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Toronto shelter's use of donor funds questioned Add to ...

The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee is asking some hard questions of the Toronto Humane Society's board of directors, including how they intend to manage the shelter in light of the animal cruelty charges against them, and questioning whether they intend to use donor dollars to pay for their legal defence.

News of the agency's involvement came the same day that investigators for the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals identified the remains of a cat found mummified in the shelter's ceiling, and THS records that indicated that the cat had been euthanized in October of 2008.

"We have learned that Casper was a resident of the Toronto Humane Society," said OSPCA investigator Kevin Strooband. "When we scanned the microchip it was like finding the pieces of puzzle."

The cat, known as Casper, was labelled "a ceiling cat" in his charts. The shelter's database showed that the young, skittish feline had been adopted and then returned to the THS, and that his microchip was scanned nearly two months after the database was updated to say he'd been euthanized.

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An investigation six months ago by the Globe and Mail revealed concerns that the THS's record keeping was inconsistent. Intake and euthanasia data presented to the shelter's board of directors didn't match data advertised on the website. In May, the shelter's spokesperson, Ian McConachie, said that the board's data were old, and that the shelter's records had been "updated."

Reached by phone late Monday night, Mr. McConachie said that he didn't know anything about a letter from the public guardian or about Casper.

"I don't know anything about the cat, I'm not in the shelter, they kicked me out, no comment," he said before hanging up.

The questions to the public guardian came in a letter sent by the agency to the THS, dated Nov. 30 and obtained by The Globe and Mail, which reads, "we are concerned with the stability and management of the THS and the protection and preservation of the charities [sic]assets."

Four senior staff members and the board's president, Tim Trow, were arrested Thursday and charged with criminal animal cruelty. The arrests were the culmination of an investigation by the OSPCA that was launched after a Globe and Mail series found evidence of animal suffering.

The bail conditions of Mr. Trow and his four co-accused bar them from associating with each other or any member or employee of the THS, or for coming within 500 metres of the shelter.

The charity's remaining 14 board members were charged with non-criminal animal cruelty.

The letter demands that the board outline their plans "to manage and operate the THS in the face of the charges against the president and senior staff," to give details regarding restrictions imposed through their charges "which would limit or prohibit their ability to carry out" their duties, the precise nature of the charges against them, and an updated list of their names and addresses.

The letter also points to some sections of the Charities Accounting Act, that the OPGT says would override any THS by-law promising to pay the directors' legal fees.

Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, Brendan Crawley, confirmed that the public guardian was monitoring the situation at the THS.

"With respect to the recent charges, the public guardian will be contacting the charity to determine what their plans are to keep the organization operating," he wrote. "The Public Guardian and Trustee has been actively involved in gathering financial information and continues to monitor this situation closely and will take action as necessary."

Mr. Crawley would not comment specifically on the letter, or on any response the public guardian had received to either of the letters the agency has sent to the THS.

The OSPCA called on the public guardian to appoint an interim supervisor last week, but the public guardian has said it doesn't oversee issues of animal cruelty and must have evidence of financial mismanagement before it can intervene through the courts.

Brian Shiller, a lawyer for the OSPCA, said he had not seen the letter but would welcome any intervention by the agency, a branch of the Ministry of the Attorney-General.

"It sounds like the province is finally getting involved - and, if so, we are very grateful," he said. "We have said all along that we need their help to get the THS back on track. There are many suffering animals - and citizens who have made generous donations - who deserve no less."

The OSPCA said yesterday that the shelter could remain closed as long as three weeks, as their investigation continues, and that there were no time limits on their search warrant. A spokesperson for the THS said they would be contesting the validity of the warrant.

On their website, the THS raised concerns about the OSPCA's investigation tactics.

"We are hearing from volunteers and staff that the OSPCA's private security firm is threatening and intimidating them," an update to their website read.

A group of 55 employees dissassociated themselves from the THS's management Monday, saying neither the board nor Mr. McConachie speaks for them.

Laura Hendy, an administrative employee, said that staff had received death threats they felt were meant for management.

Ms. Hendy added that she and her co-workers were happy to be working with the OSPCA.

With files from the Canadian Press

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