Saturday, January 9, 2010

Toronto Animal Control Hero Arrested

Mother was absolutely right.......no good deed goes unpunished


Tre Smith, the movie star-handsome public face of the Toronto Humane Society who once smashed a car window to save a dehydrated dog, has joined the slate of high-profile employees arrested as part of an ongoing OSPCA investigation.

Taken out of the THS headquarters at Queen and River Sts. in handcuffs Thursday afternoon, Smith is charged with one count of perjury and two counts of impersonating a peace officer.

A senior THS agent, Smith is accused of continuing to act as an animal cruelty investigator despite his suspension last June when the OSPCA stripped the THS of its affiliate status.

"The top priority was animal care," said Chris Avery, lawyer for the OSPCA, when asked why Smith's arrest came so long after five other key staff members were charged with animal cruelty and obstructing peace officers last November.

With a search warrant obtained after those arrests, the OSPCA combed through the humane society's headquarters at Queen and River Sts. The lead investigator in the THS case, Kevin Strooband, said that computer files and THS clients confirm Smith was still performing cruelty investigations, even visiting animals and their owners at home.

The perjury charge stems from an affidavit Smith signed in October, in which Avery says Smith claimed not to have violated his suspension.

Many Torontonians saw him as a hero after the sensational July 2007 rescue of Cyrus the Rottweiler, trapped in an SUV on a blistering summer day. Smith broke a window to rescue the dog, saying at the time it was "slumped over the back seat of the car, foaming from the mouth, gasping for breath."

The former security guard then handcuffed the dog's owner, Paul Soderholm, to the SUV and took Cyrus for medical care. In the hour it took for police to show up, bystanders beat Soderholm until he was bloody and missing teeth.

That was the first time the OSPCA suspended Smith as an investigator, causing an outcry from animal lovers who defended his actions. His suspension and the four-month review of the incident became another battle in the decades-long war between the humane society and the OSPCA.

Eventually, Smith was reinstated as an investigator, Soderholm pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and Cyrus was adopted by a family in Thornhill.

A former star of the TV reality show The Lofters, Smith pulled heartstrings as a regular guest expert on CP24's Animal House Calls, answering pet owners' questions, and profiling animals available for adoption. Unwelcome at CP24 after his second suspension last summer, he took to Sun TV's Pet Thursday.

Photos from his wedding reception are on the THS website, and snaps of his daughter, Victoria, have been in the organization's Animal Talk newsletter.

With a defiant sway to his gait, Smith said nothing as he was led to a 52 Division police car on Thursday.

That the OSPCA alerted media to his impending arrest has become another issue for the two animal care organizations to snipe over.

"The public has a right to know what's going on," Avery said, defending the OSPCA's move. Later in the evening, humane society lawyer Frank Addario released a statement calling the tip-off an "American style publicity stunt."

"The allegations against Mr. Smith are serious," Addario said. "However, there is no necessity for handcuffing or a perp walk ... that have the effect of gratuitously embarrassing people who have been arrested on unproven allegations."

Strooband and the OSPCA also laid charges Thursday against Mark Beauchamp, an animal cruelty investigator based in Newmarket. The OSPCA alleges that Beauchamp tipped the THS off about last November's raid, leading staff to move and hide animals. He has been charged with one count of obstructing a peace officer, and fired as an OSPCA employee.

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