Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Thanks to Bill Bruce, Calgary is soon to be the cat's meow when it comes to no-kill control of our pet population
Mon, September 1, 2008 By Michael Platt, Calgary Sun

It's only a shovel full of soil, but it represents the last grave required for an unwanted animal in Calgary.

In any other city, never having to euthanize another adoptable cat or dog would be a far-fetched fantasy, because in most cities, thousands of stray and abandoned animals are killed every year. Calgary, when it comes to animal control, is the envy of the continent.

Tomorrow, as groundbreaking takes place on the site of this city's first public neutering clinic, the countdown starts on the final unnecessary animal death, making Calgary the first major city in Canada to officially go no-kill in every animal shelter, public and private.

"Within three to five years, we'll be a no-kill city," said chief Animal Control officer Bill Bruce. "No animal will be killed unless it's in the best interest of the animal."  The neutering clinic may be the final feather in Bruce's cap, the retirement-bound bylaw boss having made Calgary's animal control program the best in North America.

He says the clinic is the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to solving Calgary's problem with unwanted pets, and all shelters, public and private, will enjoy the benefits.  "It doesn't matter which shelter it is when an animal dies, we all have blood on our hands," said Bruce.  "When we say no-kill, that's for the entire city, not just the city shelter."

When it opens next year, the clinic will provide no-charge neutering for pets from low-income homes, using money generated through the sale of cat licences -- no tax dollars involved. Indeed, the $1.5-million clinic itself -- to be built beside the existing pound in Ramsay -- is also being paid for out of cat licence fees.  "We're funding the whole thing through cat licences," said Bruce, who's become a sought-after animal-control expert, speaking in cities across North America.

Calgary's cat-licensing bylaw, so controversial when it was introduced in 2006, has already resulted in a 50% reduction in feline euthanization, as owners are reunited with their lost cats.  That's down from 4,500 cats euthanized annually in Calgary before licensing.

The new clinic, to be staffed by a full-time vet, is predicted to make the death chamber all but obsolete.

Calgary already has a no-kill policy for dogs, meaning only ill or vicious canines are euthanized, and only a few at that. Of 5,000-plus dogs taken into shelters each year, only a handful don't make it out again, the rest either adopted by a new owner or reunited with the old one. It used to be that half of impounded dogs died, half went home. Most cities in Canada have a 20% euthanization rate for stray mutts.

It's hoped the neutering clinic will do the same for Calgary's cats -- the math experts say that for every five felines spayed or neutered, there'll be one less unwanted cat ending up in a Calgary shelter. The free program for low-income pet owners is bound to irk some, whether it's paid for through licences or not.  Why would someone who can't afford to properly care for a pet own one in the first place?

That's a moral issue Bruce refuses to bite into, saying he's only concerned with reducing the number of unwanted kittens born each year.  "They have a right to have pets and we want to ensure they're properly cared for, so we don't end up with more unwanted pets," he said. "We can reduce the number of animals in the shelter by reducing the number of unwanted animals being produced."  It's all part of his philosophy about animals and their owners.

Bruce targets owners, rather than pets, saying "any animal that ends up in a shelter is there because the human end of the relationship failed."  His campaign for owner responsibility, including a bylaw with strict rules and stiff fines, has resulted in a dog licensing rate of over 95%.  With the cat-licensing program already working well -- critics predicted it would be a dismal failure -- animals are finding their way home.  "Our return rate for cats has doubled since we started licensing," said Bruce.

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