I Can Has Budget?

Yesterday, the Toronto Board of Health voted to boost the Animal Services budget up to $2 million, adding $833,100 to last year’s budget and creating 26 full-time equivalent positions.

The expenditure is expected to be made up with revenues, but citizens who came to speak to the board were skeptical that it would, given that last year the dog and cat licensing project had a $330,000 shortfall.

“I object to the spending of $800,000 for what is a public relations campaign,” said one concerned citizen.

According to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David McKeown, department research indicates that the city will have to do more than awareness.

“This report points out that we have 80 per cent awareness – most people know we’re requiring pets to be licensed, but we know there’s a portion of the population that won’t be licensed even if they know that they’re supposed to be unless there’s a significant threat of enforcement,” he said.

The program would allocate nine of the new hires to enforcement for non-compliance with the requirement under Municipal Code 349. Those who don’t purchase a license for their pet can face a fine of $240 or higher, and up to $5,000 if the case goes to court. The program will also include door-to-door enforcement (WTF?), and new processing costs.

This blogger would like to know how Toronto Animal Services is going to use the extra $833K to reduce their inflated kill rate and improve service so that animals can be returned or rehomed.

We expect that animal shelters exist to shelter animals who need a safe haven and a new home. There will always be animals in need of sheltering. Animal control policies need to ensure programs are in place so that no more animals need shelter and assistance than the community can handle, to keep the community active and engaged, to keep the animals moving out, not just in — but out alive, not in a body bag.

Of course, costs increase for everything in this perennially cash-strapped city. But dog licenses used to be free for spayed/neutered and microchipped pets. In 2001, fees went up. More staff were hired on. And now more staff are now being added along with the whopping dollar increase. Before our city councillors rubber-stamp this at the end of the month, can we please see some evidence of how the education-and-door-to-door strategy (we have ways of finding your pit bull…) will improve the lot of animals in our fair city?

Over at Bestfriends.org, Bill Bruce of City of Calgary Animal Services talked about ways to build a “shelter without walls”. He talked about the 4 pillars of responsible pet ownership, preventing aggression in dogs, humane education and how to make licensing work as a key to no-kill.

A shelter without walls; what does that mean?

In Calgary, it means a community of responsible pet owners where every person is taking responsibility for their companion animal. For context, the City of Calgary has an urban population of just over one million people and a dog population of approximately 105,000. We predict our cat population to be between 105,000 and 120,000.

What does it mean to be a responsible pet owner?

1. License and permanently identify your companion animal. Licensing and identification is the key to return to owner of lost animals. In Calgary, we are returning over 88% of dogs to their owner in 24 hours or less. Many do not even come to the shelter and driven straight home by the officer. Returning lost animals home quickly reduces the need for conventional shelters.

2. Spay or neuter your companion animal. We know that unplanned breeding is a major contributor to pet over population that fills shelters each year. Effective spay and neuter programs will reduce those populations of animals and reduce the need for conventional sheltering.

3. Provide the necessary food, medical care, grooming, training and exercise for your companion animal. The actions ensure the health (mental and physical) of an animal and if followed by every animal owner would reduce the need for shelters to house animals in distress.

4. Do not allow your companion animal to become a threat or a nuisance in the community. Many animals end up in shelters because of problems of aggression or roaming at large. Ensuring that your companion animal does not create problems in your community will reduce those animals that are seized in the interest of public safety and end up in shelters. Fulfilling this simple requirement would eliminate the trend of breed specific legislation so many municipalities are enacting to attempt to solve their animal issues.

If all citizens follow these four simple principles, according to Bill Bruce, sheltering can be reduced to the role of temporary housing while Animal Services locates the responsible owner and arranges safe return and emergency sheltering in times of disaster or to aid injured animals.

The City of Calgary has built its entire program on a foundation of Responsible Pet Ownership as opposed to the traditional animal control regulation. Responsible Pet Ownership is supported through education, support program and, when necessary, enforcement. All enforcement is targeted at behavior with a goal to modify the behavior to be in line with the 4 pillars.

Utilizing this approach, the City of Calgary does not support any breed specific legislation or restriction on the number of animals a person owns. The entire system is governed on the 4 pillars of responsible pet ownership.

Following this path, Calgary has successfully reduced the rate on aggressive incidents, (199 bites last year – with very few serious) reduced the rate of animal euthanasia (237 dogs last year), increased the number of animals that go home (88%) and reduced the number of dogs impounded (4800 last year). They have also started work on a spay and neuter clinic to be opened mid 2008 with a capacity to do 10,000 free spay and neuters per year for people who are not financially able to have it done. The entire program is financed on revenues, primarily licensing, with no tax based support. The new spay and neuter program is being funded through the new cat license program.

The goal of these programs is to create a city that does not have unwanted animals being held in shelters, a no kill, city, a city without aggressive animal incidents and a city of responsible pet owners caring for and being responsible for their companion animal.

Read Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy on the TAS budget

More on this, including Q&A at Windsor Humane.

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