My ‘SPCA’ hat was slightly too large and the ‘inspection’ polo a bit too tight for my taste, but I was up for the challenge. As the Montreal SPCA’s Interim Executive Director since April, I was going to accompany on the road Constable Simon from our Investigations and Inspections department, in order to gain a better understanding of her work.
It was just before 10 a.m. on yet another rainy day and her binder was filled with paper wrinkled by the humidity. After a follow-up visit to a lady who kept horses and dogs north of the Island of Montreal, we headed for Lanaudière, where a dozen of cases awaited us. Among these cases, a sick calf left behind, cats bred in unimaginable conditions, underweight dogs, and other animals whose conditions had improved since the last inspection.
This is what the job of an inspector on the road looks like…. The Montreal SPCA is comprised of six inspectors who enforce the provincial animal welfare legislation and the animal cruelty provisions of the Canadian Criminal Code. They spend approximately half of their week in the field, conducting inspections and investigations. They spend the rest writing reports, preparing legal files or testifying in court.
In 2016, the Montreal SPCA’s Investigations and Inspections Department received over 10,000 complaints and reports, and inspected 18,213 animals, all species combined. In total, these interventions resulted in the seizure of 194 animals and several criminal and penal prosecutions.
The inspector whom I followed had a load of nearly fifty cases that day. However, it was merely by sheer luck that we came across the dog we would later name “Jean-Paul Sartre”, as we meant to visit the neighboring house.
When we approached Jean-Paul, a puppy under a year of age, we noticed that he was tied-up to a plastic chain that had tangled around his hind paw and was likely to cause serious injury. In addition, he did not have access to a bowl of fresh water.
Constable Simon was taking note of all the violations when Jean-Paul’s owner arrived.
The scene that unrolled in front of me that day is one of the most difficult I have ever seen, and yet it is the daily reality for inspectors. The woman, in tears, explained to the Constable that she didn’t have time to give her dog all the attention he required; he would eat her furniture; she didn’t have the means to bring him to the veterinarian to treat his skin issues and sterilize him. She was in tears while I fought mine back.
The inspector recommended a diet that could alleviate the dog’s itching all while insisting that she respect the legislation applicable to dog’s chained outdoors. The woman’s dismay caused the Constable to propose another solution to ensure that the dog would enjoy a better quality of life as quickly as possible. Patiently, the inspector convinced the woman to entrust her animal to us. We were going to look after him. We were going to find him a new family.
Thus, I found myself with a dog on my lap for the three-hour car journey that separated us from the SPCA. After some time, Jean-Paul quietly fell asleep against me. The following day, he was sterilized and examined by a team of canine behaviour evaluators prior to being placed for adoption.
Jean-Paul Sartre waited ten days before finding a family able to provide him with all the care that a young dog like him needs. In the meantime, he spent all his afternoons with me in my office. Undoubtedly, Jean-Paul somewhat disrupted my work, but he quickly became the staff and media’s sweetheart.
Although the Montreal SPCA inspectors are ‘special constables’ – similar to police officers, but without weapons – their wages are not paid by the government. Basically, public donations allow them to do their job. To help us continue treating the thousands of complaints we receive every year, caring for seized and surrendered animals and giving them better lives, please give to the Montreal SPCA now.
Élise Desaulniers is the Interim Executive Director at the Montreal SPCA, an independent researcher, as well as an animal rights advocate. She is namely one of the instigators of the Animals are not things manifesto which led to an amendment to the Civil Code of Quebec explicitly recognizing animals as sentient beings. She has also published three essays on food ethics, translated into English, Italian and Spanish, and she is often invited to speak at conferences on the topic. (Photo credit : Same Ravenelle)