When Michael Lambden arrived for his afternoon shift at the Toronto Humane Society 11 days ago, it was apparent that this was not a typical work day.
A police car lurked outside, as did a van filled with animal-cruelty investigators. Camera crews swarmed the entrance.
The massive cleaning effort going on inside the shelter didn't surprise the 26-year-old veterinary assistant - there was a pending inspection by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But the alleged sight of staff moving between rooms with sick and ailing animals in adoption carriers took him aback.
"I actually became disillusioned with the whole place," said Mr. Lambden, a tall man whose speech is slow and deliberate.
"I had thoughts in the back of my mind, but at that point it crystallized. I realized then and there they were obviously not what they were holding themselves out to be to the public."
He said he noticed front-desk staff upstairs, hiding behind cage modules until investigators from the Ontario SPCA left the area. They then dashed out, leaving cats behind in the adoption cases in rooms that had already been inspected.
Another employee, who asked not to be named, confirmed management asked staff to participate in an effort to hide cats from inspectors.
Mr. Lambden said he was asked to participate in this choreography of tiptoeing: moving sick cats out of rooms that had yet to be inspected into rooms that already had. "I said no, I said what I would do was give it food and water, but I wouldn't move it," he said.
Ian McConachie, a spokesperson for the THS, said that animals were not moved during the inspection. "No, there was none of that," he said. "If any animals were moved, it was part of daily operations."
Kristin Williams, a spokesperson for the Ontario SPCA, said she didn't have any knowledge of animals being hidden from inspectors, but she added that interfering with an agent or inspector in the course of their duties is a provincial offence.
It carries a maximum penalty of a $60,000 fine and two years in jail. "It would be significant to the investigation - it would mean that we were not able to see every animal there, which of course was our objective," she said.
Mr. Lambden expressed concerns that he could lose his job for speaking out, but in the days after a Globe and Mail investigation found evidence of animal suffering, he said that donations and adoptions slowed as THS president Tim Trow ignored calls for his resignation.
He blames the dire conditions inside the shelter on management, not the medical staff, and felt compelled to speak out.
"I feel that the Humane Society is not Tim's to run or own. It's not the operating manager's. It's Toronto's," he said. "I would like to see it run differently - and I would like to see it run better."
Nadine Strople, a THS records specialist, quit her job on June 2, the day the Globe and Mail's ran its final instalment of a three-part series. "I know that the accounts provided by multiple people are, in fact, true, because I have witnessed the same situations myself," she wrote in a resignation letter addressed to management.
"I cannot deal with the lies, cover-ups, games, writing people up, inhumane treatment of animals and staff."
Ms. Stropel said yesterday that she was still looking for a new job, adding that her conscience wouldn't allow her to work at the THS under current management.
Simone Rodrigue and Nicole Thibeault, who both volunteer in the kitten nursery on Saturdays, said that a staff member approached them after the first Globe and Mail story and handed them a form stating that allegations in the article were untrue.
"We had a staff come down and warn us that a supervisor might come and ask to sign it," Ms. Rodrigue said.
She and Ms. Thibeault said the volunteers agreed they wouldn't sign.
Mr. McConachie said no such document was circulated by staff.
So many similar concerns to the Ontario SPCA have been voiced that the animal welfare agency has hired outside investigators to handle the complaints.
"The volume of people that have come forward is just enormous," Ms. Williams said.
There is one cat in particular that lingers in Mr. Lambden's mind: An older cat named Peter that he saw moved around during the inspection.
Peter's black hair was falling out because of an allergy, he suffered from hyperthyroidism and he'd lingered in a cage for months. Mr. Lambden said a veterinarian had recommended euthanasia in May, but the advice wasn't followed.
He said he didn't have the medical training to assess whether or not Peter should have lived or died, but he felt that management's efforts to deceive investigators were wrong. "It raised moral questions, the thought of Peter being hidden," he said.
Mr. Lambden, who cared for Peter, said that the cat stopped eating days after the Ontario SPCA inspection. He said that when he went into work on Thursday, he learned that Peter had been euthanized.Report Typo/Error