Peter Fricker bids farewell to Vancouver Humane Society

Celebrating 18 years of helping animals

After 18 years as VHS’s Projects and Communications Director, Peter Fricker retired in June. Here, he reflects on the changes and challenges during those years for VHS and for the animals it works to help.

To be honest, I had a lot to learn about animals when I started working for VHS in 2003. I had a background in communications and research but my knowledge of animal issues was somewhat limited (except for being a dog and cat guardian and vegetarian!)

I had to learn fast. That summer the Greater Vancouver Zoo’s decision to send an aging elephant called Tina to a zoo in Ontario with even fewer safeguards against animal suffering became the biggest local news story of the year. I suddenly found myself on radio and television most nights, trying to sound like an elephant expert. Fortunately, I had help from real experts like Julie Woodyer of Zoocheck and our executive director (and my mentor), Debra Probert. 

It was a bit of a trial by fire but it helped prepare me for the many times I would need to research a controversial issue quickly and give VHS’s view to the media. Thanks to VHS colleagues, a network of animal advocates, knowledgeable contacts and lots of reading and research, I got better.

And the controversial issues kept on coming. The zoo, of course, continued to be a cause for concern, with many premature animal deaths and cases of inadequate care, which VHS brought to public attention.

In the early 2000s, VHS worked hard to expose the suffering of exotic pets and successfully saw several municipalities pass bylaws restricting exotic pet ownership.

We worked on farmed animal welfare, campaigning for an end to cruel battery cages for laying hens. While always pressing for better conditions for farmed animals, we began urging people to eat less meat and, eventually, to transition to a plant-based diet. It’s amazing to see how meat-free eating has become mainstream over the last ten years.

We joined other groups in campaigning for an end to cetacean captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium, which finally came in 2018. Now it’s banned across Canada.

VHS, of course, has addressed many other issues over the years, from sled dog abuse to cruel circuses; from spay & neuter bylaws to pet store regulation.

But, of all the VHS campaigns I’ve had the privilege of working on, it’s rodeo I’ve been most passionate about. Roping three-month-old calves off their feet and twisting steers’ necks until they’re literally bent to the ground is so obviously and outrageously cruel, especially as it’s just to amuse a crowd.

It was a great day when, after a long VHS campaign, the Cloverdale rodeo dropped calf roping, steer wrestling, team roping, and wild cow milking. More campaign successes followed with the cancellation of the Luxton rodeo near Victoria in 2015 and the Abbotsford Agrifair rodeo in 2016.

VHS’s campaigns against the Calgary Stampede rodeo and chuckwagon races have drawn national attention to the cruelty and animal deaths that occur every year at the event. Except for some measures to improve animal safety, the Stampede has stubbornly refused to change. VHS’s fight goes on.

While I’m sad to leave, it’s great to know that VHS will be fighting for animals long into the future. The VHS team is a talented, passionate and dedicated group of individuals who care deeply about this important work. I know without any doubt that they and all those who support VHS will, together, make a better world for animals.

VHS thanks Peter for his 18 years of support! We are excited to welcome Chantelle Archambault as the new Communications Director. You can read her bio here.


Speak out to end the inhumane live export of horses

Please support the call to the federal government to ban the live export of horses for human consumption.

This inhumane trade involves draft horses, known as “gentle giants”, being shipped live in wooden crates to Japan and for slaughter for human consumption. Since 2014, more than 27,000 draft horses have been live exported by air, primarily to Japan, for slaughter.

VHS has signed a joint letter to the federal Minister of Agriculture, calling for the Canadian government to stop the inhumane shipments of draft horses to other countries for slaughter.

You can help by signing the House of Commons E-petition, which calls for an end to “air shipments of horses exported for human consumption, due to ongoing animal welfare concerns inherent in this practice.”

Opinion Editorial

Farming and grocery industries’ broken promises betray majority of Canadians

Article originally published in The Georgia Straight.

For decades, animal-welfare groups have been campaigning for better conditions for animals on Canada’s farms. Progress has been slow, but two major achievements seemed to be within reach: an end to battery cages for laying hens and a phase-out of gestation crates for pigs. Until now. 

Hopes for better lives for pigs and hens are now in doubt following news that the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) is reneging on commitments to sourcing only cage-free eggs and to shift away from selling pork from farms using gestation crates. The RCC represents Canada’s major grocery chains. 

Last week, the RCC announced that it “will pursue and make commitments solely through NFACC, thus removing previous commitments on sow housing and cage-free eggs…”. NFACC is the National Farm Animal Care Council, an industry-dominated body that oversees codes of practice for the care and handling of farm animals. 

In 2013, the RCC announced it would move toward sourcing pork from pigs raised in “alternative housing practices” by 2022. In 2016, the council committed to sourcing only eggs from cage-free hens by 2025.  

The RCC’s abandonment of these commitments follows last year’s decision by Canada’s pig farmers to renege on their 2014 commitment to end the continuous use of gestation stalls by 2024. 

These moves by farmers and the grocery industry fly in the face of public opinion. Polling has shown that 85 percent of Canadians support a complete phase-out of gestation stalls, and almost two-thirds want an end to battery cages for hens. 

Gestation crates confine pregnant sows so tightly that they are unable to engage in natural behaviours or even turn around. Scientists and animal welfare experts have long argued that the crates compromise pigs’ welfare. Temple Grandin, the renowned professor of animal science, has stated: “Gestation crates for pigs are a real problem… Basically, you’re asking a sow to live in an airline seat…” 

Battery cages for laying hens allow approximately 22 x 22 cm (9 x 9 inches) of space per hen, preventing them from engaging in natural behaviours or even flapping a wing.  The European Union banned battery cages in 2012. 

There is no doubt that gestation crates and battery cages are inhumane and that consumers want them gone. So why are the farming and grocery industries backsliding on their promises to move toward systems with better animal welfare?  Are they hoping the commitments they made amidst high-profile campaigns by animal-welfare groups can be quietly dropped now that those campaigns have abated? 

If so, they are misreading the public mood, which has been increasingly supportive of better welfare for farm animals. A 2017 poll found that a majority of Canadians would pay grocers more if animal welfare were improved. 

Breaking promises to support better welfare could backfire on farmers and the RCC, as animal-welfare organizations and the public lose faith in a system that is essentially self-regulating and dependent on the industry-dominated NFACC. The public perception that animal agriculture is averse to transparency and accountability has already been heightened by the introduction of “Ag-gag” legislation in Ontario and Alberta. Calls for independent regulation, inspection, and enforcement are likely to grow as trust in industrialized animal agriculture and the grocers that sell its products declines. 

Canadians know animals suffer on factory farms and they want it to stop. (Is it any wonder that the plant-based food industry is booming?) If farmers and retailers break their promises on gestation crates and battery cages, hundreds of thousands of pigs and millions of laying hens will suffer. The RCC needs to stand by its previous commitments on farm-animal welfare, not only to show it cares about what consumers want but because it’s the ethical thing to do.

Media Release

VHS joins Humane Canada as associate member

Vancouver – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) is pleased to announce that it has become an associate member of Humane Canada™, Canada’s federation of humane societies and SPCAs.

VHS is dedicated to the humane treatment of animals. Since 1984, the society has encouraged individuals, organizations, and governments to take responsibility for the welfare and rights of domestic animals and wildlife influenced by human activities. VHS also provides funding for veterinary assistance for people and their pets who are in need.

 “We are thrilled to become an associate member of Humane Canada,” says Amy Morris, VHS’s Executive Director. “We know that the best changes for animals happen through communication and collaboration and Humane Canada uniquely convenes the animal protection sector in Canada. Now we can be assured that our local advocacy and programs will have a bigger impact!”

“We are excited to welcome Vancouver Humane Society as a new associate,” says Barbara Cartwright, CEO of Humane Canada. “This demonstrates the trust that animal welfare groups put in our organization, and it also means we can do more together as we work to develop a more humane country for all animals.”



VHS to present research at the National Animal Welfare Conference

We are excited to announce that we are a part of this year’s virtual National Animal Welfare Conference (NAWC) hosted by Humane Canada!

On April 8th, 2021, VHS’s Lead Researcher Celeste Morales will present alongside our research partner from Thompson Rivers University Dr. Rochelle Stevenson. The interactive session is titled Program Design and Staff Training for Decolonized &  Trauma-Informed Service Delivery

Celeste and Dr. Stevenson will discuss our current research project. This project explores how animal seizure, surrender, and outreach practices can be updated to reflect a One Welfare, decolonized, and trauma-informed approach. 

Unfortunately, under current service structures structurally vulnerable persons may be re-traumatized by common service delivery practices. Animal welfare is at risk when new animals are acquired with the same neglect issues occurring as the ones experienced by the surrendered or seized animals. The aim of this project is to establish a knowledge base for avoiding the re-traumatization of structurally vulnerable persons, and provide tools to support animal service agencies in combatting this cycle

This presentation will discuss the results of our research and offer  four key takeaways for animal service providers:

 1) How to implement a trauma-informed approach when assisting structurally vulnerable folks (e.g. focusing on pet retention through intake diversion rather than rehoming);

2) How to build an outreach-first and prevention-based model (e.g. through community engagement/collaboration);

3) How to update the practices and processes of addressing animal neglect to ensure cultural awareness, sensitivity, and safety  (e.g. best practices and suggested policies);

 4) How to better address staff experiences of compassion fatigue and burnout, which in the absence of a trauma-informed approach to service provision, can contribute to the re-traumatization of clients (e.g. by updating mental health policies and resources available to staff). 

The presentation will also allow participants to jump start the process of an organization transformation plan by engaging in active exercises. Workshop participants will also gain early access to the pilot training program for their organizations. 

We hope to see you there!


Giving Tuesday raises $10,645 for farmed animals

We are delighted to announce that our joint Giving Tuesday campaign with the Happy Herd Farm Sanctuary raised a grand total of $10,645. These funds will help with Happy Herd’s veterinary expenses and VHS’s programs, including Plant-Based Plates and GoVeg, to improve the lives of farmed animals.

Thank you so much to everyone who donated towards our campaign. We’d also like to thank the following businesses that participated in our campaign:

BRED, Chickpea, Down 2 Earth, Ergogenics, Kayefleur, Kind Café, Kula Kitchen, Lita’s Mexican Foods, Lotus Seed Vegan, Modern Meat, Nice Shoes, Panago, Plant Veda, Sprouted Oven by Silver Hills Bakery,         Sy’s Vegan Bistro, The Pie Hole, Vegan Supply, Vegan Yarn Studio, Veronica’s Gourmet Perogies, Westpoint Naturals, Willow’s Wax Bar.


Author and VHS McVitie Fund founder is an animal champion

Nicholas Read has been supporting the Vancouver Humane Society for more than 20 years.

As a journalist with the Vancouver Sun in the 1980s through to the early 2000s, Nicholas had a popular animal rights column and wrote many stories about animal issues. This included coverage of some of VHS’s campaigns. Nicholas was the reporter who broke the story of the Greater Vancouver Zoo’s plan to sell long-suffering Tina the Elephant to another zoo in 2003, which sparked a successful VHS campaign to have her sent to a sanctuary.

Nicholas also founded VHS’s McVitie Fund, named after his cat McVitie, who he rescued while on holiday in Portugal. When McVitie died in 2003, Nicholas realized that not every animal guardian has the financial security to provide for their animal when they get sick or injured. “People have enough to worry about when their animal gets sick, without having to think about using their rent money to pay for veterinary bills.” The McVitie Fund offers a safety net for vulnerable individuals on low income.

As well as working as a journalist, Nicholas is a prolific writer, having authored 11 books ranging from novels for young adults that address farmed animal issues, to exploratory books on the Great Bear Rainforest.

Nicholas’s most recent book, A Home Away from Home, details true stories of wild and exotic animals that were once kept as pets or used for entertainment and have since been rehomed in wild animal sanctuaries. This book is an eye-opening read for us all.

“There is no defence for wild animals being kept as pets or in captivity. My hope from this book is that people will think twice about adopting an exotic as a pet, going to the circus, or going to SeaWorld.” A Home Away from Home is available to purchase through the Greyhaven Bird Sanctuary website.

We would like to extend our sincere thanks to Nicholas for his ongoing generous support of VHS.


Still no action from Canada on global wildlife trade

Last year, VHS drew attention to the trade in wild and exotic animals with two campaigns, one urging the federal government to ban the international trade and the other asking the B.C. government to strengthen regulation of exotic animal ownership in the province. Nearly 7000 people signed our petitions and we had four opinion editorials published in the media on the issue.

Despite calls from experts to take action against the global wildlife trade, which scientists believe is a likely source of COVID-19, there has been no response from Canada. You can still sign the petition urging the federal government to take action.


Big plant-based plans for 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of changes in food production and consumption toward fewer animal-based products and more plant-based food production and consumption. Experts have warned that the unnatural and unhealthy conditions of intensive animal farming could lead to the rise of new diseases that threaten public health.

VHS’s work to support diet and food system change that benefits animals, people and the planet has continued in the midst of the pandemic. We’ve participated in two important food-related government consultations recently – the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s proposed changes to guidelines for meat alternative products and the Vancouver Park Board’s Local Food Action Plan. In our submissions to both consultations, we reiterated the importance of government support in improving public education and access to plant-based food.

We’ve also been hard at work on a cost-benefit analysis that demonstrates the impact of enacting a food purchasing policy for municipalities that replaces 20 percent of animal-based products with plant-based foods. This report allows us to engage with municipal decision-makers and encourage a transition toward policies in favour of more plant-based foods.

Over the holidays, we compiled an animal-free shopping guide to share humane gift ideas and promote local products and businesses in a time when many are struggling due to the pandemic. The list includes restaurants, food, beverage and dessert companies, as well as pet, beauty, cleaning, bedding and clothing products.

2021 got off to an exciting start for our farmed animal programming, with the addition of a new staff person joining the VHS team! Julia McCann joins us as a Program Coordinator for the Go Veg and Plant-Based Plates programs. From Ontario, Julia moved to B.C in 2019 and is thrilled to be living on the West Coast. She completed a Masters of Environmental Studies from Queen’s University and is passionate about developing sustainable food systems. Her background includes work and volunteering with non-profits in food security/justice, emergency food distribution, community gardens, sustainable and local agriculture and community development. We look forward to Julia’s help in expanding the reach of our farmed animal programs.


Stop cruel and dangerous mink farming

VHS has been taking action against the cruel and dangerous mink farming industry.

Mink farming not only compromises animal welfare, but also creates potential risks to public health, as the spread of COVID-19 on B.C. mink farms has shown. Mink are confined in small, wire cages for the duration of their lives, denying them the opportunity to engage in the natural behaviours that they would exhibit in the wild. This can cause stress, leading to stereotypic behaviour and self-mutilation.

The transmission of COVID-19 to mink has caused mutation of the virus in other countries. This has raised concern about risks of increased transmissibility, vaccine efficacy and the potential for farmed mink to infect wild populations, leading to virus reservoirs outside of direct human control.

We have written to B.C.’s minister of agriculture to call for an end to fur farming in the province and made a submission to the National Farm Animal Care Council’s review of the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farmed Mink.