Long career, precious little fanfare

Bob Wakeham
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It’s a joke as old as the hills: “Missing dog: has three legs, blind in right eye, missing left ear. Broken tail, accidentally neutered.

“Answers to the name of Lucky.”

Ironically, that ancient attempt at humour came to mind recently when I heard about the decidedly unfunny coup at the SPCA in St. John’s, a changing of the guard that ultimately cost the province a major pioneer in the protection of animals.

It also potentially created an era where dogs like Lucky will rarely be euthanized, but will instead spend their last miserable months or even years in an overcrowded enclosure with other unfortunate and unwanted four-legged creatures (or, in the case of Lucky, minus an appendage).

Debbie Powers, for four decades the leading spokesperson in Newfoundland for the SPCA, the face of the SPCA, was forced from that organization by a deck stacked with proponents of a “no-kill” policy for dogs and cats not considered cuddly, young or attractive enough to be adopted.

To me, it was amazing how Powers left the job with little or no fanfare, other than an explanation that she was forced to quit because of philosophical differences with a crowd who would probably keep Stephen King’s Cujo alive forever and a day or prevent Old Yeller from being put down even after he contracted rabies.

At the very least, there should have been a big-time recognition of the 40 years of volunteer work Powers performed here, trying, among other goals, to alter a mindset that existed in some Newfoundland circles that dogs, in particular, were never to be thought of as much more than a tool for hunting, animals that neither required nor deserved affection of any sort, to be shot in the head once they were deemed to be over the hill.

I can’t imagine how many horror shows Powers was forced to witness throughout her career, or how much verbal abuse she had to absorb from dog owners who felt she should just mind her own business.

No reward

And after all of that laudable work, her reward was to be unceremoniously ousted from the SPCA, and to be labelled, by inference, as a person living in the past — to be accused, again by inference, as someone wandering the streets with a deadly hypodermic needle, a regular Debbie Kevorkian, coldly putting down dogs and cats in an unfeeling, cavalier fashion.  

The new keepers of the domestic animal gate denied they adhere to a no-kill policy, but it was obvious from what I read and heard that the new volunteers with the SPCA believe way too many dogs and cats were being put down, that this enlightened (as they apparently view themselves) group of animal caregivers will now go to extremes to keep as many of the animals alive as they possibly can (foolishly and inhumanely, their critics maintain, granting reprieves the felines and canines themselves would probably reject if they were capable of communication).

Sure, if this was Disneyland or Oprahland and not Newfoundland, and if there were millions of bucks to be spent on endless acres of land to allow dogs and cats to roam to their heart’s content, you might be able to make a case for a no-kill policy. 

But we live in a practical world, one where dogs and cats not capable of being properly cared for, or those caged for the bulk of their remaining existence, should be euthanized.

No one, aside from the odd psychopath, relishes the idea of killing cats and dogs by the pickup load, but there does come a time when decency and practicality merge in the handling of unwanted animals, or animals whose time has simply come. 

Having been a dog lover and owner all my life, I know all about that time.

Just six weeks ago, my wife and I had to have a 16-year old dog, a lovable mutt named Bucko, put down. It broke our hearts. But it was the right thing to do; it was time.     

You have to wonder whether the animal rights activists, the advocates for “heavenly creatures,” will ever recognize a right time.   

I happen to believe Debbie Powers did.

But now she’s out. 

The SPCA may never be the same.


Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: Disneyland

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • MJ
    November 14, 2011 - 07:33

    Give the new group a chance. Sometimes new energy can bring positive benefits. What is the harm for them in trying to kill fewer animals? If they really care about them as much as they say, they will do everything in their powers to prevent the extending periods of caging - or the overcrowding - that is a concern.

  • Charlie
    November 13, 2011 - 03:15

    I too have to agree with your remarks… and the choice of the SPCA. There comes a time when creatures with no quality of life and no reason to be alive to be put down. Why should they have to linger on and suffer? There is a time for all creatures to die. If they are no longer of any use to the people they belong to. OMG!! Maybe it’s time to start checking out some of the nursing homes in the city and take care of some of them old folks that are doing nothing more than taking up space. Using up our healthcare resources...Why do they have to linger on and suffer??

  • mom
    November 12, 2011 - 11:52

    I have to agree with your article. Debbie Powers did more for animal rights here in Newfoundland than anyone else will ever do. There is a time for all creatures to die. I think that a no kill policy is cruel and causes a lot of suffering for animals. If an animal can have no quality of life why should they have to linger on and suffer. When I had my dog put down last year it was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, but keeping her alive would have been cruel. There are many forms of cruelty to animals. Debbie Powers protected the animals in her care and knew that sometimes ending an animals life is sometimes the best thing that could be done for it.