Anxious animals, vets with headlamps: A look inside the humane society’s darkened halls

Mavo the stray cat found herself going from distress to darkness.

The one-year-old gray tabby was found amid the post-storm cleanup efforts by a resident in Carleton Place, Ont., and on Tuesday was brought to the Ottawa Humane Society (OHS) building on Hunt Club Road.

She’s one of 107 animals admitted to the OHS this past week for urgent care, but that care is a bit more difficult to come by these days as the humane society has been without electricity for seven days in a row.

Staff veterinarian Mary Thompson suspects Mavo has a broken tail after falling out of a tree or being hit by something during last Saturday’s violent storm.

It’s been a difficult week, she said, caring for Mavo and other animals without electricity.

“Trying to keep all of the bedding clean is definitely a challenge without power. When it’s dark and you’re working with a headlamp, it’s harder to just make sure that everybody’s getting fed and cleaned,” she said.

Few lights, no ventilation

As of Saturday evening, roughly 16,000 Hydro Ottawa customers were still without power, as poor post-storm weather hampered the power utility’s efforts to get everyone reconnected.

According to OHS communications manager Stephen Smith, only “animals in distress” or those in need of urgent medical care are being taken in this week.

Another 143 animals were placed in foster care in order to make room for those distressed animals to be admitted, he said.

Dr. Mary Thompson offers some food to Mavo, a one-year-old gray tabby rescued after last week’s devastating storm. The critical care unit is one of the few locations at the Ottawa Humane Society where they’re keeping the lights on, using generator power. (Avanthika Anand/CBC)

Smith says some critical parts of the facility have been running on power from a generator, allowing them to perform some surgeries, give animals oxygen and monitor their vital signs.

But most of the hallways are dark, and the ventilation in the building isn’t working.

The lack of power is leading to high anxiety levels, said animal care attendant Marjorie Romance.

“Animals always sense when something is not the same,” she said. “They get more restless. You’ll see them pacing back and forth, jumping at the cages, being more vocal than usual. They start getting stressed out and they stop eating.”

The warm, humid weather is also causing many to sleep through the day or be less active, she added.

New adoptions paused

OHS staff have been banding together to give the animals the extra love and care they need, Romance said, adding she’s been singing to the animals to help keep them calm.

Smith said OHS is fulfilling adoptions that were arranged before the storm hit, but new adoptions are on hold. Their educational programming has been canceled or rescheduled, he said.

Some surgeries are also being performed out of their mobile spay/neuter clinic, run out of the back of a truck, he said.

A kitten stares out from its cage at the Ottawa Humane Society, which has been relying on generator power ever since a destructive storm rolled through on May 21, 2022. (Avanthika Anand/CBC)

Costs are piling up, with Smith noting that their backup generator is powered by fuel, which is increasingly expensive. Their property was also damaged by the storm, he said.

The organization is anticipating the total cost of the storm to be upwards of $15,000, and they’re now appealing to the public help for donations.

“We’re still able to take in animals who are in distress and who need our help. And we’ll always be there to help out an animal who’s in need,” said Smith. ‘But we really rely on the community to make that possible.’

“A little bit more would go a long way,” he added.

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