The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) is mandated by the province’s animal cruelty legislation to protect all domesticated animals, not just dogs and cats. But OSPCA agents come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and may not be familiar with livestock, poultry and horses, and the acceptable standards of care for these animals.
Cue the University of Guelph’s Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare, where faculty have been teaching courses on farm animal standards for OSPCA agents since 2009.
The training program was established at the request of the OSPCA and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in response to passing of Bill 50, the Ontario SPCA Act (The Provincial Animal Welfare Act). The Bill significantly enhanced inspection powers of the OSPCA, authorizing them to inspect places where animals are kept for entertainment, exhibition, boarding, sale or hire, including zoos, pet shops, circuses, or other premises.
“We familiarize the participants with common livestock practices, the Codes of Practice for each type of animal, and what they should be looking for if they are called out to a farm,” says Prof. Tina Widowski, Department of Animal Biosciences.
The training takes one week and includes classroom time, plus trips to farms to look at animals and housing. It covers typical accepted practices for commonly farmed livestock and poultry including beef, sheep, goats, swine, dairy and poultry.
In the past two years, the centre has partnered with Equine Guelph to add a separate four-day training program on horses. “This is more hands-on than the livestock training, as the students learn to handle the horses and how to do a health check,” says Widowski.
Each type of farm animal has a Code of Practice created by the National Farm Animal Care Council, which sets out minimum standard guidelines for housing, management and other aspects of care. The courses explain the codes and how to tell if they are not being met. For example, the participants learn to assess the animal’s body condition to be sure it is adequately fed. If the animal scores below a certain level, action must be taken.
The training also includes case studies that allow agents to practice assessing a real-life scenario in which the OSPCA was called to a farm.
“Most of the farms that OSPCA agents are called out to are not large commercial operations but rather small hobby-type farms,” says Widowski. “So, in the training most of the scenarios we use are related to these smaller farms.”
Feedback has been positive, and the OSPCA sends new students each year. The next training program is scheduled for this spring.
“For some participants, this is their first exposure to farm animals,” says Widowski. “Some are even surprised by the smells of farm animals. But we find they are very keen and observant, and good at spotting things.”