Although he had been given an additional six months to work on an agreement for the provision of animal services, licensing and by-law enforcement manager Orest Katolyk is back on the agenda at Community and Protective Services Committee (CPSC) with a proposal in hand.
Back in September the committee had been underwhelmed by the recommendations put before it. In a bureaucratic shuffle, Katolyk had been handed the portfolio that had previously resided with Environmental Services manager Jay Stanford who had won the respect and trust of animal welfare advocates. It was a bit of a leap from building controls to animal welfare and, not too surprisingly, the deal that Katolyk had put forward had a distinct sense of “control” about it rather than the “care” model that had been promised as a result of a lively, well-attendedpublic meeting a couple of years earlier. Hence, the extra six months to get it right.
But once a recommendation for a contract has been given, it's hard to pull back. There's always the risk that the lucky winner will take it amiss if expectations generated by the staff report fail to materialize. In this case, Katolyk had suggested that the provider of thirty years' standing, Urban Animal Management (UAM), be kept on for another five years at a cost of nearly 3 million dollars per year.
That's a fair chunk of change, and UAM, under the business name of London Animal Care and Control (LACC), was not about to see it jeopardized. In fact, just to make sure that it was on top of things, UAM had sent its lawyer to observe the most recent meeting of the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (AWAC) to make sure that nothing untoward or actionable was said. It cast a chill over that group of volunteers whose function it is to advise council on animal welfare matters through CPSC. AWAC had already been warned that it could not comment unfavourably about the service provider since that would be tantamount to interfering with a tender in violation of the city's purchase policy.
As it turns out, however, UAM need not have worried. Staff has not changed its position and is back with a recommendation in favour of LACC continuing to provide the services at least for another five years. Although the amount that staff recommends should be paid to the pound for carrying out its existing functions of dealing with strays, nuisance complaints, and pet licensing is just over two and a quarter million bucks, not nearly three, in fact, this is what LACC had asked for in the first place. It had been staff's suggestion that LACC be given an extra $600,000 or $700,000 for some additional things like retaining the services of a vet and doing licensing blitzes to round up unsuspecting cats and making their owners pay for their continued survival.
All in all, there is little in the report that addresses the concern expressed by the previous committee, the concern that the proposal fails to move the city to a model of“care” are opposed to the current “control” approach. The money for veterinarian services which is supposed to allow homeless animals with minor medical problems escape the executioner's block has simply been moved into a separate pocket awaiting the green light from the 2014 budget discussion. There is also a proposal for purchasing a couple of portable buildings and operating a cat adoption program, also to go to the 2014 budget. So far, neither of the contenders for the city contract see the proposal as a viable one since the ongoing funding would be only $200,000 per year, less than one-tenth of what is currently spent on the contract.
All this re-arranging of the pieces of the puzzle makes it difficult to see what the final picture is.
One thing that it is not is a move toward a no-kill policy. Currently, the likelihood of a cat making it out of LACC alive are slim. The fate of the majority is death. About 500 manage to find a new home either from LACC or through the volunteer rescue groups which LACC uses. Those groups could be seen at the Western Fairgrounds this past weekend trying to raise money for their humane activities, money that the city is so eager to give LACC to “euthanize” well over a thousand cats every year.
A “no-kill” policy is not realistic according to the staff report. However, the committee's concerns were being taken into account. The report suggested some targets: 50% of cats should get out alive by the end of year 3 and 70% by year 5. It's not an ambitious target, but it at least suggests movement.
The animal rescue groups are not thrilled. They want a much more aggressive program and better supervision and accountability for the successful bidder. It's true that there have been very modest gains in reducing the kill rate but primarily because LACC no longer picks up “strays”; it deals only with those that someone has brought in, something that many are reluctant to do once they learn that the cat is more likely to be destroyed than re-homed.
But the city seems wedded to the providers of the current service. Thirty years of togetherness seems not to have dampened the city's ardour for the for-profit business which was, in fact, its creation. UAM had no particular credentials for the service it provides to its only customer, the taxpayers of London. Even some of its capital assets have been provided by us, an unusual arrangement indeed. And it seems the city on our behalf is prepared to go even further by preparing to enter into a Joint Venture to create an adoption centre.
The meeting Monday evening is likely to be another lively one, with a protest by animal welfare advocates planned for 6 o'clock and some delegations at the 7 o'clock meeting itself.
The composition of CPSC itself is slightly changed with Baechler and Usher replaced by Branscombe and Matt Brown. None of the committee members are part of the Fontana stalwarts, and its doubtful whether that would make much difference on this issue. The previous committee was unanimous in its concern to see a movement to the “care” model with the mayor its most outspoken proponent.
Whether he will find the new recommendations more to his liking remains to be seen.