Cutting to the heart of the matter

Preliminary Report: Cape Breton Branch, Nova Scotia SPCA

Date: January 23, 2012
Contributions: Neil Fraser (Chief Provincial Investigator), Steve Hector (Special Constable, OSH Supervisor), Dr. Lesley Steele (Chief Provincial Veterinary), Sandra Flemming (Director of Animal Care), Kristin Williams (Executive Director)
The Nova Scotia SPCA has temporary custody and control of the shelter in Sydney, following the successful injunction order motion on Thursday, January 19, 2012.
Since that time, the Society has undertaken a number of audits and assessments to determine the health of the animals and the safety of the building. These have included regulatory and animal care assessments as outlined by the Animal Protection Act, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the Association of Shelter Veterinarians. An Occupational Health and Safety audit is also being conducted to determine safety hazards and necessary infrastructural renewal. The findings will provide a baseline and inform short- and long-term priorities for improvement.
Dr. Lesley Steele, the Chief Provincial Veterinarian, has also examined all animals in the facility and contributed her observations and recommendations. As a result of the preliminary findings, the shelter will be closed to all intake starting immediately, with the exception of animal control.
This decision has been made because of the number of sick animals in the building, the extensive infrastructure deficiencies and the lack of available trained staff. Among the medical issues in the shelter are two confirmed Parvo cases, and approximately 50% of the general population requiring treatment for parasites, fleas and mites. There is also incidence of lice. All animals are receiving quality medical treatment and adoptions will still be facilitated where circumstances permit.
1. Animal Care Shelter Audit
An animal care shelter audit was conducted, based on the Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters( and the Society’s provincial policies ( These standards are considered industry best practices for the operation of an animal shelter. This assessment was completed by Sandra Flemming, with input and recommendations by Dr. Lesley Steele (hard copy available upon request) and was completed between January 19 and 22, 2012.
The following concerns were noted:

  • There is no process established for animal flow, medical care, adoptions, intake, cleaning or disease control.
  • Limited information was on hand for most animals (no intake dates, descriptions were inadequate, limited medical information noted, along with some conflicting information noted).
  • Medical and health information is still not organized and easy to find or understand. There is little to no comprehensive information on the vast majority of cats. Cats in the free roaming cat room have so little information to identify them that Dr. Steele and PAS Staff were not able to determine which animal belonged to which record.
  • Cats continue to have no detailed records of their intake vaccine and parasite treatment, nor have had weights taken for accuracy. There are cats that have been there for up to 10 months that have not been seen by a vet.
  • In at least 5 cases, cats have been improperly sexed. Cats in the common cat rooms have intake cards that have a question mark in the “sex” category. This means that there are unneutered and unspayed females mixing together, and free roaming.
  • Many cats lack muscle mass and have week back legs resulting from inadequate exercise and the inability to move naturally in small kennels. Much of the cat caging is too small for the humane caging of adult cats.
  • Cats and Dogs may have received their initial vaccine and deworming treatment, but have not received any additional updates for deworming or flea treatments. Nearly every cat examined by Dr. Steele has severe ear mites, with many also having fleas and at least one confirmed case of lice. All of these animals were currently on the adoption floors being handled by both volunteers and the public. 
  • Two cats (one pregnant) were so congested from upper respiratory infections that neither were able to swallow and Dr. Steele was unable to medicate. These cats were in the general population cat rooms and should have been isolated and treated immediately.
  • Intake had pregnant and sick kittens and cats housed together.
  • Intakes are being regularly done on dogs, only because it has been tasked to Animal Control officers as part of their job.
  • Dog (Betsy), senior (approx. 12 years old) is so crippled with arthritis that she struggles to stand up and even sit without swinging her hips to the side. This dog is not under any pain management and up until we placed her in the manager’s office was living and sleeping on the floor in the main dog room on concrete as she cannot climb onto a bed. It is our understanding that she has been at the facility twice for long term stays in excess of several months.
  • Confirmed cases of Parvo in the building. A dog was taken to a vet clinic prior to our arrival, and was not tested for Parvo (we were told it was because the dog did not produce a fecal, although it is clearly acceptable and indeed more accurate to perform a test rectally). A rectal test was performed by Dr. Steele with the dog coming back as high positive. It is currently at the vet’s receiving treatment. The entire dog room has been exposed and a second case was confirmed.
  • Recent changes include the moving of the washer and dryer to another area of the building, which based on the new location, could result in more cross contamination. Additional improvements include one cat scale (that does not work properly), a dog scale, new sinks, two new cupboards in one cat room and the use of provincial policy intake sheets for use on dogs only.
  • They still do not have communication binders or whiteboards to share information concerning the status of animals.
  • There is no documentation in the building that is easy to understand or is complete. This includes staff schedules, payroll information in addition to animal care statistics.
  • Animal Control staff were allowed to keep their vehicles at home. One officer has been able to retain their vehicle while off on sick leave for several weeks.
  • Animal Control staff were permitted to perform euthanasia in the field versus taking an animal to a vet to be properly assessed.
  • Based on the scope of the operations, 4 animal care staff trained at the current level is insufficient for this facility. We will be increasing the staffing to 5 fulltime animal care staff with improved training and oversight.
  • Staff have been inadequately trained and the majority of staff have not shown up for work (3 of 4 animal care workers). The staff member that did show up demonstrated an inaptitude for cleaning protocols and a lack of confidence for administering vaccinations. She stated that staff have limited to no medical experience and to do not know basic animal care procedures, such as drawing blood, forcing feeding and administering subcutaneous fluids.
  • The staff were also unable to identify basic ailments such as mites and no daily health checks were being performed. Improper or insufficient vaccination protocols were also being employed.
  • Most rooms were filthy. Some doors do not reach the floor which permits for disease spread. It also results in cats being exposed to barking dogs which intensifies stress. The noise level is unacceptable and inhumane for the cats.

The deficiencies of the physical infrastructure are too extensive to completely detail, but include the following:

  • Exposed wires hanging from electrical outlets
  • Huge holes in the walls in areas of the building that show no signs of having been repaired
  • Dog kennels still have extremely degraded and porous surfaces
  • No working dishwasher in the building to help sanitize toys and bowls
  • Limited heat in main dog room and cat intake (highest temperature reached is 55 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Wood shelving units continue to be used everywhere in the building which present an opportunity to spread disease as it cannot be cleaned
  • The vast majority of overhead lighting has no covering over lighting fixtures.


There is not a single area of the shelter that is functioning properly. The facility requires:

  • More highly skilled and trained animal care workers
  • A more robust volunteer and foster program and an active transport program to alleviate intake pressures
  • A veterinary partnership to improve medical care with a vet visiting weekly who is also available for emergencies and providing spay/neuter surgeries
  • Significant improvements in infrastructure2. Regulatory Inspection

    A regulatory audit based on the Animal Protection Act ( and the Society’s published standards of care ( and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Associations’ A Code of Practice for Canadian Kennel Operations ( , was conducted by Neil Fraser on Thursday, January 19, 2012 (hard copy available upon request with accompanying photos). The APA does not have regulations. In the absence of regulations which would specifically identify requirements for the keeping and handling of animals, the Society is empowered to draft such standards. These standards are used to asses for animal protection issues, but are considered minimum in scope.
    The following concerns were noted:

    • Ventilation needs improvement (incorrect filters, required cleaning).
    • Carpeted flooring requires replacing (can hold bacteria and disease and can be tracked to other areas of the facility)
    • The hot water tank is leaking and area is extremely dirty (unacceptable).
    • Cat cages provide newspaper only (needs improvement).
    • Most animals not provided with toys (needs improvement).
    • Many enclosures are too small with multiple cats residing (needs improvement).
    • Walls and floors need cleaning (needs improvement).
    • Cat play areas have untreated surfaces that need to be sealed/painted to protect against the spread of disease (needs improvement).
    • Some floors and surfaces are porous and require sealing/painting (needs improvement).
    • Dog enclosures: bent with sharp edges and openings on doors on kennels. Many kennels had feces present at the time of inspection. The exercise area is not used frequently and gates were frozen open in the snow. Large dogs were in small kennels and small dogs in large kennels. Resurfacing of kennels required and open trough areas need to be covered or sealed to prevent the spread of disease.
    • Cat enclosures: multiple cats and large cats housed in small enclosures, with other kennels remaining empty. Kennel cards and identification missing for some cats. Considerable feces noted at times of inspection. Many cats not provided with sufficient space to move naturally.

    The shelter is extremely dirty and requires major cleaning and painting to seal porous areas.  There are no bleach mats in any areas of the building. The conditions provide for a breeding ground for bacteria and disease.  There is no logical flow to the building for intake, examination, isolation and adoption. There is exposed electrical wiring, the HVAC system, furnace and hot water tank need repairs. The dryer is venting into a cat carrier inside the facility. There is a large fenced area for exercise of the animals but it is only divided into two spaces, which should be improved to facilitate greater turn out time for more dogs. Cats noted sneezing heavily in general population rooms. Certain areas of the shelter are very cold.  Lack of documentation for many animals.

    3. Occupational Health and Safety Audit
    An Occupation Health and Safety Audit, based on provincial policies (hard copy available upon request) was conducted by Special Constable and OHS Supervisor, Steve Hector on January 19 and 20, 2012 (hard copy available upon request with accompanying photos).
    The following concerns were noted:

    •  No bleach mats noted.
    • Loose material and debris noted.
    • Dirty, dusty surfaces and floors.
    • Fire equipment – needs to be inspected and more installed.
    • Emergency generator should be tested weekly.
    • Walls and surfaces require repair.
    • Stainless steel surfaces lacking.
    • Vents and fans need to be cleaned (air exchanger).
    • Some proper storage lacking.
    • Light bulbs need to be replaced (some missing), entrance needs light.
    • Clean laundry should be stored separately.
    • Holes in walls and exposed electrical wires and switches with considerable dust and hair.
    • Oil tank and hot water tank are leaking and room is extremely dirty.
    • Many spaces need to be organized and cleaned.
    • Dog feces around property that needs to be picked up.
    • Unused oil tank is half full of oil.

    OHS officer at the shelter has not shown physical hazards to employees or shared policies to read. Policies are not posted in an area accessible to all employees. Employees have been warned to wear proper footwear on several occasions. Employees are not knowledgeable of chemicals being used. Containers missing proper labels and safety equipment available, but not used consistently.
    The Society is undertaking immediate recommended improvements. These improvements will take place over a 4 to 6 week period, though much is already underway. A budget estimate of at least $50,000 is anticipated, which presumes that some supplies and services can be donated.
    1. Starting next week, weekly vet visits will begin at the shelter. A veterinary partnership is being established to provide ongoing support, training, emergency access, and spay/neuter services.
    2. Animal care training will be offered to all animal care staff in addition to mentorship through the Provincial Animal Shelter and Dr. Lesley Steele. Basic requirements will include introduction to policy and procedures,administration of medications, vaccinations, subcutaneous fluids, drawing blood and force feedings.
    3. All animals have been provided with a medical plan and a course of treatment.
    4. The shelter has been depopulated to approximately half of its usual capacity by removing 35 cats and 12 dogs, with an additional 28 cats and 12 dogs leaving this week. The transports are comprised of requests for intake and a portion of the current shelter population.
    5. Proper protocols are being implemented for intake to include vaccination, flea treatment, deworming, weight, vet check, surgery and adoption information.
    6. A standard sick protocol is being established to address isolation, medication and health monitoring.
    7. Standardized record keeping is being created using the Society’s contracted PetPoint system database.
    8. The installation of 4 new runs (to increase to 6 turn out areas) is being completed to improve access to exercise areas and ease with cleaning.
    9. Three new cat adoption rooms will be created in the former board room, which will be gutted. A minimum of three banks of 9 cat kennels require immediate purchasing. Common areas will be terminated because of therisk to spread disease.
    10. Kittens will be fostered or transported until they can have surgery.
    11. The furnace has been repaired and repairs for the HVAC system and hot water tank are scheduled.
    12. Substantial painting is planned and being scheduled.
    13. De-cluttering and cleaning efforts continue.
    14. Installation of new shelving and cabinetry is planned along with the installation of stainless steel work stations.
    15. A new dishwasher will be installed to assist with disinfecting toys and bowls.
    16. The washer and dryer and laundry area will be moved and reinstalled in a more suitable and safe location.
    17. Temporary intake and isolation have been created and a proper and logical animal flow is being investigated.
    18. Electrical repairs have been made and repairs to walls are planned.
    19. Safety hazards have been identified and are being addressed.
    20. A temperament testing protocol for dogs has been introduced along with new protocols for intake and dailyhealth checks. Dogs are now receiving regular turn out time and walks and cats are being actively socialized.
    21. The resurfacing of kennels and improvements to the draining system is being investigated.
    22. All policies will be posted including OHS policies. All staff will sign off on policies and the Society’s code of conduct.
    These comprise the most immediate plans and efforts, but this list is not exhaustive. The situation is dynamic and will be evaluated again in the coming weeks. Hiring for new staff and recruitment for a new board of directors has been in the works for several weeks. New staff have been hired and a new local board of directors is being appointed. The new board will be announced next week.
    Prepared by:
    Kristin Williams
    Executive Director
    Nova Scotia SPCA
    (902) 835-4798 x 228
    Well then!   One can only wonder if this was why the supporters of the dismissed shelter manager and the disbanded board were so sure that the Sydney shelter would be closed to intake in the hands of the society?
    Deep down, did they already know that everything actually was not ‘hunky dory’?  That perhaps the absence of proper shelter protocols might not be a source of ‘local’ pride?
    Did they remember all the times that parvo proved to be a death sentence for every puppy in the shelter?  
    Did any of them ever have nightmares about the horrible home made gas chamber?
    At the end of the day, this more comprehensive audit only amplified what sheltering professionals and psychologists have known all along … that when hearts become hardened to working in a high kill environment it is difficult if damn near impossible to take pride in any aspect of the operation at all!
    But I sincerely hope that now …. at long last … I am done with nattering on about the horrific high kill Sydney Shelter!
    Almost, that is!   It would be inappropriate to discuss the shelter being temporarily closed to intake without talking about the past.  At the end of the day, things would not be in this state if everything had been properly run in the past.
    Straight sweet and simple … supporters of the old guard should stand in front a mirror when they are pointing fingers.  
    It was not the new ED who neglected the animals and failed to keep up with the times.  
    It was not the provincial board (who were working to set the society on the New Path that its own membership demanded) who hoarded money in the shelter bank account instead of providing proper vet care!
    Which of course begs another very interesting question.   Where is that bank account now?   If the required changes will need a minimum budget of $50,000 … would that hundred thousand and some not come in very handy?
    Where IS that money, now that it is needed?  The one thing that noone is talking about is who has custody of that bank account!
    Which leads of course to all sorts of incredibly interesting speculation! Is it still in the hands of the disbanded board?  The dismissed shelter manager?  Perhaps it was frittered away on legal bills?
    Or has it simply not been surrendered because even the most partisan are aware that it would not stand up to a forensic audit?
    But I am wandering afield as I often do in my meandering way.   Right here, right now let us talk about the other elephant in the room.   What other rescue options are there for the animals in Cape Breton while the Sydney shelter is being brought up to speed?
    Four to six weeks might not sound like a long time.   What does it mean in realspeak?  While the accuracy of last years stats has been called into question, before the branch was expected to be No Kill they were admitting to an average annual intake of nearly 4000 animals a year.  
    AC intake was not being tracked in publicly available online stats until 2010.  Seeing as this was the same year that the Sydney shelter magically achieved the mind boggling live release rate of 76%, it may be questionable how accurate the 32% AC intake number is.
    For the sake of argument, lets say the percentage is true.   If so, there were an average of 52 owner surrenders a week.   In realspeak, if one multiplies that number even just by four, one is looking at over two hundred animals.
    What are the other adoption options on the island?  

    • Like every other TNR group, CBFSS is already working with the next generations .. the descendants of the unaltered abandoned stray and street cats.  Even if they had the funding and the foster space, that’s not part of the very valuable and life saving service that the hardworking TNR groups provide.
    • Rocking Horse Ranch in Baddeck has their own mandate and are, by all reports, already full
    • The newly formed Arms Wide Open street cat rescue has a relationship with the society and may be able to rescue stray cats if they can be transported to Metro… but they already look like they are dancing as fast as they can. 

    In other words … for the time being the best option for the animals who would normally be surrendered to the shelter is going to be all the wonderful little rescues around the province.   Does this mean that they have just been waiting around for this lucky day when they can step up?  That they will all have fosters free?  Resources to rescue more?
    Of course not!   As always … practical support is the key to everything!  It will take practical support for the society to set the Sydney shelter on the right path.   In the absence of the much touted well padded bank balance, it will take a LOT of practical support!
    In realspeak, if rescues around the province are going to be able to help pick up the slack .. it will ALSO take practical support.   Fosters!  Donations!  Dog walkers!  Transporters!
    Most of the kind hearts who started as volunteer cat cuddlers after Celtic Pets carried on fostering afterwards.  Many are actively engaged in some aspect of animal rescue to this day.
    More importantly, their collective experience was instrumental in the community consciousness raising that ultimately fashioned a new future for the society.
    What time is it?   It is always time to remember that it will be the relationships that are forged in times like these that will actually get us to No Kill Nova Scotia.
    Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold – but so does a hard-boiled egg.  Source Unknown

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