stray cats.
In our city, animal services are taken care of either by the non-profit Montreal SPCA or the for-profit privately contracted and operated “shelter” Le Berger Blanc Inc. To differentiate, non-profits are mission-based and ultimately service the animals, whereas Le Berger Blanc wants to make money from adopting out animals.
Each borough in the city chooses either the Montreal SPCA or Le Berger Blanc in a sort of “bidding-war” to see who takes care of animal services. The provider who gives a better bid (less costly, offers certain services, etc.) is contracted and has full reign over animal services in that borough.
This system is incredibly out-dated and, according to former Minister of Agriculture Pierre Paradis in a Montreal Gazette article, “Quebec is about 20 years behind the rest of the civilized world” in terms of how the province deals with animal welfare. Not to mention our province is considered “the animal abuse capital of Canada,” according to the same article.
A large part of the problem is Le Berger Blanc Inc. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because they were caught in a big scandal in 2011. A documentary was released showcasing an undercover Society for the Protection of Animals (SPA) worker’s time “employed” at Le Berger Blanc facilities, where he recorded the abuse and murder of animals at this so-called “shelter.”
The documentary, Le Mauvais Berger Blanc, was broadcasted by the Radio-Canada program Enquête, and honestly, the video is brutal. Throughout 26 minutes, you see footage of the mistreatment in these “shelters.” Workers blatantly lied to patrons searching for their lost pets, illegally performed euthanasia that caused animals pain and threw half-living animals into garbage bins. The director of the shelter, Pierre Couture, and his wife, Murielle De Lasalle—who is also Le Berger Blanc’s operations director—were confronted with the footage. They were in disbelief and supposedly unaware of their employees’ actions.
While the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association stipulates that euthanasia be conducted by a trained veterinarian in a manner “that is quick […] and causes the least possible pain and distress,” the documentary shows the exact opposite. In one case, footage captures a general employee at Le Berger Blanc euthanizing a dog by repeatedly stabbing it with a needle. In another case, a cat, whose lower torso is totally paralyzed, drags its legs across the floor in an effort to escape. Another cat runs hysterically back and forth in a cramped cage, and an employee laughs when the animal’s paralyzed leg gets caught in the cage’s bars. The expression of a dog standing among a sea of dead canine bodies as it waits for its turn still haunts me to this day.
Le Berger Blanc has changed for the better since the scandal in 2011. According to a Montreal Gazette editorial in February, strict new conditions specified that “healthy animals are not to be euthanized […], operations will be subject to spot checks and camera recordings must be made available upon request.”
But do we still want a corporation with such a history of animal cruelty to be responsible for our city’s animal services?
As a society, we need to re-evaluate how our city deals with animal services. Le Berger Blanc is not looking for long-term or big-picture solutions to rectify animal welfare issues in Montreal. This corporation does not care about problems like the overpopulation of cats, breed-specific bans, lack of education on animal behaviours and needs or respecting animal rights—they are simply looking to make money. For this reason, the upcoming municipal election is an important one for animal welfare.
We have a mayoral candidate whose platform actually mentions animal welfare measures, including protecting animals in our city rather than treating them as objects to gain profit from. Projet Montréal’s platform on animal welfare plans to “prohibit the transfer of lost or abandoned animals to laboratories for research or commercial purposes. Make it mandatory that they be transferred to rescue organizations instead […] provide support for animal sterilization […] support education programs in schools to educate young people about the responsibilities of animal owners.”
These kinds of actions would really lead Montreal in the right direction towards adequate animal service policies and, hopefully, to a complete overhaul of the city’s current system. We should be looking to other cities and the success they’ve had.
Calgary’s model is a perfect example. Bill Bruce, the former director of Calgary animal and bylaw services, developed a model that requires owners to properly train, sterilize and exercise their pet, provide it with adequate medical care and ensure the animal is not a threat or nuisance to the city, according to an article in the Calgary Herald. In an interview, Bruce explained that his model is about shifting “away from the animal control model to the responsible pet owner model. [It is about] empowering people to be great pet owners.”
There’s a lot of work to be done in our city, but this is more than just a pet owner’s problem. This is an everyone problem. This is about looking at the bigger picture and seeing animals as more than just property, but as sentient beings. We need to eliminate the use of Le Berger Blanc, which is only concerned with profit—not the welfare of the animals it is responsible for.
We need to care. We need to act. We need change.
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin