Enforcement officers with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) are underequipped compared to their police service counterparts and face many instances of disrespect on the job, says new research by Brock University and the University of Windsor.
“OSPCA officers have the same legal authority as police to enforce animal cruelty legislation, yet key elements of their working conditions are quite shocking,” says Kendra Coulter, associate professor in Brock University’s Centre for Labour Studies and lead author of the report, which was released Monday.
The report, “Difference Makers: Understanding and Improving the OSPCA’s Animal Cruelty Investigation Work,” is a first-of-its-kind study of animal cruelty investigators and their work in Ontario.
Coulter and co-author Amy Fitzgerald, a criminologist at the University of Windsor, collected data from cruelty investigators working with the OSPCA through a survey and focus groups. Policy and financial analysis are also included within the report.
The OSPCA has 91 officers, 62 per cent of whom are women, investigating some 18,000 complaints of animal cruelty all across Ontario each year.
The researchers note the irony of OSPCA investigation officers being empowered to obtain warrants, seize animals, lay charges and perform other enforcement duties while the agency they work for has charitable status.
“No other law enforcement agency in Ontario is reliant on donations for operations, or staffed by more women than men,” says Coulter.
Key findings include:
- Most OSPCA officers must work alone, and some are responsible for geographic regions that take five hours to cross
- Officers do not have two-way radios and those in remote regions are regularly without even cell phone service
- Officers experience many kinds of disrespect, including verbal and physical abuse, on the job
- The $5 million that the Ontario government provides the OSPCA each year only covers less than one third of the agency’s protection budget. “Animal cruelty investigation work in Ontario is still dependent on private donations,” says the report, adding that police, conservation, fisheries and food inspection officers are fully funded through public funds, “and are understood to be providing a public service.”
Under Canadian law, animal cruelty includes both willful actions that cause animals distress or injury, and neglect, which means failing to provide reasonable care. Punishments can range from fines to imprisonment.
But many who abuse animals also tend to abuse women, children, the elderly and others who might be vulnerable, the researchers say. “Those who are cruel to animals exhibit higher rates of anti-social and destructive behaviours.”
Despite the obstacles and difficulties they face, many cruelty investigators — who Coulter says are required to be part police officer, part social worker and part nurse — go to great lengths to find compassionate solutions, most of which go unrecognized.
“The fact that so many officers make animal cruelty investigation their career, and stay for years or even decades despite the very challenging conditions, is a clear indication of their commitment. But these workers and the animals of our province deserve better,” says Coulter.
The report makes several recommendations to government, industry and the OSPCA on how to better support cruelty investigation officers and the animals they’re trying to protect, as well as improve workers’ safety and effectiveness.