Opinion

LaFLECHE: Animal abuse is still abuse

By Grant LaFleche, The Standard

Protesters gather in large numbers outside Skyway Animal Hospital on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016,  in St. Catharines. (Karena Walter/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network)

Protesters gather in large numbers outside Skyway Animal Hospital on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, in St. Catharines. (Karena Walter/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network)

Let’s try a little thought experiment, shall we?

Imagine you take your child to a doctor several times over the course of a year. After several visits, you read in the newspaper the doctor has been caught on video punching his young patients.

To make matters worse, you learn the investigation by the doctor’s accrediting body was going on for months. They had the video, but told no one. So you were unwittingly bringing your kid to an abusive doctor.

You would be understandably angry, a feeling that would quickly turn to rage if you found out the only penalty faced by the doctor was a temporary suspension and a training course.

Replace “child” with “pet” in that scenario, and you’ll understand the outrage of local pet owners over revelations last month that St. Catharines veterinarian Dr. Mahavir Singh Rekhi was caught on video abusing animals at Skyway Animal Hospital on Welland Avenue.

Rekhi has been suspended for 10 months and must pay a $10,000 fine. That suspension can be reduced to four months if he completes a retraining course.

All things being equal, once that penalty is served he could return to practise.

The affair resulted in a few large protests outside the now closed vet’s office.

As an aside, those protests baffled me a little bit. I understand and share the outrage, but what is accomplished protesting outside an empty office?

It’s bit like saying you don’t like how Marineland in Niagara Falls treats animals, and then launch a protest at Montebello Park in St. Catharines. Sure, you might have a grand old time exercising your social justice muscles a bit, but chances are your protest won’t be seen by the people who need to see it.

In this case, organizing something outside the offices of the college would have a lot more impact.

(Those offices, by the way, are at 2106 Gordon St. in Guelph for people who like road trips. Or, if you want to protest from your keyboard, you can e-mail the college at inquiries@cvo.org.)

Since the story broke, Lincoln County Humane Society launched its own investigation. Executive director Kevin Strooband said Tuesday the probe is ongoing, but had nothing new to report.

Meanwhile, Niagara Falls NDP MPP Wayne Gates is taking the College of Veterinarians of Ontario to task for not taking the case seriously enough raising questions in his press release as to why the college is only now reviewing its policies as to when it provides evidence of abuse to the OSPCA or police.

Gates was also critical of provincial legislation, which doesn’t grant the college the power to notify the public when a case like Rekhi’s is being investigated.

“For example, they don’t have the power to issue interim suspensions or to release the information until after a judgment has been delivered. This meant that residents in Niagara were taking their pets to Dr. Rekhi while the college had video evidence of what was occurring behind those doors. It’s a gap in the legislation that needs to be addressed immediately,” Gates said in a press release issued Tuesday.

And Gates is right. If this case has taught us anything, it is that the policies and legislation surrounding animal protection are, at best, woefully out of date. Queen’s Park should move quickly to reform the system.

There is no justification nor explanation to excuse what Rekhi was caught doing. No training course can undo the damage done.

What would that retraining look like anyway? Do vets need to be told that punching a dog in the face isn’t best medical practice?

Certainly, if a doctor was caught doing that to a person, no amount of retraining would restore his licence. That doctor would have to find himself an entirely new career, provided he didn’t end up behind bars. I see no reason why a vet should be treated any differently.

You might say comparing people to pets is ridiculous, but for many pet owners animals are just as much a part of the family as any human. Abuse, in other words, is abuse.

Moreover, what does it say about the system of animal welfare and about our broader set of social values if someone who breached the public trust in this fashion it allowed to return to practise?

Every physics student knows that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So if that action is animal abuse by a vet, the equal reaction is a permanent revocation of his licence. QED.

glafleche@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @grantrants