TODAY’S ENTRY #947: A city council committee makes a move long talked about but never before implemented – to significantly reduce the numbers of animals, particularly cats, killed at the animal care and control facility.
Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 – London
A city council committee made a courageous about turn Monday night, recommending for the first time that London embrace a 'no kill' concept in its handling of unwanted or stray dogs and cats.
Backed by the mayor, it was Councillor Nancy Branscombe who articulated most poignantly the difference between the city’s current policy of simply trying to push lower the number of animals put to death.
“My view is we should start with a no kill policy and everything should flow from there. That means the bar is high and euthanasia becomes the exception rather than the rule. Until we have a commitment to that first principle, then we are simply going to keep trying and never getting there.”
Added Mayor Joe Fontana: “Either we’re going to do this well or we’re not going to do it at all. We need a model that represents keeping more animals alive.”
Assuming city council endorses the recommendation by the community and protective services committee, London will join a growing number of North American cities putting finding new homes for unwanted companion animals far ahead of getting rid of them.
But the committee did not adopt the concept many other cities have, that animal care and control should be a non-profit partnership. Instead, it accepted a staff recommendation that Urban Animal Management (UAM), a private for-profit company, be awarded another five-year contract to provide animal care and control services for about $2.1 million a year.
UAM has held the contract for more than a quarter century but has been under considerable community pressure in recent years for what some say are high kill rates, particularly of cats.
Currently 43 per cent of cats and 95 per cent of dogs that arrive at the pound are either returned to their owners or found new homes. The rest, at a combined rate of about 35 per cent, are killed.
An overflow crowd in the public gallery in the council chambers at City Hall Monday wasn’t happy they got no chance to speak on the contract itself, awarded after a long-delayed request for proposal process. A city solicitor apparently warned the committee, which took a 25 minute in camera session in the middle of the discussions, that public comments during an RFP process ran the risk of legal action against the city.
While some may say the new policy the committee has recommended is strictly one of nuances, a no kill attitude would restrict euthanasia to relatively few cases where the physical or mental condition of an animal was such it was unlikely to be a good candidate for adoption.
It does not come without additional cost. To do all the things necessary to support no kill will add $700,000 in capital start-up costs and $325,000 in annual operating costs on top of the $2.1 million contract with UMA. That money is not yet in the budget presented to city council last week, one that already tops 4.2 per cent without any cuts.
To help move more animals through the system successfully, the committee has also recommended increasing to six the number of cats and dogs a family can house; bringing to 10 the number of cats foster families can look after; mandatory pet microchipping; a spay and neuter program for feral cats; a barn cat program; and, ultimately, a partnership for a new adoption centre.
Monday night's decision caps almost four years of back and forth argument between animal welfare supporters and city staff who, of late anyway, seemed more interested in the control aspects of the contract than the care. Mayor Fontana set them straight several months ago, when the contract was sent back for fine tuning.
It came back with changes, but the first of the 10 strategies that promised to reduce the number of animals killed, particularly cats, was to beef up enforcement at dog parks. One of the complaints made against UAM is the company offers those who buy dog or cat licenses very little in return.
But those concerns weren’t the centre of the argument Monday night.
While the committee made a clear decision previous councils have dithered about for years, they’ve given UAM four years to get the kill rate down to less than 10 per cent. The city will hire its own veterinarian to work inside the UAM facility and make final decisions about euthanasia.
Dianne Fortney, a long-time animal welfare activist in London, expressed the mood of many in the public gallery. “We want no kill and we want it now,” she said.
Whether, in hindsight, she and others remain unhappy about the committee’s decision, it nevertheless represents a significant move forward for London. Other communities, once launched on the no kill alternative, have found they’ve reached their goal more quickly than expected.
That could be, probably should be, London’s experience, especially if the animal rescue organizations here, all of which are run by volunteers eager to see no kill work, find more homes for cats.
For many though, the bitter irony is the for-profit company, Urban Animal Management, will continue to derive more benefit from what will undoubtedly mean more work by the volunteer sector.