Friday, October 9, 2009

So I guess the time has come for me to write the post I didn't want to write. I've had this in my draft box for over a month, because I didn't want to be the one to be saying this stuff - and what makes me qualified to say it? Unmitigated gall. That's about it. And a few years of hanging out in the rescue community in our province and seeing what's been going on and seeing what happens in other places.

And the thing I didn't want to write about is - how government, at every level - and the NS SPCA - are failing the companion animals in Nova Scotia - and how it's really completely unnecessary - because there are answers to the problems. Animals do NOT need to be turned away at shelters everyday like they are now - if only the proper people/organizations would be taking responsibility for them - and there ARE people who should be responsible for those animals.

The reason I feel compelled to write this post is because of Scott Millar's editorial this week in the Chronicle Herald - it really showed to me that the people at the top of the NS SPCA really don't seem to(in my view) have what I would consider should be their top priorities are - and (to me) - that is to advocate for the companion animal population in Nova Scotia.

Currently they're having problems with that - so why take on the rodeo - when that show comes to town the NS SPCA can't even do anything about any infractions because as of last year - the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture took over livestock cruelty cases - so the NS SPCA doesn't have jurisdiction over rodeo animals - so cruelty amongst rodeo animals is a moot point.

It almost seems like the organization is allowing personal agendas to rule at the NS SPCA - which doesn't sit right. Especially when the ideas that are being put forward may or may not be true - there was another opposing editorial in today's Chronicle Herald that was very compelling - which I'll paste at the end of this post - you can judge for yourself which one you find more reasonable.

So on to why I think Nova Scotia government and the NS SPCA are failing the lost and abandoned animals in Nova Scotia.

And I want to interject here that this is not at the shelter level, on the day to day - taking care of the animals level. The people who work in the shelters are amazing people who deserve a ton of credit for what they do and cannot be thanked enough. They have incredibly difficult and stressful jobs and there's not a day that goes by that they don't save more than several lives. This post has nothing to do with the NS SPCA at that level - although if the ideas that I am talking about were implemented - their jobs would a ton easier, and a lot more enjoyable.

It is very well reported that NS SPCA shelters - and every privately run shelter - turns away cats and dogs every day because they don't have space to take them in, and the question is - what happens to those animals? Are they then being abandoned by the side of the road? Are they being inhumanely killed? Are they being given away to people who abuse them?

In an article at the end of August the Dartmouth SPCA was turning away more than 30 cats a day - that's 210 cats a week. What is happening to those cats? That's 840 cats a month. And that's just one shelter.

In the same article, Sean Kelly said - "We’re not just a place to drop off unwanted animals. Our main reasons for being are investigation of cruelty complaints and education."

Somehow over the years there has been a public perception that has grown that the SPCA is a "rescue" - that they take care of all the animals that need helping - but they don't. What they actually do is to enforce the Animal Cruelty legislation that we have - and any animals that they seize through cruelty or neglect that's deemed adoptable - is put up for adoption, and that's pretty much it. Anything else is gravy. And I think the SPCA needs to realize that too.

In order to generate income they take on animal control contracts in places where they have physical buildings where they can house animals - like Halifax, and Sydney - and in those municipalities they adopt out the animals that are deemed adoptable who come in through their animal control contract. So that's a second stream that they receive animals.

And because sometimes they have extra cages - if someone brings in an animal they want to dump - they'll take that animal, but only if they have the space, which is rarely.

So that's the extent of what the NS SPCA does for homeless and abandoned animals in Nova Scotia.

Of course - they do a ton more than that - but that is really all they are mandated to do.

Towns and municipalities hire contractors (usually) to take care of their animal control functions. Sometimes it's the SPCA, sometimes it's one person, sometimes it's a company. And the extent to what level of care they give to animals in their community is varied. Sometimes they deal with cats and dogs, sometimes they only deal with dogs, sometimes they only deal with stray dogs and no cats - there's varying levels of animals that they'll spend their tax payers money on.

Provincially - money is spent to enforce the Animal Cruelty Act, and money is spent through the department of Agriculture.

Some of the questions we could ask are - how do animals need protection in Nova Scotia?

They need protection from owners who abuse them, they need protection from being abused in puppy mills, they need help when they are abandoned and homeless, and they need a dignified and painless death when there's no where to turn and/or it's the end of their life and they have no home.

And then there's the animals who just have owners who don't want them anymore and want to dump them - those are hardest ones for the "system" to manage - but they still need to be dealt with - and they are also the most controversial, because most people would say that it's the owner who should have to deal with them - but when that "owner" is turned away from the shelter - that animal could quickly turn into another demographic - abused, abandoned, or road kill - and who's fault is that? The owner, or the system who tossed him out there?

Okay, drum roll - I do have an answer for all of this hyperbole - especially for everybody who's totally pissed off by now. Can you guess who's job it is to be taking care of the abandoned and homeless animals in our province - financially?

I have figured it out. It's the municipalities and towns. They are the ones who should be paying for open admission shelters. There's no question that it is their jobs - and they should be paying for open admission shelters - and it should be nothing less than that. They should be paying for facilities that accept any animal that comes to their door - because those animals are going to show up somewhere else - and it's going to cost money at that other place. And it'll end up costing more in the long run.

So whoever it is that gets those contracts municipally and in the towns to operate the animal control contracts - it then becomes their responsibility to take in all the dogs and cats who need help - none will be turned away. And as Nathan Winograd says - it doesn't matter if they're brought in the door and immediately killed - it's better than operating a shelter that doesn't accept owner surrenders.

Until shelters are open admission - they are not no kill.

So every animal control contract in the province would accept owner surrenders - that is taken care of now - it's the municipal government level that's taking care of - as they should be!

On the television tonight there was a documentary about the cat overpopulation problem in Canada and it said that 400,000 animals are killed every year in shelters across Canada and 2/3 of those animals are cats. On the show Bill Bruce said you can't build your way to fixing the overpopulation probem, which is an interesting statement. He's going to be at the No More Homeless Pets conference in Las Vegas that I'm going to in a little over a week, so he'll be interesting to listen to.

Now on to the provincial government - they should be taking care of the farm animals and enforcing the Animal Cruelty Act - and the dogs in puppy mills - through the NS SPCA - and doing it properly - Nova Scotia currently has the lowest per capita ratio of Animal Cruelty officers per person in the whole of Canada - so it's no wonder that puppy mills are popping up all over the province currently, and people are feeling like there's no one out there enforcing people who abuse animals.

So long story short, Scott Millar`s editorial really brought to my mind the idea that the NS SPCA should really be focusing on things that it knows it can do something about, something that is going to have a positive effect on the lives of animals here in Nova Scotia, something that is going to build the bruised trust of the people here in Nova Scotia, something that is actually really needed, somthing that they do have jurisdiction over, something that is a good value for the donations that Nova Scotians give them - and that is the care of lost and abandoned animals here in Nova Scotia. It does not include trying to "inform" the "backwards" Nova Scotian populations about the horror of what rodeo is really all about, when in fact Mr. Millar's version of the rodeo may be just like what Peta's version of the seal hunt is to reality. Now THAT allusion is really going to piss some people off, but I'm just being coy.


  1. Joan,

    Thank you so much for that articulate post. It has been well-needed for a long time!

    I fully agree with you that the responsibility needs to lie with the muncipalities.

    If the municipalities were responsible, as they should be, and took this on perhaps we would have little difficulty in getting the laws changed that we need changed to deal with abuse, cruelty and neglect in this province.

    Perhaps then municipalities would understand the need for education and funding for TNR and the need for such amenities as dog parks etc.

    As a recent member of the NS SPCA Advocacy Committee chaired by Scott Millar I resigned because of precisely your views. I was on the committee as a member of ARPO - Advocates for Responsible Pet Ownership. In that light and on a personal note after expressing my opinion clearly to both the committee and the President of the SPCA on my concern about the direction of the committee I resigned from the committee as there seemed little willingness to accomodate any change of direction.

    It is not that I dont have concerns for sharks, rodeo animals, circus elephants and many other animal issues that the committee seemed headed to discuss. My issues was with the timing and the priority of need in this province. Cats and dogs are of the greatest need in this province. With effective and targeted advocacy there would be better chance to effect more animals and prevent more cruelty by targeting these animals and other "pets" with the limited funding and precarious standing of the SPCA in the public's viewpoint.

    From my viewpoint the advocacy committee of the SPCA should have been focused on advocating for change in policy and laws by municipal governments. Advocating for municipalities to take on more responsibilty for the job they are being neglectful of and as I see responsible for.

    The committee should be advocating strongly for TNR programs and working closely with their education committee to send cohesive and clear messages to the public.

    Also, they should be onboard to face the real problems Nova Scotia is facing with current legislation changes in other provinces that make Nova Scotia a real opportunity for Puppy Millers. Advocating for laws to be changed at least as they have in other provinces to help prevent this.

    All these things would be more effective in preventing animal cruelty than producing an "Opinion" piece on the Rodeo coming to town for a day.

    I do so appreciate the long hours and dedication so many staff and volunteers put in for the SPCA not only at the shelter level but in fundraising, education etc. The animals that make it through truly benefit from these efforts.

    Again, thank you for such an articulate and well presented view of the reality of what "No Kill" really means and how we should be working to achieve it by putting the responsibility on those who should be responsible for it - our governments.


  2. Anonymous7:59 AM

    pretty interesting that the Cape Breton SPCA, known for being notorious, was an open admission shelter before the current board of the Nova Scotia SPCA disallowed them to be. Too expensive to kill the animals but now they may be on the streets. I'm afraid to visit the area this weekend.

  3. Anonymous10:38 AM

    May I suggest a new event for these rodeos. A rider on a horse with a rope chases a 6 month old dog,lassos him jerks him to the ground jumps off his horse pounces on this baby dog and ties his legs. Cruel, I think so and no less so when it is a baby calf rather than a dog.Rodeos are not cruel"Give Your Head a shake".

  4. I don't get your point, anonymous commenter. What skill would that show? I've never known of a herd of dogs have a few errant dogs leave the herd and have to rangled and brought back to the herd, have you? What you're proposing is actually quite ridiculous. I think you should give your head a shake.

    I understand what you're trying to do though - saying that cruelty is cruelty - and I'm just not understanding it because it's being done to a species of animal that I obviously have no empathy towards, since I have dogs as pets and not cows. You are obviously not a regular reader of this blog - so I will let you know that I am one of those people who sees all sentient beings as being equal - cows, pigs, dogs, and humans. We are all the same as far as I'm concerned - and to eat a cow is the same thing as eating a dog or a chicken. They're all equally bad. I do actually get that.

    Every time I eat cow I realize his or dna is blending with mine, and I thank him for it. And the only reason why I don't have a cow for a pet in my house is because he won't fit in my bed. Otherwise I would, because they have amazing eyes.

    So you can take your superior attitude and stuff it, because my superior attitude remains intact, thank you very much.

  5. Thanks Joan, for this post. Turning away surrenders is ridiculous and yes, that is where the focus should be. I did not that surrendered dogs had no place to go in NS. And Heather, my first thought reading the post was that if it hits the pocket books of municipalities, there is a good chance that laws will be changed and I wanted to comment on that, but you beat me to it.