Head of BC SPCA Investigations accuses Gwen Wilson of the mental illness of "hoarding"

Power abuse protested

By Paul J. Henderson

Chilliwack Times published on July 28 2006

A handful of animal activists held a protest Tuesday in front of the courthouse against what they see is an SPCA "abuse of power."

At least five people who have had animals seized by the SPCA, along with supporters, carried placards and complained that the SPCA uses the courts for fundraising, they overstep their authority, and they are unaccountable.

"The SPCA step overboard all the time," said John van Dongen who had horses seized in 2003 and whose brother, Quirinius, recently lost a civil suit against the SPCA for wrongful seizure. "It's all about the donations."

Also attending the protest were the father and son Jan and Craig Huisman who have been charged with a number of counts of causing an animal to continue to be in distress and will go to trial in February of next year. The SPCA seized 40 emaciated calves and six goats from the Huismans in 2004 after monitoring the animals and making recommendations that were never followed.

The Huismans blame their neighbours for complaining to the SPCA because "they think every time an animal makes a peep it needs to be cared for."

A much more recent case is that of Tamara Baker who has not yet been charged, but whose 40-plus dogs were seized a week ago.

"They weren't in distress," Baker told the Times at the protest. "I run a licensed kennel, the complaint was from my ex-boyfriend. He did it out of spite."

The SPCA frequently get complaints from jilted friends or neighbours, but they never pursue complaints that are not founded, according to Marcie Moriarty, the general manager for cruelty investigations.

"Seizing an animal is the very last resort," Moriarty told the Times. "There is no benefit to us to seize animals. The fact of the matter is the vet bills are astronomical because the animals are found in such a bad condition."

Another animal owner at the protest was Gwen Wilson who became known as the cat lady of Hope because she had so many cats.

Wilson said she did the best she could to care for her cats, but because of her personal health problems it wasn't always easy. Because she became known for her cats she would frequently have animals left on her doorstep to the point where it was too many.

"I asked them [the SPCA] to help me," she said. "They wouldn't help me. Nobody would help me."

Moriarty said Wilson's case was "extremely sad" and the SPCA only seize animals that are deemed to be in distress purusant to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals act.  "She had 70 cats locked in a trailer," Moriarty said. "Every single horizontal surface was covered in feces. The stink was so bad the vet would not go in."

Wilson-who Moriarty says suffers from a recognized clinical condition known as animal hoarding-currently faces two counts of cruelty and her case has been remanded until Aug. 29.

The list of complaints against the SPCA by those at the protest include: using the courts and animal seizures as fundraising schemes, being unaccountable to anyone, and not having a good definition of abuse to base their seizures upon.

"They are just a bunch of thieves," said Quirius van Dongen who filed a lawsuit seeking more than $32,000 in damages against the SPCA claiming his animals were unlawfully seized.

In his ruling on July 20 against van Dongen, Judge D.R. Gardner noted, among other things, that, "I agree with the defence submission that in addition to recovering damages that he believes are due to him, these proceedings are also about gaining some form of vengeance against the SPCA. In the claimant's words: 'They need to be taught a lot of lessons.'"

To counter the various criticisms brought up at the courthouse protest, Moriarty pointed out that the SPCA rely almost solely on donations to do their work, and that seizing animals couldn't possibly result in fundraising success because of the vet bills with which they usually get stuck.

As far as the accountability goes, the SPCA special constables are appointed under the Police Act, and the society falls under the purview of the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands.

As far as the definition of abuse goes, Moriarty says the three-part definition in the prevention of cruelty to animals act is actually quite clear. In the act, an "animal in distress" is one that is either (a) deprived of adequate food, water or shelter, (b) injured, sick, in pain or suffering, or (c) abused or neglected.

The reality, according to Moriarty, is that "all of these individuals for various reasons and to various extents had neglected their animals

Gwen's "neglected" dogs not only had a river to swim in, but their own pools to play in.

Gwen is greeted by her remaining pets on returning home from the rally.  The dogs, the goats, and Spampig the rescued Pot-bellied pig.

AAS has seen hoarders and
Gwen is not a hoarder

Gwen did not ever actively solicit cats, she did not go  out trapping feral cats, she did not advertise herself as a cat rescuer, she would have rehomed them but there are many more cats than there are homes for them, and though she asked for help in rehoming them, she got none. Hoarders will not give up their animals.

Every sick cat was being treated medically, even though it cost Gwen a lot of money.  She believed that they did not deserve to be killed. That is more than can be said for the SPCA which has warehoused cats in dirty little cages for months at a time and then kills them when they inevitably get sick.

To be called a hoarder is cruel when it is not true. Gwen is being treated for cancer, cannot work until she is better, and can't afford a lawyer to stop the SPCA's powerful campaign against her. 

Everyone went on a walk
to the river every day

Gwen told us how she would take the dogs to the river (which you can just make out beyond the trees) every day, sometimes twice a day; and how the goats and the ducks and the geese and about twenty of the cats would all come with them. 

The SPCA killed those cats or (less likely) sold them.

It killed Afleck, the Canada goose with the smashed wing that couldn't fly anymore and was brought to Gwen two years ago by someone who found him dying. The SPCA told Gwen that she didn't have a permit to have a Canada goose and that they had killed him. He was a happy member of Gwen's family until the SPCA got him.

The ducks come to the gate with the dogs to greet us

Every animal we met on our visit with Gwen was calm, happy, friendly and healthy.

All the animals had total freedom. The cats had freedom, fields to stalk mice in, trees to climb, and a welcoming lap when they wanted a cuddle.  The door of the cat's trailer, where they were fed, was only shut at night to keep them safe from coyotes.  But they weren't safe from the SPCA.  Gwen's treatment of her animals met the SPCA's own Five Freedoms - more than can be said for animals at SPCAs. 

The BC SPCA's Five Freedoms

We pledge our energies to inspire and mobilize society to create a world in which all animals, who depend on humans for their well-being, experience, as a minimum, five essential freedoms:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from pain, injury, and disease
  3. Freedom from distress
  4. Freedom from discomfort
  5. Freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being.

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