Rob Laidlaw is a Chartered Biologist, award-winning author of nine children’s books and Executive Director of the wildlife protection charity Zoocheck. His work throughout the years has taken him around the world and has involved almost every kind of advocacy initiative from lobbying governments to rescuing animals, including many successful initiatives to change laws, policies and practices and to improve conditions for wildlife in captivity. He will be joining us at the 2018 CFHS National Animal Welfare Conference to present Nature in a Box: A Primer on Wildlife in Captivity as part of our Wildlife Welfare learning track. We reached him at his office in Toronto.
Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS): We’re thrilled to have a whole learning track on wildlife welfare at the National Animal Welfare Conference this year, and we wanted to talk to you about some of the issues at play for captive wildlife in Canada. But, before we get into that, can you talk to us about how you decided to focus your advocacy work on wildlife in captivity?
Rob Laidlaw: Well, I’ve been doing animal advocacy work for 39 years. Back in the early 1980s, after I left a group I helped start that focused on raising public awareness about a variety of animal welfare issues, I was looking for an issue to work on that would allow me to achieve something more tangible and measurable, more than just "educating the public". Around that time, I just happened to come across a zoo in southern Ontario about 2 hours from Toronto. I stopped in and was appalled at the conditions, so I made a complaint to the Ontario SPCA. I found out very quickly that no one was really looking at zoos and that nobody even knew how many zoos were in the province or what animals they kept. Most surprising to me however, was that there were no laws governing zoos in Ontario at all. It was basically the wild west – anybody could go out and start a zoo and do pretty much whatever they wanted. So that led me to conduct my own investigation to determine how many zoos there were in the province, what animals they were keeping and in what conditions. Back then, it took a lot of detective work just to find them as there was no internet. I soon started a program of site visits to six of the zoos I found, which I believed were a representative sampling of what was in the province. I went to each zoo between 6 and 10 times to document conditions and to get a realistic picture of how they operated, instead of just the snapshot glimpse that I’d get with a single visit. That investigation led to a report and, eventually, the more formal creation of Zoocheck in 1988.
CFHS: Amazing that it’s been 30 years since Zoocheck was founded.
RL: When I first started, after making my complaint to the Ontario SPCA, the CEO of the organization told me that no one was going to deal with the zoo issue unless I did. So I said, 'Okay, I’ll deal with it.' Little did I know what I was getting into and that more than three decades later I’d still be at it. I had originally envisioned that the entire zoo project would take 18 months.
CFHS: What’s your organizational focus now?
RL: We deal with all different areas of wildlife in captivity. Not only issues associated with zoos and zoo type exhibits but also aquariums, other kinds of menageries – both private and public – as well as the exotic animal pet trade. We've also expanded beyond Canadian borders and have worked in the United States, Mexico, Japan and, to a certain extent, other parts of Asia and Africa. A lot of people still don’t realize we also work to protect wildlife in the wild, such as elephants, bears, cormorants and wild horses, and that we place some emphasis on trying to change wildlife management practices. So while we've been trying to change the wildlife in captivity paradigm, we've also been trying to shift the wildlife management paradigm away from what it is today, which I believe can be destructive, pseudo-scientific and biased against wildlife at times, to something more science-based, holistic and humane.
CFHS: What keeps you motivated in doing this work?
RL: Stubbornness? It's the sense of injustice. I've always thought animals got a raw deal. And I always seemed to know that when human interests – even the most trivial of interests – competed with animal interests, inevitably the animals lost. From a young age I knew that was wrong, so I decided early on that I was going to try to do what I could to rectify that situation. All these years later, I'm still as committed as ever and I don't think that will change. There's still too much to do. I certainly understand that there has been progress made on many issues, but I'm also cognizant of the fact that the problems animals face are still immense and that for some of them things are getting worse, so none of us can relax. Today I'm very focused on winning. I'm desperate to win and help animals. Thankfully, my colleagues and I have been winning, or at least making progress on, more issues than not these days, which is a sea change from years ago. But even if we weren't winning, I'd continue doing this work.
CFHS: Considering the sheer number of issues at play in the area of captive wildlife and the limited amount of time, how do you plan to address it all in your presentation at the National Animal Welfare Conference?
RL: What I want to do is to provide an idea of the landscape of captive wildlife issues in Canada, what the trends and challenges are, what’s occurred in various jurisdictions and what lessons we can learn from everything that's happened. I'll also be looking at some tools that are available to help enforcement personnel and how we might move forward into the future to address wildlife in captivity issues on a local and regional basis. Hopefully it'll get people's creative juices flowing.
CFHS: Sounds like this is going to dovetail really nicely with another presentation happening at the conference this year. Guelph Humane Society is speaking on how domestic animal shelters can be more helpful to wildlife.
RL: That’s great – some of what I'll be talking about can work very well for domestic animals, as well. I expect a lot of the conference sessions will be complementary to each other.
CFHS: Absolutely. There's a lot of overlap and inter-related concepts. Now, we've been seeing a lot of action in the wildlife in captivity landscape lately – especially for cetaceans, with Bill S-203 and what’s been happening in Vancouver. What do you think about Vancouver Aquarium’s recent announcement about respecting the cetacean ban introduced by the Vancouver Park Board?
RL: I'm pleased the Vancouver Aquarium announced an end to their cetacean keeping program, but I don't think this debate is over just yet. It looks like the Aquarium may be trying to keep the cetacean display door open a crack. I read that they hope to take rescued cetaceans and house them in tanks at the Aquarium, presumably on a short-term basis. That's something I am adamantly opposed to. And I believe the Aquarium vs. Park Board legal action is still in play, with Zoocheck and Animal Justice being intervenors. But I think things have gone too far for the Aquarium to turn back the clock. Soon, Marineland in Ontario will be the only facility in Canada keeping cetaceans in captivity. So, on this issue, things certainly seem to be moving in the right direction.
CFHS: We’re really looking forward to digging into these issues with you at the conference.
RL: I’m looking forward to it, as well. Whether someone is specifically interested in captive wildlife or not, my intention is to pass along information they can use in their daily animal welfare work, regardless of what animals they deal with.
MONDAY, APRIL 23
Sarah Cooper, Project Manager, Keep Cats Safe & Save Bird Lives, Nature Canada
Carol Kelly, Executive Director and Founder, Medicine River Wildlife Centre
Companion animal welfare and wildlife issues are often two faces of the same problem. Coyotes, raccoons and other wildlife are a danger to outdoor cats, and outdoor cats are a danger to birds and other wildlife. Yet, many pet owners insist it’s natural for their pets to roam unsupervised outdoors, failing to contextualize what’s natural for the cat in the larger context of the natural environment.
By integrating wildlife education and humane education efforts, we can improve the public's understanding of how pets and wildlife interact to the detriment of both, and how pet owners can be responsible both for the safety and well-being of their pets, and for wildlife.
Using several of the activities from the Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives new educational program for grades 1 to 9, the workshop will provide a hands-on demonstration of an integrated model of humane-wildlife education.
- Pets and wildlife share our urban, suburban and rural communities, and our behaviour shapes their interactions.
- Understanding the differences in our responsibilities to pets and wildlife, and the implications of behaviours as pet-owners, is critical to convincing the public to adopt responsible pet care practices and appropriate environmental stewardship.
- Collaboration and consistent messaging across sectors improve our collective ability to change people’s behaviour.
Sarah Cooper is a communications and marketing professional with more than 20 years of project management, nonprofit, strategic planning and digital engagement experience. Once upon a time she was Margaret Atwood's Executive Assistant, where she perfected the fine art of being the spider at the centre of the web. A passionate animal lover, Sarah now puts those skills to work on behalf of cats and birds.
Carol Kelly is the Executive Director and Founder of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre (MRWC) and has been a wildlife rehabilitator in Alberta for 33 years. Carol started and ran an SPCA in Newfoundland, sat on a working committee with Alberta Fish and Wildlife for 15 years and has led MRWC's research on fostering wild orphans to wild families for more than 20 years. Carol is passionate about promoting healthy pets and healthy wildlife.
MONDAY, APRIL 23
Rebecca Aldworth, Executive Director, Humane Society International Canada
Darren Chang MA, Queen's University
Mishka Lysack PhD, Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary
Julie W. MacInnes, Campaign Manager, Humane Society International Canada
Public opinion polling proves that Canadians overwhelmingly support the animal protection movement’s objectives. Yet, some animal use interest groups have sought to marginalize and isolate our movement, representing it as a fringe cause. Our challenge is to build bridges and find common ground with powerful sectors in our society, demonstrating that animal protection is a mainstream, shared societal concern we must advance together. In this panel, representatives from the corporate, political, religious and non-governmental sectors will discuss strategies for broadening and strengthening our movement to achieve lasting victories for animals in Canada.
- Better understand the motivations and techniques of our opponents in marginalizing animal protection ideology.
- Gain an appreciation of the many powerful sectors that share our goals and the key opportunities for coalition building.
- Learn the importance of broadening our reach and bringing the mainstream into our movement.
Rebecca Aldworth is the Executive Director of Humane Society International Canada. For 18 years, she has been a firsthand observer of Canada's commercial seal hunt, escorting more than 100 scientists, parliamentarians and journalists to the ice floes to witness the killing. She has testified extensively before international government committees in support of prohibitions on seal product trade and has published multiple articles and reports on the welfare, economic and environmental aspects of commercial sealing. She is a recipient of the 2004 Jean Taymans award for animal welfare and, in 2006, was named one of nine Eco Heroes by Alternet. In 2011, she was named Activist of the Year in the Canadian Empathy Awards.
Darren Chang recently completed a Master’s Degree at Queen's University, specializing in critical animal studies. From 2012-2014, Darren worked as a research assistant at the UBC Animal Welfare Program and has volunteered with various animal rights/liberation groups in BC and Ontario since 2011.
In 2006, Mishka Lysack began teaching full-time at the University of Calgary. He is currently an associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work, where he focuses his teaching, research and community outreach in the areas of climate change and environmental protection, environmental ethics, renewable energy and sustainable economies and communities. Additionally, he is an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Medicine and teaches courses in the Faculty of Environmental Design. Dr. Lysack has had a long interest in environmental ethics and nature conservation, including how diverse faith communities can provide public leadership on how society can and must take better care of the environment and the diversity of life that flourishes on Earth, seeing the intrinsic value of other creatures as gifts rather than commodities, and as beings who have their own emotional life, compassion, justice and empathy (see Dr. Carl Safina’s book Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel). It is through these acts of compassion and environmental justice with animals that our full humanity is fulfilled. Dr. Lysack has co-edited a book of faith-centered educational and learning resources for faith communities called "Living Ecological Justice" (2013), and has written and published several book chapters and peer-reviewed articles in this area. In addition, Dr. Lysack has organized many conferences and workshops in Canada with leaders in diverse faiths, such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity and Baha’i about caring for creation and embedding practices of compassion and environmental justice into our society and public policy.
Over the past five years, Julie MacInnes has been working on campaigns regarding animal welfare and ethical consumerism. As a member of HSI Canada, Julie has participated in several protection campaigns, including campaigns to end the trade in the products of shark finning, opposing wolf culls and the trophy hunting of grizzly bears. Most recently, she has taken on the challenge of finding innovative ways to reduce consumption of meat and other animal products in Canada and how that relates to environmental sustainability.
MONDAY, APRIL 23
Christina Carrieres, Vice President, Board of Directors, Wildlife Rehabilitators' Network of BC
Heather Schmitt, Board of Directors, Wildlife Rehabilitators' Network of BC
As our urban areas continue to expand and human-wildlife interactions increase, with it is a growing demand for humane care for distressed wildlife. This trend is paired with a growing public expectation that wildlife rehabilitators provide care that meets professional standards comparable to those in place for companion or exotic animals.
Barriers to meeting this demand include the position of wildlife rehabilitation centres as non-profit organizations relying on charitable support to provide a needed public service, a lack of available formal technical training, a high rate of professional burnout, succession planning challenges and uneven geographical access to wildlife rehabilitation facilities.
The Wildlife Rehabilitators’ Network of BC has begun a dialogue with rehabilitation professionals across British Columbia to explore how best to support the field and enhance wildlife welfare. The initial findings from this exercise have offered valuable insights into the common issues faced by the rehabilitation community and have provided a starting point for creating professional development resources.
- What is the current landscape of wildlife rehabilitation across British Columbia?
- What are the common challenges faced by the rehabilitation and wildlife welfare community?
- What connections can be created or strengthened among rehabilitation facilities and other animal welfare professionals?
Christina Carrieres is an Animal Health Technologist, a Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator and an instructor for the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council. She worked at BC SPCA Wild ARC for more than 12 years, where she led a team of wildlife rehabilitation staff and volunteers treating more than 3,000 wild patients every year. She is originally from Montreal, where she worked with marine mammals at the Parc Aquarium de Québec for some time before moving to Victoria in 2003 to complete a Double Major in Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria.
Christina is the Vice President of the Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Network of BC, the Vice President of the Oiled Wildlife Society of BC, and the WRNBC trustee within the Oiled Wildlife Trust of British Columbia. She also volunteers with Vets for Pets, a local organization that provides free basic medical care to low income and homeless people’s pets and is a member of the Canadian Animal Assistance Team.
Over the years, she has completed a number of training courses and has gained experience volunteering in various wildlife rehabilitation centres in different countries, such as Guatemala, Belize, South Africa and the US (Hawaii) where she worked with endangered species. She also attended numerous conferences related to wildlife in order to provide the best possible care for Vancouver Island’s wild patients.
Heather Schmitt is a Certified Volunteer Administrator and completed a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Victoria, as well as a Master's degree in Environmental Studies from Queen's University. She has worked at two of the busiest wildlife rehabilitation centres in Canada, serving as Assistant Manager at BC SPCA's Wild ARC, and staffing the emergency wildlife hotline at Toronto Wildlife Centre. Heather is on the Board of Directors for the Wildlife Rehabilitators’ Network of BC, and has furthered her knowledge of the wildlife rehabilitation field by attending numerous conferences and completing the Oiled Wildlife Society's First Responder training.
KNOWLEDGE POD #1
SUNDAY, APRIL 22
Erin Ryan, Research Coordinator, British Columbia SPCA (BC SPCA)
Two challenges, one solution: content creation and fundraising all in one. The BC SPCA’s annual Wildlife-In-Focus photo contest is a major source of imagery used in wildlife advocacy, as well as fundraising for wildlife rehabilitation. The contest was running for seven years (2009–2015) and saw modest growth, but plateaued around $3-4,000. By introducing a new platform, optimizing digital marketing and decreasing administration work, the contest grew 500% in 2 years. This presentation offers the perspectives of a volunteer-turned-employee, scientist-turned-fundraiser, on delivering effective online communication for bigger results using a photo contest as a case study. Learn how to make email, Facebook, Instagram and other digital platforms work harder for you to boost your fundraising and generate terrific content!
Learn how to make email, Facebook, Instagram and other digital platforms work harder for you to boost your fundraising and generate terrific content.
Erin Ryan is the BC SPCA Research Coordinator, supporting the Society's work for wildlife, animals in science, and exotic animals through scientific research and by acting as a liaison for communications, fundraising and digital marketing. She has previous wildlife experience through the BC SPCA as a volunteer, coordinating the Society’s wildlife photo database and Wildlife-In-Focus photo contest. Erin holds a BSc in Applied Animal Biology from the University of British Columbia and previously worked in communications consulting for a private company.
KNOWLEDGE POD #2
SUNDAY, APRIL 22
Jaime Caza, Director, Advancement & Social Enterprise, Edmonton Humane Society
When a social media storm strikes, it can travel quickly, affecting your brand and reputation in the process. For animal welfare agencies, this can impact all levels of stakeholder engagement – from fund development to adoptions. The Edmonton Humane Society uses proven methods, as well as a few developed insights, to help manage negative online experiences and even transform them into success stories.
In this engaging presentation, the Edmonton Humane Society will share its approach to successfully navigating social media storms – from identifying potential crises to managing issues when they jump to mainstream media. Through proven reputation and crisis management techniques, we will detail how your organization can prepare, evaluate, craft messaging and respond on social media. Using real-life examples, we will explore how EHS was able to create positive customer service moments, predict the unpredictable and even successfully pivot a potentially damaging social media post into a positive media story, picked up by numerous news outlets.
- Preventing problems online by having a customer-service mindset.
- How to respond to issues that arise online, and when no response is the best response.
- What to do when an online issue becomes a reporter calling.
Jaime Caza is the Director of Advancement & Social Enterprise at the Edmonton Humane Society (EHS). Previous to EHS, she was the Director of Development with Ronald McDonald House Charities, where she was responsible for implementing strategies that led to three consecutive years of record-breaking revenue results. With 10 years’ of experience in the corporate sector, Jaime brings a deep knowledge of how to attract and build corporate relationships.
SUNDAY, APRIL 22
Dr. Toolika Rastogi PhD, Policy and Research Manager, Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS)
In 2012, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) published a groundbreaking national study about the cat overpopulation crisis faced by Canadians and their most popular companion animals. Cats in Canada: A Comprehensive Report on the Cat Overpopulation Crisis presented data and opinions collected from Canadian cat stakeholders, including humane societies, SPCAs, municipalities, veterinarians, rescue organizations, trap-neuter-return groups and spay/neuter organizations. It was the first report of its kind, elaborating on the negative consequences of cat overpopulation, including homelessness, overburdened animal shelters and euthanasia.
In late 2017, CFHS released a follow-on study, looking at changes that have transpired for cats after five years of dedicated focus to this issue. Results from the same stakeholder groups are presented, along with findings of a general population survey of Canadians regarding cat ownership, to reveal the current situation of cats in Canada.
The results tell a "good news, bad news" story. The good news is cat euthanasia rates have declined, cat adoption has risen, sterilization rates appear to be improving and there have been increases in the use and perceived success of TNR and accessible spay/neuter programs. The bad news, however, is that twice as many cats are being admitted to shelters as dogs, the fraction of those who are juvenile is twice as high as for dogs, and there continues to be more cats in shelters than homes available to take them in.
The persistence of cat overpopulation calls for strengthened communication across stakeholder groups and the development of an integrated response to address cat overpopulation. We welcome the opportunity afforded by the conference to engage in discussions about the next steps towards making progress nationally on this issue.
- How cat overpopulation issues have evolved over the last five years in Canada.
- How the 2017 cat overpopulation study was conducted.
- Discussion on how to move forward to end cat overpopulation in Canada.
Policy and Research Manager at the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, Dr. Toolika Rastogi leads a number of animal welfare research projects, including the CFHS annual collection of shelter statistics. She currently represents CFHS on the Canadian Council on Animal Care and is a member of the Steering Committee and Science and Technical Advisory Committee for Nature Canada's Keep Cats Safe and Save Bird Lives initiative. Until very recently, she also represented CFHS on the National Farm Animal Care Council. Toolika holds a PhD in Molecular and Medical Genetics, a postdoctoral certificate in conservation genetics and a Master’s degree in Ecological Economics and Sustainable Development Policy.
SUNDAY, APRIL 22
Dr. Sara Dubois, Chief Scientific Officer, British Columbia SPCA (BC SPCA)
Nicole Fenwick, Manager, Research and Standards, British Columbia SPCA (BC SPCA)
Erin Ryan, Research Coordinator, British Columbia SPCA (BC SPCA)
As urban development densifies and further encroaches into wild spaces, conflicts between people and wildlife (squirrels, raccoons, rodents, birds) increases. This affects homeowners, municipalities and any operator of a building, including animal welfare organizations. Typically, a "pest" control company is called, but in this mostly unregulated industry without clear standards or Codes of Practice, it is difficult to know what this means for the "pest" animal. So who can people who care about animals turn to for help with these conflicts?
In 2015, the BC SPCA presented on the need for humane wildlife standards because the public asks us for help in solving their wildlife and rodent issues, and we face these conflicts in our shelters and clinics. The ongoing challenge is balancing harms to wildlife with the need to protect the health and safety of the people and pets that occupy our buildings. To find solutions for ourselves and our supporters we developed AnimalKind, a new animal welfare accreditation program for wildlife and rodent ("pest") control.
- AnimalKind accredits companies and organizations that provide or use "pest" control services.
- Accredited companies follow AnimalKind’s science-based standards developed with the expert advice of the UBC Animal Welfare Program and PAACO animal auditors. This novel program was developed with grant funding and in consultation with the pest control industry.
- Growth of AnimalKind will include accreditation of "pest" control companies in other provinces and extension of the accreditation model to other animal-related service industries, such as dog training and animal boarding facilities.
Dr. Sara Dubois is the BC SPCA’s Chief Scientific Officer, where she directs province-wide welfare science operations, education and advocacy projects. She works on: wildlife rehabilitation, oil spill response, captive wildlife and exotic pets, human-wildlife conflicts and compassionate conservation, and consults on wildlife cruelty investigations. Sara is a registered professional biologist with a BSc IN Biology (UVic) and an MSc and PhD from the UBC Animal Welfare Program, whose main area of expertise is in wildlife welfare and human dimensions. She is an Adjunct Professor with the UBC Applied Biology Program and Advisor to the Whale Sanctuary Project.
Nicole Fenwick is responsible for the AnimalKind animal welfare accreditation program in her role as BC SPCA Manager, Research & Standards. An MSc graduate of the UBC Animal Welfare Program, Nicole has previously worked on a variety of animal welfare projects in Canada including: policy research and development to further the Three Rs in Canadian animal-based science, rodent glue trapping and beef cattle welfare.
Erin Ryan is the BC SPCA Research Coordinator, supporting the Society's work for wildlife, animals in science and exotic animals through scientific research and by acting as a liaison for communications, fundraising and digital marketing. She has previous wildlife experience through the BC SPCA as a volunteer, coordinating the Society’s wildlife photo database and Wildlife-In-Focus photo contest. Erin holds a BSc in Applied Animal Biology from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and previously worked in communications consulting for a private company.