(Letter submitted to the committee reviewing cuts to Toronto Animal Services from blog reader and concerned citizen, Dianne.)

Introduction:

I am a resident of Toronto and a lifelong pet owner. I have been involved in rescue, fostering and transport. I have fostered kittens for Toronto Animal Services and dogs, cats and kittens for several other organizations. All but one of my owned animals have been rescued animals.

Preamble:

In respect of Toronto Animal Services (“TAS”), the section of the core services review report available online relating to animal services (“RRAS”) appears to consider only the following:

- Pet licensing and enforcement
- Animal by-law enforcement and mobile response
- Animal sheltering and adoption
- Animal care and enforcement.

The RRAS does not appear to contemplate the additional valuable services provided by TAS:

- Working with rescues to improve the chances for adoption of animals;
- Spay/neuter clinic for cats;
- Reuniting lost pets with their owners;
- Humane education;
- Dog bite prevention education for schoolchildren;
- Volunteer opportunities; and,
- Low-cost euthanasia to the public.

I find the RRAS confusing, as it lumps together unrelated services such as animal care and enforcement when those are very different services. It does not explain why it finds certain services to be “high standard” and I fail to understand the issue with a high standard of service.
Without the TAS financial data, I am unable to directly address specific issues. However, according to the RRAS, reducing TAS services does not result in any appreciable saving for the City. The suggested savings are low to medium and are mid- to long-term cost reductions rather than immediate savings. The RRAS also does not contemplate the social and ethical impact of the proposed changes.
Small “tweaks” to the TAS revenue model could generate additional revenue and remove any consideration of reduced services.

Commentary:

Sheltering and Adoption

There are only two options for an unclaimed animal in a shelter. Death or adoption.
A shelter cannot be run for profit. To do so is to do it on the backs of the voiceless creatures a shelter is supposed to serve. To do so is to turn a shelter into a slaughter house.

Any outsourcing or privatization of animal care has the potential to create a situation of animal cruelty. To produce profit, a for-profit operator may employ unqualified people (for lower overhead), permit inhumane handling of animals (for efficiency), stint on food and medical care for sheltered animals (solely for the bottom line), kill for convenience (solely for the bottom line) and use inhumane methods of killing (solely for the bottom line). A for-profit pound has no interest in working with rescues to save animals. A for-profit operator may not wait the requisite “stray claim” period of time before selling microchipped and owned animals to research laboratories (which I understand has happened in Ontario). A for-profit operator will not see the sentient being, only the dollar signs.

There is the issue of the four shelters which were built with taxpayer money and the land on which they are located. These assets should not be surrendered to a for-profit operator.

A very important issue is that a for-profit operator may not be transparent in terms of animal care and financial information.

A for-profit operation may deteriorate to the level of Berger Blanc in Montreal, a for-profit pound that has tainted the reputation of the City of Montreal internationally.

I cannot think of a not-for-profit agency with the resources necessary to run the City’s shelter system. The City must not contemplate external agencies that do not support pet ownership such as Humane Society of the United States and Peta; that can only lead to disaster. These organizations spend millions on lobbying against pet ownership but virtually nothing on supporting animal rescues and shelters.

Animal by-law enforcement

This is another TAS service that cannot be outsourced. By-law enforcement is a very important role and is part of the public safety responsibility of the City, particularly with regard to dogs running loose and attacks by dogs on humans and other animals.

A for-profit operator will either refuse to take on this service, or take every opportunity to make money from the situation. This may lead to unjust or false charges against City residents (in an attempt to collect more money from fines), resulting in damage to the City’s reputation and increased legal costs for the City as residents fight the unjust or false charges. A for-profit operator may also send out untrained staff to retrieve aggressive dogs which may result in injury to the staff and/or the dogs.

I would also point out that cruelty to animals has been proven to be a precursor to cruelty to humans, particularly the vulnerable - women, children and seniors. TAS can run a two-pronged approach to this social problem, using humane education in an attempt to reduce animal cruelty and its care investigations to identify individuals who may escalate to cruelty to humans.

I am not clear on KPMG’s comment about delivering the services city-wide instead of by district. Surely providing the service by district allows animal control officers to learn the problem areas and owners in their district, as well as providing quick response. If an aggressive dog is threatening your children in a schoolyard, I doubt that you want to wait several hours for a response.

Mobile Response

Having TAS pick up surrendered animals prevents abuse of the animals and more strays in the streets. There are enough “dumped” animals now; please do not add to the number. Implementation of this suggestion will not reflect well on the City.

TAS pickup of dead wildlife and domestic animals from the streets prevents bacterial growth and additional animal deaths (of predators willing to eat dead animals). Leaving corpses in the streets for additional periods of time is a public health threat as well as a blight on the City to those who live and visit here. It is akin to having people pour their waste into the streets, a process which caused numerous cholera epidemics and the “Great Stink” of 1858 in London, England.

There is another reason not to outsource this. Untrained staff may not care enough or be able to distinguish between dead and severely injured animals, resulting in live animals being thrown in with the dead and either crushed in a garbage truck or incinerated alive in a crematorium.

There is also the ethical issue, not addressed in the RRAS, of leaving an injured and suffering animal to die in the street by increasing the time for mobile response. Implementation of this suggestion will not reflect well on the City.

Volunteer Opportunities

This is a very important service provided by TAS to the City, particularly in light of the Province’s requirement that a student serve a specific number of volunteer hours before graduating from secondary school. This also allows residents to participate in animal care by dog walking, cat and rabbit grooming, fostering of animals, and serving at special events. This raises the profile of the City of Toronto as caring and compassionate.

Licensing

Licensing is essential revenue and should be retained as mandatory, as license revenue goes to operation of the TAS shelters and services. Instead of marketing it negatively by pronouncing “it’s the law”, it should be marketed positively by detailing the benefits an owner receives from licensing, such as:

- A free ride home for a lost licensed pet if the owner can be contacted; and,
- Emphasizing that the money from licensing goes to animal services in the city and detail the services – the adoptions, the work with rescues to place special needs animals, the low-cost cat spay/neuter, the educational services, the veterinary services and the humane euthanasia for injured animals.

One improvement in the licensing process would be putting a “change of contact” function online so that a pet owner with a licensed pet can, using the license number, easily update business or residence information. This would improve the rate of return for lost pets without the administrative cost of processing a telephone call, fax or e-mail.

TAS should consider collaborating with veterinarians, rescues and pet supply stores, placing license application forms with veterinarians, rescue organizations, groomers and pet supply stores. The veterinarians, rescues, groomers and stores would not be agents of the City and would not be responsible for collecting and remitting revenue. Instead, they would be promoters of licensing and provide new pet owners with the knowledge of how and why to license their pets.

Spay/Neuter

This is a well-used service and must be retained. The cost could be increased slightly, by $5 or $10, which considering the number of animals spayed could generate an increase in revenue.

It is also an area where I would like to see the City expand its role and, if the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association can be convinced of the need and benefit, have a mobile spay/neuter clinic that would travel to neighbourhoods in the City, providing low-cost spay/neuter “on the ground”. A mobile spay/neuter clinic has been run very successfully by Pasado’s Safe Haven in the United States (see http://www.pasadosafehaven.org/spay-station/ ). A mobile spay/neuter clinic could be made possible by the City partnering with charitable foundations and with pet supply manufacturers, reducing the initial and operating costs to the City, reducing the number of unwanted and stray animals and ultimately improving the livability of the City.

Summary:

The RRAS shows only low to medium potential cost reductions over the mid- to long-term, without any consideration of the wider role of TAS or of the social and ethical impact of the proposed changes.

Slight adjustments to the TAS revenue model could increase revenues and support TAS operations.



6 Comments to “Presentation to July 25, 2011 City of Toronto Licensing and Standards Committee”

  1. Laura HP says:

    Wow that is perfectly written. Huge kudos to Dianne, I hope they listened to everything she said. Well reasoned, balanced and informative.
    I hope the meeting went well for TAS!

  2. Biscuit says:

    This is brilliant. I wish I could have made it to the meeting!

  3. Mel B says:

    Very, very well said! Hopefully calmer heads prevail. :]

  4. deva says:

    A very well thought-through response. Keeping fingers crossed. Is there a known deadline for the decision, or can the city shilly-shally for months with this?

  5. Carol H says:

    Brilliant as always Dianne. I would expect nothing less from you!!

  6. First rate analysis, Dianne! I hope this swayed any doubters.

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.
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