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Toronto Humane Society volunteer president Tim Trow at the River Street shelter earlier this year. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto Humane Society volunteer president Tim Trow at the River Street shelter earlier this year. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

A shelter in crisis: Part 2

A leader with a passion for animals, loyal supporters - and an iron grip Add to ...

Jaxson, a 55-kilogram bull mastiff, had never been to Toronto.

So when his owners, Bree Piccinin and Trevor Perkins, decided they wanted to bring him along for a three-hour drive through a snowstorm from their home in London to the Toronto Humane Society, they decided to bring his prong collar.

They were considering making a $500 donation and adopting another dog, and wanted to make sure the animal would be compatible with Jaxson.

When they got to Toronto that day shortly before last Christmas, they left Jaxson's flat nylon collar in the car and put on his prong collar, just in case anything startled him inside the shelter. A prong collar is comprised of a series of metal prongs that protrude inward and pinch a dog's neck if it strains against a leash.

But soon after they entered the lobby, a large man began yelling at Ms. Piccinin and Mr. Perkins.

Ms. Piccinin, a 22-year-old bank worker who has worked with pit bull rescue groups in London, said that the man asked whether her dog was wearing a prong collar.

"And then he starts shouting, 'I'm the president of the Toronto Humane Society and you have to get out of here!'" she said.

"He continued to yell at us and call us dog abusers and then had some people escort us out of the building," Mr. Perkins, a 28-year-old construction worker, said.

Ian McConachie, a spokesman for the humane society, said that the couple had refused to remove the prong collar when they were asked to do so, and were asked to leave because the society objects to prong collars as anything other than training devices.

"[That type of collar]should not be used every day because it can cause pain to the animal, it's essentially digging into the animal's skin around it's neck," he said.

Ms. Piccinin said that if the issue had been raised politely, she would have switched it for the nylon one in the car. Instead, she said, the society lost a donation that day, and one of their dogs lost a chance at a home.

These kind of outbursts occur quite often at the society, current and former staffers say.

In interviews with The Globe and Mail, more than 20 current and former employees and volunteers, and visitors described volunteer president Tim Trow as a combative man with a sharp temper whose iron grip on the Toronto Humane Society has hurt the very animals Mr. Trow strives to protect.

They say the situation is made worse by the fact that Mr. Trow, a former provincial civil servant in his early sixties, controls virtually every aspect of the shelter's operations.

He is volunteer president of the society's board of directors and manages the shelter's day-to-day operations, a job typically held by a salaried professional in non-profit organizations.

Unlike many urban humane societies, Toronto's is not affiliated with the city. No level of government directly oversees the shelter's operations.

Instead, the society is technically controlled by its membership, approximately 1,800 regular citizens who are voting members.

(A request for a membership application can be made through the society's website. The cost of applying is $30 dollars, an applicant must live or work within a 60 km radius of the society, and all new applications must be approved by the board of directors.)

The latest issue of the society's magazine, Animaltalk, indicates that there are 15 board members and they are elected to three-year terms. (The society's by-laws indicate that there should be 16 directors).

In reality, however, Mr. Trow has created an impenetrable circle of power. If they are approved by the board, members receive a form that provides them with the option to sign their vote over by proxy to Mr. Trow, the secretary-treasurer, or a person of their choosing.

Minutes for the 2008 Annual General Meeting show that only 29 members attended to vote in person, and 742 voted by proxy. According to two members who attended, Mr. Trow appeared to hold virtually all of them.

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