Ontario has euthanized 84 raccoons and laid dozens of charges in its investigation of a wildlife rehabilitation centre it accuses of allowing animals to suffer with no real hope of recovery, the The Canadian Press has learned.

Mally’s Third Chance Raccoon Rescue in Kawartha Lakes, Ont., says it is outraged and wants accountability from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry over its handling of the animals.

The rescue, a non-profit, says it helps rehabilitate injured and orphaned raccoons and returns them to the wild once they are able.

Court documents show the owners of Mally’s, Derek Zavitsky and Barbara Zavitsky, face 18 counts and 23 counts, respectively, under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.

“A total of 93 raccoons were seized, with six found dead on-site, three succumbing to severe disease and 84 humanely euthanized,” said Marcela Mayo, a spokeswoman with the ministry.

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“All seized raccoons tested positive for canine distemper, with many displaying severe signs of the disease when MNRF took possession of them.”

The province also revoked Mally’s wildlife rehabilitator custodian licence.

Distemper is caused by a virus that is commonly found in wild raccoons and is fatal, usually killing animals in a matter of days or weeks.

On Sept. 26, 2023, more than 50 conservation officers with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry raided Mally’s Third Chance Raccoon Rescue, acting on a tip from the public.

“We’re absolutely devastated,” said Tiffany Devon, a spokeswoman and volunteer with Mally’s.

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“Our biggest fight, and our number one priority, was for the safety of those raccoons.”

The majority of the raccoons were orphans Mally’s had been caring for since the spring, Devon said.

The province alleges the Zavitskys failed to keep updated log books, lacked raccoon identification, kept the animals more than 12 months and provided rehabilitation to raccoons that “had no reasonable chance of surviving.”

The province also alleges the pair allowed raccoons to be in contact with domestic animals, kept raccoons in their home and treated raccoons that displayed symptoms of distemper, and failed to euthanize those animals that displayed distemper symptoms.

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Mally’s will fight the charges, Devon said.

The mass seizure and subsequent euthanization sparked protests at Queen’s Park. A small group of so-called “raccoon freedom fighters” have also demonstrated against Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Graydon Smith, including at a recent Progressive Conservative policy conference in Niagara Falls, Ont.

In November, Mally’s took the government to court, seeking an injunction to return the seized raccoons. The injunction was denied. But the court documents portray two vastly different versions of events.

The province alleges the raccoons were “living in unsanitary, squalid conditions.”

“Forty-nine raccoons were living in the same house as humans and domestic animals, including in bedrooms and bathrooms, causing significant biosecurity risks and depositing urine and feces everywhere,” the Ministry of the Attorney General wrote in its factum.

One “very sick raccoon” was found in a cabinet under the bathroom sink. Investigators said they found a dead raccoon in a cage in the home “full of rigor mortis” and another was “infested with live maggots.”

The ministry said it had to euthanize 15 raccoons that day because they “showed obvious signs of suffering including active seizing, head tremors, discharge from their eyes and nose, and open sores on their paws and bodies.”

The ministry alleged Mally’s had “mistreated the raccoons for who knows how long.” They say testing at the University of Guelph revealed all raccoons had distemper and all were eventually euthanized.

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Mally’s took issue with the government’s characterization of its operations and the state of the animals on its property.

In court documents, Mally’s owners say ministry conservation officers were rough with the raccoons that were “aggressively ripped out of cages” and “shoved into cages that were far too small.”

The raccoons were left in those ministry cages for hours as the eight-hour raid unfolded, “where they were unable to move, struggled to breathe, and involuntarily defecated,” Mally’s factum said.

The officers “were heard laughing callously as they terrorized the raccoons,” Mally’s said.

The rescue organization said the ministry made “uncorroborated allegations” that all raccoons had contracted distemper.

The raccoons had all been vaccinated for distemper, Devon said, raising concerns over false-positives in the ministry’s testing. They also question how raccoons could have lived for several months with distemper before they were euthanized.

Things are not adding up at all,” Devon said.

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