Thursday, November 17, 2011

ORA Recap of the Nov. 15th Responsible Animal Ownership By-Law Meeting in Hamilton

Following months of petitions, social media activities and protest rallies against Hamilton Animal Services’ senseless killing of thousands of animals every year, members of the public finally had the opportunity to be heard yesterday by Hamilton’s city councilors with regards to the pending "Responsible Animal Ownership By-law." Delegate presentations were restricted to a mere five minutes long which made the individual speaker’s task to condense all that needed to be said a truly challenging one.

The manager of Hamilton Animal Services, Sue O’Dwyer, declared in her opening presentation that the mandate of the HAC is to protect people from animals, immediately indicating a view that is hopelessly limited and behind the times. No wonder animals are remorselessly killed by the thousands every year at the HAC! Interestingly enough, Sue admitted that almost all the cats picked up by the HAC are tame, friendly cats, people’s pets who had the misfortune to be allowed outdoors by their owners and since there is an existing Hamilton bylaw prohibiting free roaming cats, they were picked up, taken to the shelter and condemned to death… apparently the HAC has to protect people against these horribly friendly cats!!!

Calgary Animal Services, Toronto Animal Services, and any other animal services for that matter, all share the same mandate to safeguard the health and safety of the public. But they also understand very well that in this day and age, the health and safety of animals also need to be prioritized and protected; the public, in fact, expects this. At the HAC, however, it still appears to be a novel idea.

To this day, the HAC is not open for public adoptions. The only way for an animal to get out of the shelter alive is to be “pulled” by one of the HAC’s approved rescue groups from Hamilton or the Greater Toronto Area. Having said that, it is important to note here that rescue groups should not automatically be assumed to have the space or financial means to do so. More often than not, it is because the emotional pressure is so great that a rescue group must feel compelled to save these unfortunate shelter animals, knowing that if they do not, the animal will be killed in just a few days.

The manager of the Hamilton Animal Control boasted that, in 2011, 800 fewer cats have been killed versus the 3000 put down in the first eleven months of 2010. She also announced that the “euthanasia” originally scheduled for yesterday morning had been cancelled (remember that Tuesday and Friday are scheduled killing days at the HAC).

We were glad to hear this news, however we do not feel that there is any reason for the HAC to boast when these accomplishments are not theirs. 800 fewer cats were killed and yesterday’s killing cancelled due to the combined efforts of the rescue groups who, succumbing to the usual emotional blackmail, have helped to rescue 800 more cats this year, including all of the urgent ones on the latest killing list before the pound closed at 4:30 PM on Monday. The real congratulations should go to all of the rescue groups that have made these achievements possible.

There are other ways to save the cats from the HAC without burdening the already overwhelmed rescues. It is also important to note that these Hamilton cats are taking the place of other cats out there that would otherwise be rescued.

This is what ORA has proposed:

1. Open doors to public adoptions (this will save lives and generate revenue through adoption fees);
2. Change the by-law prohibiting free-roaming cats: that is, to stop picking up people’s pets;
3. Establish a wide-ranging TNR (Trap Neuter and Return) program for feral cats;
4. Establish a low cost high-volume spay and neuter program;
5. Launch a cat licensing program. This will facilitate the return of pets to their owner and create revenues (see Bill Bruce’s “Calgary Model”);
6. Hire two full time veterinarians on salary in lieu of the commission paid present veterinarians (“paid per killing”). Full time veterinarians can take care of the animals in the pound and perform high volume spaying and neutering;
7. Extend opening hours to allow people to retrieve their pets that have been picked up by the HAC;
8. Establish educational programs, volunteer recruitment programs and work cooperatively with rescue groups, animal organizations and the entire community.

It was apparent to everyone present that the councillors at the meeting were not necessarily fully aware of everything that has been going on at the HAC. They seemed to be unaware, for example, that the Burlington-Hamilton SPCA has the first pick of the animals at the HAC to put up for adoption, leaving the city of Hamilton and the taxpayers with the cost of picking up the animals and caring for them while failing to pass over the adoption fees to the city pound. Additionally, the HB-SPCA takes the “best” dogs from the HAC, but very few cats, as they only have space for 40 cats! Only 40 cats, in such a big building with such a large paid staff! The councillors also learned about the costs of killing the thousands of animals every year as members of the public repeatedly stressed how Hamilton’s money could be better spent to establish programs of TNR for the feral cats and low cost, high-volume spaying and neutering. Bill Bruce’s Calgary model was notably mentioned several times in the presentations from the public and by some of the councilors as well.

We left the meeting feeling that the councillors attending were indeed concerned with what they had learned throughout the day, and that they might consider to bring changes to the bylaw, especially in the matter of cat licensing, to boost revenues for new animal services programs and allow a higher rate of return to owners.

The planning committee's next meeting has been scheduled for January 2012, so now would be an excellent time for you to write to the Hamilton Mayor and councillors to have your say at this critical juncture, to help Hamilton to shape the Responsible Animal Ownership By-law, and to help the HAC to achieve the necessary changes in order to stop the unacceptable killing of so many animal lives.

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