OSPCA probing reports of emaciated horses in vet’s barn

By: Valerie Hauch News reporter, Toronto Star, Published on Sat Sep 07, 2013

Visitors allege that a dozen horses they saw at a Rockwood farm looked thin, lethargic and lacking food, water or proper care.

Kopinak horseShocking allegations of neglect surrounding a dozen gaunt horses in a barn owned by respected Halton Hills holistic veterinarian Sharon Kopinak are under investigation by the Ontario SPCA.

Please continue reading here.

Global TV also covered this story.  Their report can be viewed here.



  1. On second thought Deborah the fact that every agency possible was contacted does not meet any reasonable thinking persons test that good will was at play.The fact that the people who are trained to make accessments(police&outside Vet)along with a respected reputation was willfully dismissed in favour of two unquaified strangers to the reporter.The fact that pertinent information was blantanly omitted to slant the story(in my opinon) does not meet the test of just being sloppy.Then you want to throw in “I can help wondering if something more was behind their actions” and “The bigger picture” these two statement seem to cancel each other out.

  2. Deborah Tiffin · ·

    I want to address Lisa Moore, who has little insight – apparently – into the fallibility of media, who sometimes does NOT get it right. Global news and The Star were not reporting on the results of an investigation at the time of the original stories, they were reporting on allegations. In the interim between the initial hue and cry of “abuse” initiated by the instigators of the allegation and the subsequent visits by various agencies looking into the allegations, nothing “changed” at the farm. There were no interventions, no change in routine. And now both Global and The Star have correctly reported that the OSPCA has no concerns, not, Lisa, that they mandated that things be corrected. Had either of these news organizations been reporting on the results of their own investigations the story would have had more integrity, but that was not the case. While I appreciate that media can play a useful role in drawing attention to issues, it’s my opinion that in this case exercising a bit of due diligence, given Sharon’s “highly respected” reputation might have been warranted. Innocent until proven guilty, remember? Someone who has really dedicated her life to helping animals in need deserved better treatment and the benefit if the doubt – especially from the instigators of this whole, unfounded mess, who should – next time they see something that raises their concern – actually have the integrity to ask the hard questions themselves first, before sneaking around and then scampering off to the media. When I come across, as an example, a dog left in a car with the windows rolled up on a hot day, I don’t snap some pictures and hope someone else will confront the owners – I have the guts to stand up and follow through even though it can be an uncomfortable situation. Carolynn, Alice and David did not do that.

    1. While I agree with much of what you say coming across a dog in a car on a hot day and confronting someone does not measure up to what happened here”.Scampering off” and “Snapping pictures” leaves an impression that these are misguided children that you are spanking This was the lowest of the low.It is not about guts,or fallibity of the press it is about character and dignity knowing the difference between right and wrong which none of the people involved appear to possess.

      1. Deborah Tiffin · ·

        Susan I was the first to defend Sharon here so don’t underestimate my belief in her, or my appreciation of just how unfair this was. I am willing though, to believe that Carolynn, Alice,and David thought they were acting in the interests of those horses, however badly they handled it. The bigger picture here is that people learn that they must ask the questions, and do the work before making accusations such as this, when there actually IS some context and background. Any simple on-line search by a reporter would have yielded information about Sharon and what she does and may have raised enough doubt to stall the story while waiting to hear from the OSPCA. So I deplore that sloppiness. And the cowardice of Carolynn, Alice and David in coming back and sneaking around,the barn, unknown to Sharon, and then appearing as anonymous sources speaks for itself. I still can’t help but wonder if there was something more behind their actions, maybe that’s just me, but it was wrong. So we’re largely in agreement on that. If you know Sharon though, you also know that she is the type of person who prefers that her actions speak for her. Ripping all the culprits a new one really serves nothing, but I hope that they really think about their actions. They owe Sharon a very large public apology. These were hurtful accusations made by people she had helped in the past. Appalling.

      2. Well Deborah I assume you are speaking for Sharon and I will back away

    2. Lise Moore · ·

      You’re very mistaken and quick to make assumptions I see

      I won’t bore you with my CV – understand this-

      The SPCA DID have reason to investigate. They would NOT have returned to follow up if there were no concerns. There Were concerns and NOW the horses are cared for. This was already in place at the time of Global TV’s arrival.
      To say the SPCA investigated… There was nothing amiss and the case is closed is partially correct- let’s fill in the gaps—
      There was nothing amiss AFTER she was TOLD to get hay! To FEED them! TO WATER THEM. To tend to the injuries!

      So… If nothing were amiss the FIRST visit- there would’ve been no need to return!

      I’m VERY familiar with the media and VERY familiar with the SPCA

      There were also other horse people (very respected ones) that were also involved whose names were withheld

      1. Hey Lisa don’t take my word for it go pick up this months Harper’s magazine one of the most highly respected for the last 150yrs and read the article called Changing Partners it spells out pretty well how the media work including what is considered the most respected Newspaper in the world the New York Times.
        As for the SPCA coming back twice …of course they would… with all the media coverage on this they are going to cross all T’s and dot all I’s and make damn sure that the perception of doing a thorough job cannot be mistaken.(i do believe they did this)
        I from one do not believe that there is any justification for taking pictures going to the police the SPCA the Media god only knows who else about hay and water. You help or ralley to get help not set out to destroy someone.People who want to remain anonymous cannot expect to put their shovel in on this and be credible.

  3. Global TV had an update last night saying that the OSPCA have closed their investigation but that OVMA is still conducting one. I tried to find a link to Global on that but can’t. Hopefully, this will be resolved soon.

  4. Lise Moore · ·

    Her history is not enough to excuse what’s happened here people!
    Wake Up!!!

    SPCA closed the investigation because the horses are NOW getting what they need!

    Do you really think that two major news media would fabricate such a tragedy?

    I understand the gratitude many have for her caring attitude in the past but REALIZE something CHANGED!!!!
    While it may not make sense to you, what case of neglect ever does ?

    Also consider this- if you bash the media – good luck getting coverage on future cases! There’s no denying it was media involvement that actually SAVED those Markdake horses from death! So leave Valerie Hauch alone. She too is VERY well respected and loved. She too has helped many people. She too can be a valuable ally in future cases needing attention

    If Dr. Kopinak cares as much as you all believe then why not bring attention to the pesticide issues she claims? Would you not think that would be something horse owners in Ontario should know about if its valid????

    Keep in mind- there’s many starving horses. Keep in mind the power the media holds to help get them the help they need!

    1. The rush for the career climbing, paper selling, ever popular animal cruelty story was the driving force behind the story.The public have the right and more importantly obligation to demand that rigorous ethical standards are met before life shattering stories are published This is one of the most serious things that can happen to anyone and should not be in the hands of the power mad. This was not met and the police, an outside vet a reputation that has spanned 40yrs or more dissmissed.If I have pictures this blinds the public and relinquishes the reporter of serious sober thought aka I can get away with this This is Fox News fair and Balanced not ethical sober thought from the best classical thinkers. If she had taken her ethical ques from them should would have realized right away that treachery always comes clothed in acts of kindness and doing the right thing.
      As for the media fabricating stories or rather thinking that they don’t only demonstrates your complete lack of knowing how the world works.Of course they do.Keep in mind what was done to Sharon what living hell she went though.
      These women could have gone to her but instead went on like school yard bullies and in a viscous frenzy went in for the kill.Shame on all of you.No I do not think Fox News style reporting is ethical the gaurdian uk sets a better standard.

  5. Cynthia Ueberschlag · ·

    I absolutely agree Elizabeth….I have not known Sharon that long but she has already saved one of my dogs and is treating another. I also had horses before and had an injury just like the one shown and you absolutely do have to leave it open to heal. People are so quick to jump to conclusions….think about it people….SHE RESCUES HORSES !!!!!! Also knew a very old horse that looked just like the white one…..as healthy as could be expected for its age so its owner had no need to dispose of it until there seemed to be a need. Sharon is amazing…and you will all see when she gets her turn to speak….unfortunately she shouldn’t have to and her name should never have been slandered first. Horses are her first Love and a lot of her knowledge is based from what she has learned from loving them. It is totally irresponsible for journalists to print these things without due diligence…..shameful

  6. Deborah Tiffin · ·

    It was reported by Global News tonight that the OSPCA has found that there is nothing amiss, their established standards of care are being met and closed their investigation. And it WAS a thorough one. I trust that CHDC will be posting a link in the morning and reporting this development?

  7. I sincerely hope that the OSPCA does a thorough investigation, as I’ve been to Sharon Kopinak’s farm many times with my ill dog and have never witnessed anything amiss. I had a 1 year old puppy that was very sick, and when the consults with 4 traditional veterinarians were very bleak, I took her to Sharon. She saved my dogs life. This was 3 years ago. I sincerely believe that Sharon would never knowingly cause any harm to any animal. She is a gifted healer.

    One thing that was overlooked in the story is that Sharon takes in RESCUE horses. She literally saves them when their owners/handlers would have put them down. For all we know, those horses in bad shape were new arrivals to her farm? I’m aware she has many horses under her care, and each time when I’ve visited, she’s had other helpers there.

    As I said, I hope that a thorough investigation happens and Sharon’s name is redeemed. It really is a shame to see someone who has devoted her entire life to healing animals have a devastating article like this published about them.

    I felt I had to write with my thoughts, as Sharon has always been so caring and helpful with my dog. Thank you for reading.

    1. I couldn’t agree more! Such a shame to put her in the spotlight for something like this. Sharon works and breathes animals/horses! Really hard to believe these allegations.

  8. The reply was meant for Amanda not Deborah Tiffin

  9. In regards to the article that was just published about the so called emaciated horses owned by a veterinarian in Rockwood (you can read the article here: http://bit.ly/17ggNSD)

    This is someone who I love very much, and I was just made aware of this situation. She has saved two of my animals over the years, and has done nothing but phenomenal things for animals throughout the duration of her entire career. She may do things differently, and regardless of whether you like her or not, she will fight for what is right, and most of the time, she IS right.

    I do not claim to know what’s going on in that barn, and I am in no way excusing the state of those horses, but this is about more than saving animals, it’s about helping someone who has helped animals (and just as many people) for all of her life. Call me naive, but I believe this can be made right, and I believe that Sharon deserves to be helped just as much as those horses do.

    I can tell you for a fact that Sharon would never intentionally harm an animal, in fact, she is very much an advocate for animal rights. If you have ever had the privilege of meeting her, or visiting her home, then you, too, would know this.

    None of us have been privy to what has been happening on the other side of this situation, nor do I think it’s fair that we try to pick apart her personal life, or throw her under the bus. It’s very easy to point fingers and spout off harsh words until you’re in a difficult position.

    The people who were quoted in this article ALSO meant for nothing but good things to happen. Alice is an incredible horsewoman who will fight just as hard for the wellbeing of an animal, and as most of you know, Carolynn is my mother. However, the media seldom gets it right.

    I consider Sharon to be a mentor, and one of the few veterinarians who never lost sight of why they became a vet to begin with. I will be grateful every day for what she has done to save my pets, and I will always love her for that. This is someone who took phone calls from me almost every day asking for advice, and never once got fed-up, or was “too busy” to help. She really is one of the best, and one of the most special people I have ever had the privilege of meeting.

    Whatever it is that is going on to cause this tragic situation, I hope people do not lose sight of the fact that lending a helping hand, offering assistance, and approaching a sticky situation with compassion and love gets you MUCH farther than posting nasty messages on social media. Sharon is one of the people who taught me that. And I assure you that it will serve those horses far better in the long run as well.

    Even though I know she’ll never see this, as much as I harassed her to get a cell phone or a computer (she thought that was ridiculous, and I always teased her about it) I hope she knows that I, and so many other people who she’s helped along the way, love her and appreciate all that she’s done; because she helped me just as much, if not more than she helped my animals.

    1. Deborah Tiffin · ·

      You can be sure she’ll see these comments, because I’ll make it happen. Thanks to you and Susan for your support of someone who has helped so many animals, and by extension, their owners. I just wish that the women involved had just spoken to Sharon and had their questions answered instead of handling it the way they did. It disturbs me that they just went back to the barn unannounced (seems like sneaking around to me) loaded up their horse and left without a word. Then went to three different humane societies and the OPP, and the media. This just isn’t right, given who Sharon is and how she deals with things. There’s no one I know with more integrity and dedication to animal healing.

      1. May I ask why all three horses are thin? One ran through a fence, the other is recovering from a lost foal, but we saw three pictures in the news report. They are all in the same state of emaciation. Anyone can leave wounds open to the air for treatment, and if that’s all they need, why call a veterinarian? Why do you all keep mentioning the writer’s career in the context of her “trying to advance herself illegitimately?”

    2. Trying to paint Sharon as some pathic person as cover for what what any reasonable person know was just an act of the worst kind of behaviour… that of unwarranted attacks blindsided by people you know.The lengths that were gone to do maxium damage do not speak to any thoughts of good will.This very transparent attempt to use Sharon to sheild reputations doesn’t wash but is to be expected.Yes you are right the writer got it wrong and got her highly valued career stepping animal cruelty story.That is what this is about a padded story to further a career at the expanse of someone that this should never have happened too.Not Sharons reputation as a Vet or person.Remember that this is what it is about.This is what was done.She need not answer to anyone but I suspect that that is what enraged the writer.These woman should do everything in their power to fix this instead trying to lay more blame.

      1. Why do you consider the writer to be “enraged?” Seems illogical, she was merely reporting on the issue. I didn’t get the sense that she was “enraged,” whether I agreed with her writing or not….

  10. The real question is why the reporter ran with a story varified by the person who is bringing a sick horse from her barn to the respected Vet.Why is she taking the word of a reality people and not Dr.Hearn who affirmed the treatment was fine for the sores and that there was no way of know why the horses were thin from pictures and you could not say there was negligence.Why did the reporterrun with the story and not take the police word when they said nothing was wrong.Why when she went out to the farm did not say that she saw healthy horses in the field.Why did she omitt the fact that it is widely known that Sharon takes in unwanted horses..lots of them.Her intellectual dishonesty is breathtaking the rush for the high sales driving animal cruelty story blinded any critical thinking or writing with integrity.The term lying through omission comes to mind with regard to these stories. One tells us how Sharon saved Moons dog when all other vets had given up read another paper and that statment is gone.I would suppect that the writer did not want people wondering what kind of person would do this to the vet that saved your dog without even showing the decency to talk with her.Worrying about a confrontation… no Moon was playing lookout so that they could get the pictures uninterrupted But saying that would not fit into the animal cruelty story instead it might have the smell of nasty petty trouble makers.The kind that hide their faces and names.101 this should have been a red flag for the reporter.Correct me if I am wrong but is it not mandated the complaints have to be investigated regardless… omitt that in the story and that paints an entirly different picture.Why when the reporter is told that she is well liked and highly respected she did not pause and think somthing is not adding up here.But I well tell you one thing for sure Valerie Hauch well never have highly respected journalist said about her.

  11. Marie Dean · ·

    Scenario One: the veterinarian just received these emaciated horses and is helping them back to health. Scenario Two: these horses are not responding to treatment and their health is deteriorating and they should be euthanized. Most veterinarians, if they cannot bring a horse back to health do not allow the animal to suffer. If these horses have been with this veterinarian for a while, then there are questions and concerns as to her way of treating these animals.

    1. Deborah Tiffin · ·

      I suggest, Marie, that you wait for the report rather than jumping to conclusions. Scenario three: the report will reflect the findings of others who have actually been there.

    2. Lise Moore · ·

      Three different stories about why…

      There was no hay at all when ‘those women’ were there. No hay ANYWHERE- fact
      There was no water at all- fact
      OPP did no enter the barn! Fact

      When media got there , which was weeks after the photos were taken and the OSPCA & OVC had intervened, the horses were getting what they needed

      1. Actually, the media appeared right after the allegations, not weeks later, and no one said the OPP Officer did not enter the barn. If you watch the clip aired on Global you will see the “emaciated horse” in the field looking fine a few hours after the allegations. Those are the FACTS.

        Both the OPP and OSPCA have cleared Dr. Kopinak, and the journalist has published a follow up saying that the horses are being cared for well. I would like to see as large an article on this site covering the retraction as the allegations.

      2. There is an article in today’s Toronto Star (September 12, 2013) but the Star doesn’t appear to have it online yet. The headline states “Horses cared for properly at vet’s farm”.

      3. Deborah Tiffin · ·

        This is an appalling mis-statement on your part, Lisa, one could almost be characterized as libelous. All of the horses on that farm have ALWAYS HAD hay, water, grain and pasture, and good care. As has been substantiated now.

  12. That’s as maybe but horses without access to water? come on.

    1. Deborah Tiffin · ·

      Of course the horses have access to water. I’ve been there, I know this to be true. Ask yourself why a well known and respected veterinarian would invite strangers into her barn and allow full access as they brought their own horse in for treatment, if she had something so allegedly shameful going on. Just think about the illogic of that.

  13. Deborah Tiffin · ·

    There is no one that has done more than Dr. Sharon Kopinak for animals in need of care, I have known her for more than 25 years, she has cared for my 7 dogs over that time. I have been through her barn many times, I have seen her horses, know the level of care they receive, how much she loves them. She has brought many, many horses back into condition for owners when no one else who would take them on. These allegations are without merit, and in their own way, quite cruel in their own right. There is no neglect, lack of care or cruelty involved here – just two aged mares being treated for health issues and how would this be so out of place in a veterinarian’s barn? Sharon has lived her life for the animals in her care and there is not anyone I have more trust in.

    1. Elizabeth · ·

      We were just there yesterday for an appointment and she is holding up well considering. I did hear her version of events and i hope she gets to clear her name. There should be a full page to exonerate her because She is truly a miracle worker and you are right there are so many of us she has helped when nobody else could or would. Just thought you may have wanted an update! She is one tough lady for sure.

      I did speak with her at length on the phone the day before our appointment and her explanation is clear, understandable and logical. I know her patients will continue to see her because we all know who she is, what she does and how much she cares for every animal in her care. People standing on the outside are too quick to believe a reporter and a picture….please think for yourself. This woman is gifted and heals animals nobody else can. If you enter a hospital and see sick people to you assume they are abused? Entering a private barn with horses being treated is the same thing. If you dont know what is going on you can easily make a misunderstand. Dr. kopinak shouldnt be punished for someones error and a reporters irresponsible journalism.

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