The plot thickens.....Did dog rescuer go too far?Humane Society officer Tre Smith cuddles Cyrus, a Rottweiler he
rescued and in the process handcuffed the dog's owner while he
treated the animal. The owner was attacked by a crowd and the
incident is under investigation.
Aug 16, 2007 04:30 AM
Michele Henry, The Toronto Star
They don't agree on much.
Tre Smith, a Toronto Humane Society investigator, and Paul Soderholm, a dog owner charged with animal cruelty, tell night-and-day versions of what happened between them a few weeks ago.
The two became embroiled in a harrowing incident involving a Rotweiller named Cyrus, a set of handcuffs and vigilante bystanders.
Here's what is indisputable: Smith smashed a window and pulled Cyrus from an overheated SUV. He handcuffed Soderholm to the car. The dog owner lost three teeth after being beaten by angry animal lovers and Smith was suspended from his duties as a Humane Society investigator.
Soderholm was charged with animal cruelty. Two men were charged with assaulting him.
And the incident has uncovered fault lines, still deep, from a long-standing rift between the Toronto Humane Society and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
What unfolded July 31 in a Parkdale parking lot has inspired numerous Facebook sites supporting Smith and his "heroic" canine rescue, and a rally yesterday demanding his suspension be revoked.
It has also raised questions about the powers of animal cruelty officers. Smith handcuffed Soderholm to an SUV, then left. Was that overstepping the bounds of his role? Did he go too far?
Soderholm, 44, believes so.
A victim of this story, also cast as its villain, he can't understand why he was left unable to defend himself against what he describes as an angry mob. "This isn't the Middle Ages when you put someone in the city square and people throw rocks at you and spit at you when they've done a crime," he said. "You have a trial. It's one mistake. I feel terrible – more than anyone can imagine."
In his version of the events, Soderholm left Cyrus in his black Equinox around noon to visit a friend in a King St. W. apartment building, near Jameson Ave. The windows of his SUV were "cracked down," and it "was cool and there was a breeze" he said. The visit lasted longer than expected, but he came downstairs regularly to run the car's air conditioning and check on his pet of five years, which he rescued, he said, from an abusive home.
Around 2 p.m., Soderholm left the building to find Smith and others bending over the dog, trying to cool it down with bowls of water. That's the first time Smith yelled at him, he said, asking "Is that your dog?"
Next thing Soderholm knew his hands were cuffed and he was forced to sit on a picnic bench. He describes his pet as "breathing and with his eyes wide open. He was not comatose."
Soderholm was as "polite as possible" in the face of Smith's "belligerence," he said. Despite Soderholm's offers to help with the rescue effort, Smith called him "a piece of garbage and worse names," he said, and "incited the crowd" gathered around, about 15 people, to take the law into its own hands.
Members of the crowd announced they'd hurt him, Soderholm said.
That's when the situation escalated. Smith announced he had to rush the pet for emergency care, so he grabbed Soderholm and handcuffed his left arm to the passenger's side of the Equinox, then took off with the dog and a bystander.
"There was plenty of room in the truck, he could have taken me with him," Soderholm said yesterday. "There was no reason for him to handcuff me and leave me vulnerable. I wasn't going to hurt the dog, or him. I wouldn't do that."
When Smith left, two men attacked Soderholm. One threw stones at him. The other bashed his head into the car, dislodging three teeth. He waited there for an hour before police arrived, he said.
Officers found Soderholm with a swelled face and bruises. They arrested two men on the scene and charged them, , one with assault, the other with assault with a weapon.
In Smith's version, he didn't think he was leaving Soderholm to a blood-hungry mob, but under the gentle watch of five female friends until police showed up. Smith, who appeared on Canadian reality TV show The Lofters
and makes regular appearances on CP24's Animal Housecalls
, said officers told him they were "seconds away."
Calling police was one of the first things Smith said he did when he arrived on scene to find Cyrus in the SUV, windows rolled "totally up tight." The dog was "slumped over the back seat of the car, foaming from the mouth, gasping for breath," Smith said.
He called out to passersby to bring buckets of water. After smashing the window, he used the water to cool the dog's core temperature. That's when Soderholm appeared, seeming more "perturbed about his car than his dog."
According to Smith, Soderholm scared him and bystanders by spouting profanities and acting "erratically" as he tried to pull and push Smith away from the pet.
Smith said that after repeated pleas to allow him to do his job, he cuffed Soderholm's hands and forced him to a picnic table. When that didn't work, and Smith realized he had to get the pet more help, Smith called the police once again.
"I had to make a choice," Smith said. "Does the dog die in my arms? Or do I leave and get it the care it needs?"
He cuffed Soderholm to the SUV in the presence of five people and left, he said. "At no time did I ever think his safety was in jeopardy."
Cyrus is shaky, but has recovered. That's what tells Lee Oliver of the Toronto Humane Society that Smith did as he should – both in saving the pet and dealing with its owner. All of the society's investigators are licensed to use dog sticks to fend off unruly animals as well as handcuffs, he said, adding they are essential elements, which allow Toronto officers to do their jobs.
"They're going into seedy neighbourhoods and need protection," Oliver said, adding that Smith's job is "safe" and that he'll be back on the front line as soon as this "cloud is lifted."
Kate MacDonald is CEO of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which regulates animal investigators and trains them. The OSPCA suspended Smith from his duties last week.
MacDonald would like to get to the bottom of the issue. The OSPCA has hired a retired Ontario Provincial Police officer to conduct an independent review of the incident.
While Smith did "exactly the right thing" in rescuing the dog, MacDonald said, where the handcuffing is concerned, "we need to clarify what happened there."
Smith hasn't given the OSPCA the incident report the organization requested on Aug. 1, she said, and so he will remain unable to do his job until they get more information.
The OSPCA does not train officers in handcuff use, she said. "So we're not clear on how that sequence of events happened." And animal investigators don't exactly have the same powers as police," she said, simply because they aren't trained to use weapons.
Oliver said the OSPCA hasn't gotten hold of any report because Smith and the Humane Society are in the midst of writing it. Following protocol, Oliver said, Smith handed his notes to the organization's lead investigator, Dr. Steve Sheridan, who will pull it all together.
This isn't the first time the OSPCA and Humane Society have butted heads. In the mid to late '80s, the OSPCA accused the society of unethical conduct for its internal fights, links to vandalism and the way it nominated its board.
The Humane Society challenged the OSPCA act in court for the ability to train investigators and gain more control over daily practices. It lost.
There are more than 5,000 members of the Facebook group, "Supporters of Animal Cruelty Investigator Tre Smith, and about 25 people rallied for his cause yesterday morning at the Toronto Humane Society near Queen and River Sts., in the city's east end.
Lesli Bisgould, a Toronto lawyer and animal rights activist, is pleased people are reacting viscerally to animal matters.
But Bisgould said the real issue is that tougher laws are needed when it comes to animal cruelty.
At present, six months in jail and a $2,000 fine are maximum penalties for any kind of heinous act toward an animal, which are considered the least serious offences in the Criminal Code, she said.
And there's nothing in the law, she said, prohibiting the criminal animal owner from getting the pet back once the dust settles. "That should be fixed," Bisgould said.
Soderholm, who works in a Mississauga warehouse, said all he could think about during his ordeal was whether his pet was okay. Now all he wants is to see his dog. "I'm getting him back," he said. "I am."
******************(end of article)****************Police-like powers unleashed
Animal cruelty investigations by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and its affiliated Humane Societies are governed by the Ontario SPCA Act. The province's 205 inspectors and agents are trained criminal investigators.
The act specifically states that investigators have the same powers as police officers when enforcing animal cruelty laws. They can obtain search warrants, seize animals, issue orders to relieve an animal's distress and enter private property.
The legislation also provides investigators with police powers to investigate Criminal Code offences related to animal cruelty.
This certainly tells a different side to the story now doesn't it?
I'm not saying Soderholm is innocent, ...but I will tell you this, ...it's real easy to make this kind of mistake.
I've done it to myself. Once after a series of back-to-back shoots, I found myself driving home one day and dozing off at the wheel. I decided driving while so sleepy was not a good move, and pulled off the highway to catch a quick cat nap. I pulled into a tiny little residential neighbourhood, found a nice shady spot under a tree, parked the car, left the windows cracked to let the air circulate, locked the doors and went down for a brief cat nap. When I woke up, to my horror, I found I was no longer in the shade. The sun had shifted in the sky, and was now blazing down directly through the windshield onto me. I was dazed confused, and being roasted alive. I had a few 2 litre bottles of Evian water with me, and I immediately guzzled them down. It felt like drinking hot coffee, ...only without the coffee. I drank about 4 litres of water, ...and didn't even have to pee. It took me a good 30 minutes to even start to feel halfway normal again, ...so as one who did this to myself unintentionally, I can see how one can do this to a pet unintentionally. Not saying it is right, ...only that I can see how this mistake can be made.
Notwithstanding all that though, the question still remains, ...did Smith act improperly by leaving Soderholm handcuffed and vulnerable to attack? Should accountability be required on his part, or should his status as a prominent fixture on TV's Animal Housecalls
provide him carte blanche and the ability to skate by with "celebrity justice"?