About nine or ten years ago, I decided to become a life member of the Ottawa Humane Society. I liked the fact that they were offering this option (which seems to be becoming increasingly rare) and at a price I considered reasonable. And I'm a life-long felinophile (though currently catless).

Since then, I've donated a few times. For example, I knew that their old shelter was cramped and lacking in modern amenities, so I donated towards the building of a new shelter (which I have yet to go and see). And I'm sure they still are doing some great work in terms of animal welfare. On the other paw, there have been some cases in the last few years which have led me to be a bit leery of contributing further to their operations.

Recently, a Barrhaven woman was charged with cruelty-to- or neglect-of-animal because her 12-year-old cat, Napoleon, was severely overweight and apparently could not even stand properly or groom himself. She has my sympathies. After all, animal welfare organizations are quick to tell us that we should spay or neuter our pets and keep them indoors, or outdoors under strict supervision. And that in itself is likely to make the animals less active and overweight, especially in their senior years. In the news articles about Napoleon-and-human companion, it was mentioned that Napoleon had been under a vet's care, but Ms. Caregiver had ignored the vet's instructions. Had she really been ignoring the vet, or was it just a matter of Napoleon having ideas of his own about what he would or wouldn't eat? Or perhaps Napoleon's excess weight was in fact the SYMPTOM of an underlying medical condition - an underactive thyroid, for example - rather than the result of Ms. Human's disobedience with regard to the vet's instructions?

Cats are notoriously picky eaters. If they turn up their noses at that healthy, low-cal dish of catfood that you've lovingly set before them, or if they decide that they're going to do their own scavenging for higher-calorie, less-healthy meals of spiders, frogs, household mice and backyard birds, there's very little that's going to change their minds! And if the Humane Society was so concerned for the cat's life, surely it could have found a better alternative than to "euthanize" the animal. Not that I believe euthanasia is necessarily a mistake when the animal is genuinely suffering and there are few options for alternate treatment. But I can't help feeling there might have been other reasonable possibilities for Napoleon's care. Assuming his condition was not contagious, perhaps he could have been housed with another cat. Mutual grooming would have ensued and perhaps the two cats would have started chasing each other around their living quarters, playing together, and resulting in a weight loss for poor Napoleon.

Another case, this some years ago now, involved a dog that was tied up in a back stairwell of an apartment building. The Ottawa Humane Society seemed to think this was a case of animal abuse. Personally, I thought it was probably a matter of someone having found the animal at large, but was unable for whatever reason (maybe he lived in an apartment that didn't allow pets, maybe her parents had forbidden her to keep a pet or the family had allergies) and the dog-finder was going to get help. I would think we should have been far more worried that maybe the human going for help had met with foul play and perhaps was lying dead or incapacitated out in the snow! But admittedly, I don't know if that's what actually happened.

There are a few other issues with regard to animal welfare that I'd like to address in my blog at some point. For example, some organizations claim to be "no-kill" shelters. But what does that really mean? I think euthanasia is a viable option in certain circumstances; sometimes perhaps we allow our pets to die with greater dignity than we do our human family.

Also, there was a demonstration by some Quebec-based shelter workers recently against the use of gas chambers for killing unwanted animals. I'm very much on their side. I remember some twenty years ago seeing a segment on TV about an animal shelter in the province of Quebec (perhaps in the Montreal area?) which made use of this kind of animal holocaust. It was horrendous! Just as we've largely eliminated the hangman's noose or the electric chair in favour of lethal injection for humans (in countries that still have the death penalty) so I believe that this is the best option for putting down a non-human animal.

Recently, the Parliament Hill cat sanctuary closed. There is an art exhibit at the Orange Gallery in Parkdale Market which has some paintings of the cats there. I'd like to believe the claims that the closing of the sanctuary is a good-news story, that it means the facility is no longer needed. But frankly, I'm sceptical. I think there will always be feral cats which are not really adoptable and need something like we had on Parliament Hill. But time will tell, I guess.
Until the past year or so, when I found myself in the perhaps-enviable position of not needing to lose any weight, I never realized the extent to which we are bombarded with weight-loss messages. On TV, it's Dr. Bernstein, Herbal Magic and Weight Watchers. The most popular magazines, particularly "women's magazines" like Chatelaine and Canadian Living, are loaded with health columns and recipes promoting weight loss. Turn on the news and you hear about government proposals to ban extra-large soft drinks or make junk food a controlled substance unavailable to anyone under the age of 18.

Apparently, 62% of Canadians are now overweight or obese. So having excess weight is now the RULE, not the exception. I don't dispute that a lot of health issues are correlated with being too fat, although I also think it's possible to confuse cause and effect. And surely we should be concentrating on eating a healthy diet and maintaining a reasonable level of physical activity, rather than focusing all our attention on the numbers on the scale.

And what I REALLY have to wonder is this: Especially given that the MAJORITY of us are overweight, why do we persist in treating fatness as a character flaw, or even the mark of a fundamentally bad person? Or a bad dad?

A 38-year-old Ottawa man has not seen his two sons, aged four and six, in a year. A judge ruled yesterday that they would be put up for adoption - mainly, it seems, because the man is obese and therefore deemed to be an unfit parent. The man has evidently shown a considerable amount of self-discipline and determination, managing on his own, through exercise and a healthy diet, to drop to 340 pounds from 525.

One wonders how much we, the taxpayers, have been paying to keep these two boys in foster care this past year, with a single mother with five other children. She may be managing perfectly well, of course, but meanwhile there's the natural father, willing and ostensibly quite able to care for them at no additional cost to the state. In fact, if we were to give the dad even half, or a quarter of what the foster mother is being paid for their care, that would no doubt make the family's life a lot easier right there, as well as saving money. A win-win situation, you would think.

As I've mentioned before, there's no freedom of speech or of the press when it comes to child welfare and wards of the state. They mustn't be identified in the media. But this man is talking about staging a hunger strike on Parliament Hill beginning tomorrow, to publicize his plight. After all, he has nothing to lose except weight.

An Ottawa-based survivor of foster care has put together an excellent website where you can read about some of the issues surrounding the child welfare system in Ontario. Amongst other initiatives is a lobby to have decisions of Children's Aid Societies appealable to the Ontario Ombudsman. It would be an important step towards greater accountability. See the following sites for more information:

http://www.afterfostercare.ca
http://fostercarenews.blogspot.ca
http://fostercare.proboards.com

and for a fascinating but scary video and reaction to it:

http://about.blakout.ca ("Voices silenced by fear")

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