Monday, August 8, 2011

Why We Must Keep Toronto Animal Services - A Volunteer's Perspective

On the core service review- cutting and outsourcing Toronto Animal Services a volunteer perspective.

The cuts put forth as “proposed opportunities” by KPMG would make any animal lover or supporter of what TAS does panic and rightly so. I am sure that’s what it was set out to do. Attending the Licensing and standards committee meeting on Monday July 25th was an informative experience to see firsthand what the report was about, what council had to say or what they could say at this early stage. There were valid points, facts and information introduced by groups and individuals supporting TAS, demonstrating that KPMG did not explore all options, or present a well-rounded review of TAS or its potential. This is something that KPMG, if necessary, will hopefully be instructed to do by council before any rash
decisions are made.

Volunteering for several years with cats at TAS has allowed for direct exposure to the hard work, dedication and progress that has been made. From being a city run “pound” (a word that conjures up many negative connotations) to a place that has done tremendous work over the years and has literally saved hundreds and thousands of lives through its adoption program via the shelter, and adoption events in the city. The goal of getting these animals into forever homes is a priority.

The hard work and dedication of its staff that care about the welfare of the animals in their facility has not gone unnoticed by volunteers, members of the public or various other animal groups.

TAS ensures adopted animals are spayed/neutered before they leave (to help control the pet population); they provide veterinary care, micro-chip, vaccinate, return lost pets home, pick up strays, injured or dead animals; take in animal surrenders at the shelter, respond to emergency calls or animals in distress (have assisted police and fire with animals involved in house fires or other protective custody situations), educate the public; and Importantly provide humane, compassionate care with the goal of increasing adoptions.

A few points we know are:

-Decreasing services and/or response times to emergencies is neglectful, cruel and distressing to the animals and members of the public

-TAS cannot be outsourced or run strictly for a profit. Animals will die in greater numbers, adoptions would decrease greatly and inhumane care of animals would occur

-When money is the bottom line you see less public access to low cost or free spay/neuter and adoptions, which in turn leads to more strays. Again more animals will be killed to cut corners or because it is “cheap” as the horror that has, and is still unfolding at Berger-Blanc in Montreal. This cannot happen in Toronto.

-There is no accountability with private companies as they have no responsibility to the public – that is why they are private!

-Public run shelter system has transparency and accountability as it belongs to all of the people of the city. Shocking and horrific outcomes like Montreal are less likely because the public is watching and can act. (Most people wouldn’t stand by and support an organization that would mistreat or abuse its animals)

-No other organization in the city could pick up the slack or take in the animals currently housed at TAS – the overflow of animals on the street would be a disaster

-TAS is legally bound take in animals from all situations including euthanasia cases. TAS euthanasia rates may seem high, but that is because they are legally bound to take these animals and provide this service. No other animal organization in Toronto shares this vital responsibility

- Licensing in some form needs to be addressed whether it is a combo of micro-chipping/licensing as it can work when implanted correctly. This method of keeping track of animals and owners deserves a fair look and revamp to make it work better

In closing, I adopted a special needs cat from TAS in 2005. A cat that would, in a system that the KPMG
report has proposed, be dead. He was found as a stray in downtown Toronto and brought in, saved from an uncertain, short and most assuredly hard life on the streets.

He is neutered, licensed and micro-chipped even though he is now strictly an in-door cat. Every year I pay $15 for his license and I can say without a doubt I HAVE NO ISSUE PAYING the fee as it is not a lot of money in the grand scheme of what it represents.

If my cat got out and went to a shelter they could notify/find me, and as I guardian there is accountability. What the KPMG report failed to mention is that in 2010 licensing made $600K above the actual cost of the programme + an additional $200K in donations brought in from on-line license renewal (people make a donation when renewing pets licenses). This is extra money that if the program was completely scraped would have to be found elsewhere, one doesn’t have to be an accountant to figure that out. Animals that would have never been helped otherwise (like my cat) benefit from this extra income (like animals that are injured with broken legs, require surgery etc...)

Council also needs to look at a comparison city like Calgary where licensing can work (something like 90% of dogs and more than half of cats are licensed); the revenue that it makes is used to fund a whole list of things that benefit both the animals and the people. Licensing fees fund things like education, bylaw enforcement, feeding shelter cats/dogs, getting strays back home, fund vet care for injured animals etc...All of this is clearly listed on their website. It is also important to note that Saskatoon has implemented a successful licensing campaign and it makes me wonder why the city or Torontonians wouldn’t want the same.

Animal lovers want to be re-united with their pet’s right? Something like licensing may help achieve this goal and more, why scrap it completely?

Toronto animal Services works, it is, and always will be, a core service. TAS continues to improve its services and systems and it does deserve a chance to succeed with the appropriate changes implemented. The public needs to be made aware of the benefits and options so they can help make this happen.

TAS must remain public, city funded, run and regulated, as we live everyday with animals, in close proximity in Toronto. TAS needs the support of city council and the people to continue to do their essential work, and to improve.

We are asking Mayor Rob Ford and Toronto City Council, TO DO THE RIGHT THING, for one of Toronto's most vulnerable and we are asking everyone to show their support by contacting their council member, the mayor and signing the petition listed below.

Toronto has a choice to make, we can simply turn our backs on the progress we made by dismantling services like TAS, or we can embrace compassion, empathy, ingenuity and lead by example, rising up to the challenge to turn this around.