‘Return to the Dark Ages of animal welfare’

Emotional fallout from SPCA decision to leave Campbell River

Heartbroken SPCA volunteers say the city’s decision to award animal control services to another company has forced the community back into the dark ages.

Sheila Keats and her husband Gary volunteered as dog walkers for the SPCA for more than nine years, and she’s devastated the city doesn’t see animal welfare as a priority.

“An essential service to our community is no more,” Keats says. “It’s up there with police, ambulance and fire as far as I’m concerned. Animal welfare is up there.

“It’s a sad day for the SPCA and a return to the dark ages of animal welfare, it is a step backwards. It’s hard to find any joy in all of this, it’s hard to make peace with this. It’s a shock and it’s hard to accept.”

The SPCA notified the community via a letter on its website on Wednesday afternoon that it would be ceasing its operations in Campbell River after 30 years of providing protection for animals.

That decision is already having a far-reaching effect on the community.

The SPCA had been partnering with the Campbell River and District Association for Community Living. Through the Hand-to-Paw buddy program, special needs clients formed strong bonds with the shelter dogs which helped them to open up and taught them how to brush, walk, and interact with dogs.

Nicky Good, a volunteer dog walker with the SPCA for three years, said it’s a blow to the clients to lose that program.

“That Hand-to-Paw – it made their day,” Good says. “And now all of that is gone.”

Also gone is the SPCA’s Bite Free program, taught by Judy Hagen and her dog Maggi, which demonstrated to daycare and school children the proper way to approach a dog and avoid being bit by an aggressive dog.

Then there’s the SPCA’s spay and neuter program which helped control the community’s feral cat population.

“Eight-hundred cats went out that door fixed, de-wormed, adopted,” Keats says. “Imagine the impact that has on the cat population – it reduces the cat population. Services for cats and small animals will no longer be available. This new company is operating an impound for dogs.”

Coastal Animal Control will deal with barking and biting complaints and will pick up and seize any unlicensed, injured, surrendered, stray, dangerous, vicious or dead animals.

City Clerk Peter Wipper said Coastal Animal Control will specifically deal with animal control.

“If you’ve got a barking dog the contractor will deal with that,” Wipper says. “The one thing that will be different is the SPCA ran a shelter whereby residents could surrender their animals to the shelter and the SPCA would care for them. Our pound will no longer do that.

“The pound will be available to the public just for them to pick up their dogs.”

Impounded dogs will remain at the former SPCA shelter on Merecroft Road for five days, according to Trevor Hughes, Coastal Animal Control Services of B.C.’s CEO. Dogs unclaimed within that time frame will be shipped to one of two Coastal Animal Control adoption centres on the Island.

“On the other hand,” Hughes said, “dogs that possess any form of identification or appear well fed and socialized may be held for several weeks while trying to locate an owner. After we have exhausted all avenues of re-uniting the lost pet with its owners, then and only then, the dog will be available for adoption.”

Hughes said, “Our priority to public safety and education is mirrored by our compassionate treatment of animals. We have been acting as an animal control and animal shelter for nearly 40 years on Vancouver Island.

“We have two large animal shelter branches so no dog is ever turned away due to lack of space.”

The pound in Campbell River will be open to the public from 4-5 p.m. Monday to Friday and from noon-1 p.m. on Saturdays or by appointment.

Keats says that does not provide any time for volunteers.

“In a nutshell there will be no volunteer opportunities for me at this point,” she says. “That place has been like my second home. I’ve never seen a more dedicated, hard-working group of volunteers. This has left a big gap in the community and a hole in my heart. And for the staff to get up on Tuesday morning to realize they’re unemployed…”

Good also feels for the staff – some of which have worked at the SPCA for most of their lives.

“How can you do that to local people who have given so much and bring in an out-of-town company,” Good says. “There’s just some things in life, sure it’s a lot of money but it’s the right thing to do to look after animals. Obviously it’s not a priority in this town, which breaks my heart.

“There was so much love for the animals up there. After having the SPCA here for 30 years it’s a huge step backward for animal welfare.”

Craig Daniell, chief executive officer with the BC SPCA, said the decision was made to close the Campbell River branch – which served the entire North Island and was losing $10,000 a year – because city council voted to award the city’s animal enforcement contract to a private out-of-town company, Coastal Animal Control.

“This difficult situation has arisen because of the city’s decision to award the pound service contract to a bidder who significantly undercut the BC SPCA’s proposal,” said Daniell.

The SPCA, which was paid $167,000 by the city in 2012 to administer both animal control and run the animal shelter submitted a cost estimate of $231,350 plus 50 per cent of all dog licensing revenue ($15,000) to provide those services in 2013 while Coastal Animal Control submitted a bid of $130,000. Council voted at a council meeting Jan. 22 to give the enforcement contract to Coastal Animal control but retain the SPCA shelter services at a negotiated amount.

City Manager Andy Laidlaw said the SPCA turned that offer down.

“Council had hoped the combination of continued access to the building and the grant-in-aid offer would have allowed the SPCA to continue to operate in Campbell River, especially because the grant funding appears to be more generous than what is typically offered to local SPCA branches by other communities,” Laidlaw said last week.

The SPCA, which cared for 1,193 animals in 2011 out of its Campbell River branch, says it was forced to pull out of the city because a $34,000 grant-in-aid from the city was not enough to sustain its operations and a paid 10-member staff.

That decision prompted the city to award both the enforcement and animal shelter contract to Coastal Animal Control for $130,000 per year, which falls into council’s animal control and pound services budget limit of $164,000.

People with animal complaints or wanting to make arrangements to have their pets picked up can contact Coastal Animal Control at 1-888-754-1397.