Content warning: This story contains graphic descriptions that some readers may find disturbing.
The Ontario government and a raccoon sanctuary it raided are trading accusations over the future care of the animals and the conditions they were living in.
Court documents submitted by Mally’s Third Chance Raccoon Sanctuary and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) paint vastly different pictures of how the animals lived and how a government raid went down.
On Sept. 26, officials with the MNRF carried out a search warrant at Mally’s, a City of Kawartha Lakes sanctuary, seizing 95 raccoons.
In its submission, the sanctuary says the province engaged in a harrowing raid of the raccoon sanctuary and “violently” seized raccoons.
The government, on the other hand, argues the wildlife sanctuary’s legal action is “meritless” and should be dismissed. In their court submission, provincial lawyers describe neglected and sickly raccoons roaming around a house, with domestic pets and people.
'Terrorized the raccoons'
In a factum filed with a Peterborough, Ont., court in November, Mally’s argues around 50 officers with the MNRF were involved in the raid on the property.
The group alleges the officers — “many of whom carried guns” — were at the property for around eight hours.
“The MNRF officers were heard laughing callously as they terrorized the Raccoons,” the group claimed.
The court documents argue provincial staff handled raccoons “extremely roughly” during the search and that they were “aggressively ripped” from their cages.
“The Raccoons fought and cried in acute distress for some time before the trucks began to drive away,” the documents said.
In its submission to the courts, the province suggests the claims are broadly untrue.
Lawyers argue the raccoons’ alleged screams are not evidence they were mistreated during the operation.
“Animals often make noises when being removed from familiar spaces,” government lawyers wrote.
The government’s submission says the raccoons were put into humane live-trap cages by an “experienced wildlife research technician.”
They were transferred to the cages using a wildlife capture pole or by clapping behind the raccoons, the document says.
Mally’s claims the raccoons were kept close to one another in the government’s truck as they were taken away; the province argues that the cages were specifically laid out in a chequered pattern to avoid cross-contamination or contact between the animals.
'Raccoons living in unsanitary, squalid conditions'
The government’s submission claims the raccoons in the house were living in unsanitary and inappropriate conditions.
It says that when officers arrived at the property, they discovered more than 90 raccoons, six of which were already dead.
Government lawyers say raccoons were found around the house, with six allegedly living with people in a bedroom and “one very sick raccoon was discovered in the cabinet under the bathroom sink.”
“Some raccoons were loose in the house,” the document says.
The arguments laid out in documents submitted by the province also claim some raccoons had “feces matted into their fur” and one had “its anus infected with live maggots.”
Another line in the government’s documents alleges 49 raccoons were living in the same house as humans and domestic pets, “depositing urine and feces everywhere.”
In its evidence, Mally’s says it is seeking the return of raccoons to its care, or another wildlife custodian. The group argues that the province saying “all is well” should not be “blindly trusted.”
The document says the group exists to “provide humane treatment for raccoons in its care and, whenever possible, to assist raccoons with reintegration into the wild.”
According to the government, six of the raccoons seized from Mally’s were already dead when they arrived.
Later on the same day, a vet inspected the raccoons for the MNRF and recommended that 15 should be put down.
Government lawyers say the vet said the raccoons showed “signs of obvious suffering” including head tremors and open sores.
Another 26 raccoons who “were suffering” were euthanized between the date of the raid and the court documents being filed on Nov. 17.
In its submissions, Mally’s says it is concerned about how the province is treating the raccoons and is worried they may be “needlessly euthanized” by the government.
The two parties disagree over the extent of a disease called distemper the raccoons allegedly had, when it was contracted and the accuracy of positive tests.
In an online summary, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife suggests distemper can include discharge from the raccoon’s eyes and nose and will become progressively worse. It is usually fatal for raccoons.
In its submission, the government says the bodies of raccoons that had been euthanized would be sent for post-mortems and would not be disposed of.
'An attempt to divert MNRF's attention'
The province argues the allegations levelled by Mally’s about the raid are an attempt to take attention away from the ongoing investigation into the organization.
“The court should see the request for what it is: an attempt to divert MNRF’s attention and resources from its ongoing quasi-criminal investigation into the Applicants, to blame MNRF for the Applicants’ mistreatment of the raccoons, and to muddy the water with misleading evidence,” the document says.
The government has not announced any charges have been laid against Mally’s but the owner’s license has been suspended.
A copy of the warrant in the case shows the facility’s owners face more than 20 allegations of violating the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.
The warrant said ministry officials could search any building on the couple’s sprawling property and seize all raccoons and opossums, six vehicles, cellphones and computers as well as conduct a search at a second property in Oshawa, Ont.
The document said the allegations relate to failure to comply with the conditions of the facility’s custodian licence.
One allegation was that Mally’s allowed the raccoons to become domestic animals and a different allegation was that the facility was not in compliance with keeping an animal in captivity for more than 12 months without approval.
Other alleged infractions include failure to provide reports and to keep logbooks updated.
Mally’s has said it would fight any charges that are laid.
None of the allegations laid out by either Mally’s or the government in their court submissions have been proven in court.
— with files from The Canadian Press