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Monday, January 21, 2013

Catastrophic measures

A few days before Christmas a small visitor sought us out, a kitten about 8 months old judging by the size. Very attractive, too. A fuzzy champagne, maybe strawberry blond, with a beautiful bushy tail that he held curled high over his back when he began to gain some confidence.

He reminded me a lot of Harry, in all except colour and, as we discovered, in sex. Harry had been a black female who had appeared on our doorstep to get out of a snowstorm a couple of weeks before Christmas in 2004. She had made an excellent household companion until her death from cancer a year and a half ago.

Abandoned and awaiting a new home
Now, as then, we did our best to locate the owner, asking around the neighbourhood, putting up notices in the local pet food store, scanning the lost pet ads. What we found on both occasions was that our experience was being duplicated on nearly every street across the city. There were a few cats that their families were actively seeking; there were far more whose owners wanted someone else to take over. They were moving, they had lost jobs, they had allergies, the boyfriend didn't like cats, there was a new baby, the cat had unexpectedly had kittens. Others had found cats and were offering them to whomever would take them. Some of them had kittens too. A lot of abandoned cats.

In London, the issue of pet ownership, or lack there of, is contracted out by the city to the London Animal Care and Control (LACC), a private for profit outfit that has had that contract for more than 30 years.

Over the last few years, ever since council established an animal welfare advisory committee (AWAC), there has been the hope that London could follow the lead of some more progressive cities, like Calgary, for example, and deal with animal abandonment in a more humane and progressive way and indeed, for a while it looked as if that might be the case.

AWAC brought the former Londoner, Bill Bruce, to town to outline what had been accomplished in Calgary. A lot of people got really excited about the possibilities; maybe we could do something here besides killing cats or dumping them on overburdened shelters and rescue groups. There was even, after a delay of nearly a year, a request for proposals from the community. After all, the contract with LACC was over $2M, most of which is not recovered by license fees. And from time to time, the city has actually provided extra money for capital improvements, a very unusual way to deal with a private vendor.

But late last fall the optimism was dashed when staff declared that it needed more time to review all the proposals before it despite the fact that the expiration of the contract after a 30 year run had been known for years. There had been too many organizational changes to deal with this in a timely fashion. It recommended that the LACC contract be extended for another year, maybe two. The wish was granted.

The members of AWAC were devastated. They had worked hard to provide research and recommendations, and nothing would happen for another two years, two years which would probably see another three or four thousand cats and kittens exterminated, if past experience was anything to go by.

And that was a sore point, too, because although LACC is supposed to send reports to its employer, the city of London, statistical reports on how the contractor is fulfilling his obligations to the city, somehow the reports are a long time coming. Although it is now 2013, the reports for 2011 still have not been presented to council or, of course, the public.

AWAC was understandably interested in seeing that report, particularly how many dogs and cats had been killed and how many had been sent along to be cared for through volunteer animal rescue groups which in turn seek out foster homes for the abandoned pets.

Because LACC, although it runs an adoption service and it has an area where abandoned animals are caged, does not keep them for long. It's a rare cat that is held for more than four days before it meets its maker. Unless an animal rescue group claims it and finds a home, temporary or permanent.

But it's hard to find a foster home. Those who are willing to open up their hearts and their homes are already overburdened. And the costs of food and veterinary bills is not inconsiderable. Although the rescue groups accept donations and many have charitable status, the money raised rarely goes far enough to cover the costs.

And there is another barrier. Under London's by-laws, residents are limited to housing three dogs per household or two cats per adult person in the household. It's a very strange by-law. It means, for example, that if a couple had three cats and the husband died, the widow would have to get rid of one of the cats. It makes no sense.

But it makes even less sense for those who foster. Those wonderful, generous people are in short supply but their generosity can be punished at a time when we need them most, in economic hard times when pets become a luxury that can no longer be afforded.

It was that scenario that AWAC wanted to address when it came before the Community and Protective Services Committee last night. Among a number of recommendations was the request that council “consider” exempting from the by-law limiting the number of pets the foster homes “under the direction of known and recognized animal rescue groups”. Such exemptions already exist for pet shops, the Humane society, research facilities, etc.

It seemed a reasonable request. Like any other by-law, the proposed change would have to go through the usual process including a public participation meeting but surely, allowing people to volunteer their homes, their time, their efforts and their money picking up the pieces of other people's carelessness, callousness or inability to provide should be welcome to a council that wants its services provided for free. Many other communities have no limits on pet ownership providing that the animals in question are not a nuisance. So giving a break to those who want to help solve the problem of unwanted pets would seem like a no brainer.

Not to Councillor Bill Armstrong, however. Despite proclaiming himself to be sympathetic to animal welfare, this suggestion made him nervous. He wasn’t sure what the actual limits in the by-law were—was it two dogs and three cats?--but he was worried that an exemption would result in people not just giving temporary homes to an animal, but keeping it permanently. It would just encourage people to fill their homes with animals. Maybe 10 dogs.

Vicki Van Linden, one of two spokespersons from AWAC, tried to explain. He was thinking of animal hoarding, a mental illness. This was entirely different. For those involved in animal rescue, the situation was always one of crisis, an immediate need. There was no reason to believe that if an exemption was granted, that there would suddenly be an explosion of unwanted animals. But an exemption could reassure a potential foster provider about giving refuge to an animal in need.

Besides which, there are plenty of other laws in place to deal with the problems Armstrong foresaw, her colleague, AWAC chairperson Sara Rans pointed out. Laws that deal with animal cruelty or hoarding, noise by-laws, stuff like that.

Armstrong was not convinced. “Some animals are just not adoptable,” he pointed out. “What about them? Some people just can't say no.”

He obviously was not one of them.

And just what would he recommend? If you limit rescue and fostering, how do you deal with animal abandonment? The only options remaining are an explosion of feral animals and animal starvation or a tripling or quadrupling in killing.

Not exactly what you would expect from someone sympathetic to animal welfare.


Anonymous said...

Just as a matter of curiosity: how many cats or dogs are allowed per household by London bylaws?

Anonymous said...

Animal Care and Control should be let out of its contract and the London Rescue Groups should be allowed to run this centre. Also, the London Humane Society should not be recommending animals go to Animal Care and Control either. Not good. The only thing Animal Care and Control care about is the money not the animals and all on city council should be held responsible for the deaths of these poor animals who end up there. If city council and the mayor don't care about the people of the city of London how would anyone expect them to care about the lost and abandoned animals in London. It is so sad that they only care about themselves. People who foster these cats and dogs are the kind and caring people of this city and should be allowed to foster more than the allowed limit,then more animals might find a good home rather than meet death at the hands of Animal Care and Control. There should be more done to help these lost animals and seemingly no one knows how to handle the situation, which does not surprise me since city council does not know how to handle the City. Think it is time the rescue groups took over Animal Care and Control and looked after it. They would know more as to what to do and more animals would live and find good homes. This is coming from an animal lover and one who feeds the feral cats and stras on our street and we have 3 wonderful kitties of our own.

Gina Barber said...

Anonymous asked "Just as a matter of curiosity: how many cats or dogs are allowed per household by London bylaws?"

Answer: 3 dogs per household; 2 cats per adult in the household.

not afraid of change said...

Thanks for this insightful blog, Gina.

Another statistic is that London Care and Control receives 2.3 million dollars each year from the City of London. Rescue groups staffed by volunteers using their own vehicles and homes are a pretty good bargain for the city. In this time of zero percent tax increases it is surprising that council is not eager to help rescue groups do more.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful blog. Love your points too Anonymous. I think it is outrageous that we put a limit on how many animals are in the homes of foster homes. So the city would rather have the deaths of many more dogs and cats on their hands than amend this...........stupid.

There are many rescue groups in and around London who are assisting London Animal Care by taking these animals and then we put a limit on them, that just doesn't make any sense. I'm sure if the London tax payers were more aware of this they too would be outraged.

We, the people of London need to be more active and involved in what's happening with the stray and lost pets in London.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for rescuing animals, but in most parts of the city 3 dogs per household; 2 cats per adult in the household is more than enough.

Instead of pushing for raising limits, why not raise awareness to find more people that are willing to foster them.

I always hear about adopting a pet, but rarely about fostering.
I'm willing to bet that there are many throughout the city that would be willing to foster a pet or 2 IF they knew that option was out there.