Exclusive: Ontario SPCA officers removed from dog sled investigation

By Cristina Howorun

Two Ontario SPCA officers have been removed from the high-profile investigation into Windrift Adventures, CityNews has learned.

The move comes after a video went public showing the officers in conversation and contradicting the OSPCA’s official statements on the dog-sledding operation.

Windrift, located just north of Barrie, came under fire in late January after a video shot by a visitor appeared to show an injured sled dog and questionable living conditions for the more than 100 other dogs who live on the property. The video went viral and Windrift became the target of several social media campaigns, petitions and an investigation by the OSPCA.

Just a few days later, the OSPCA issued a media release and a fundraising email, saying that “Orders were issued under the authority of provincial animal welfare legislation. The orders include requirements to provide adequate insulated shelter, clean potable water and appropriate feed, as well as veterinarian assessment of the dogs.”

Those statements were not true according to the original investigating officers.

“We would’ve been able to correct these mistakes, right?” says an unidentified officer of the press release. “They are completely inaccurate.”

Another officer on the scene describes concerns about the official statement in greater detail.

“The number one thing we were frustrated with was the context in which the OSPCA – in which the orders were written – were not described appropriately,” she explains. “It was not about providing water, it was about providing spill-proof containers. It was not about providing food it was about supplementing what you’re already providing based on vet recommendations, not on concerns on them not having food. So these are all things we’ve addressed internally.”

The officers appear to know they were being recorded by the owners of the kennel. As the recording begins, one of them gestures to the camera and says “we have to speak carefully.” Adrienne Spottiswood, one of the owners of the centre, says the officers were told they were going to be recording all inspections.

“Because of the release (the OSPCA) originally did, we decided it was best for us to videotape any inspections going forward. So they were fully aware that they were being taped.”

“We had a lot of cancellations after that because people really believe what the OSPCA says because they are the governing body and when that statement came out, it really did damage our reputation which we’ve worked so hard at.”

The OSPCA declined to speak with CityNews in person or on the phone, but in a statement, spokesperson Stephanie Johns writes: “To date, the owners have been complying with the orders.”

“It absolutely hung us out to dry and it was absolutely misleading,” laments Spottiswood. “So when they did the inspection the day before, they left and we were fully expecting them to write a positive release saying that you know, ‘there’s no problems. Our dogs are not neglected or abused or anything like that.’ Instead, they released a statement that made it seem like we didn’t provide shelter, we didn’t provide food, we didn’t provide water and all the dogs need veterinary care and that wasn’t the case at all.”

Johns, who says the investigating officers were stating their opinions and not those of the OSPCA, disagrees.

“We have conducted a thorough investigation and stand by our finding. As we have stated, we issued orders requiring the owners to provide care for the dogs, including insulated shelter, clean potable water in spill-proof containers at all times, appropriate feed as recommended by a veterinarian consulted and veterinary assessments of dogs requiring medical care. That information is accurate and represents the deficiencies that were observed.”

Although no charges have been laid, the investigation has not yet been closed.

Spottiswood says Windrift has complied with all orders and simply needs the OSPCA to come by and re-inspect. “They won’t even return our phone calls,” she claims.

Meanwhile, Koi, the dog with an injured leg-, is back and running. Spottiswood says the injuries were a result of a fight with another dog and that the vet says they were superficial.

“They gave us an order to take him to the vet, so we took him in and the vet gave us polysporin to put on the wound, he’s fine. And happy.”

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