The Prince Albert SPCA could soon be taking over animal control services as part of a cost-saving measure for the City of Prince Albert
On June 25, council approved a contract that will see the SPCA receive a $75,000 fee for locating and seizing stray dogs and cats, among other duties under the city’s Animal Protection Act.
The Prince Albert Board of Police Commissioners signed the contract, which runs until Dec. 31, 2019. Final approval must be given at a regular council session before it comes into effect.
Following the meeting, Mayor Greg Dionne said the decision made smart financial sense for the city.
“What they’re charging us is the cost of one bylaw officer,” Dionne said. “We were thinking of laying off two. That’s what it’s about.”
The motion’s initial passage through council chambers wasn’t quick, as several councillors expressed reservations with the available space at the SPCA, and the operating hours listed in the agreement.
If approved, the SPCA would have to make sure an animal control officer was on call from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, at a minimum. Statutory Holidays would be excluded.
Telephone service would also have to be provided from at least 8 a.m. until midnight, Monday through Friday, with direct route servicing to the SPCA messaging system for calls after hours.
Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha was one of several council members to express concerns about the item. Although he said the agreement was “long overdue,” he said it wasn’t worth signing if Prince Albert citizens weren’t getting good service.
“If were’ passing pet collection or dog and cat catching over to the SPCA, I think our residents need assurances that if they call, somebody’s going to respond to that,” Botha said.
“In my mind, there’s very little justification for the change,” added Ward 8 Coun Ted Zurakowski, another council member who was hesitant about supporting the agreement. “In the report, I’m trying to find why is this a better level of service? How does this help our taxpayers or the city? How does this improve our lives, and most questions aren’t answered.”
Available space was also a concern. The Prince Albert SPCA is a designated “no kill” shelter, meaning they do not euthanize healthy animals. That policy can sometimes lead to a lack of space. In the past, the organization has shipped animals to shelters in other cities like Victoria, which received roughly 50 cats from Prince Albert last summer. In extreme cases, the organization has stopped taking any animals at all.
Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller said she’s concerned the SPCA won’t have enough room to fulfill its new mandate with that policy.
“For me, a pound is a pound and our taxpayers pay them to be one,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, you have the animals for five days. If nobody comes and gets them, you have a job to do, and as a taxpayer asking for service, your job is to euthanize the animals, and that’s the way that is, as harsh as that is.”
Miller added that she thought animal control was more effective when performed by unionized city employees, and hoped to see them return to that role.
However, for other councillors, financial considerations were the dominant concern. Dionne was the most vocal council member in defending the proposed agreement,
“For years, this council has been talking about how expensive it is to do dogs and cats with bylaw. That’s been no surprise. That’s what motivated everyone, and that’s why the (police) commission took that issue on, because this council continued to say to us how much money we spend.”
Dionne added that the deal made sense because the SPCA was the only organization in the city with the necessary staff and facilities to act as a pound, limiting council’s options. If the agreement goes through, the city may not have to fill several vacant bylaw positions, which could save more money. Instead, the SPCA would hire somebody to take care of the issue. City bylaw officers would still assist if needed, but the issue would only be a secondary concern.
“The reason it’s going this route is 100 per cent cost. It has nothing to do with level of service, because (residents) are going to get the same level of service,” he continued, calling the SPCA a natural fit for the role.
“Bylaw officers are getting paid very well, and 40 per cent of their time is going to picking up these animals,” added Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards, who also supported the agreement. “If we can refocus bylaw to actually enforce actual bylaws that are out there, this is a win-win for the city.”
Despite strong support from some councillors, the agreement is not guaranteed to go through. Signing it requires the city to introduce changes to the Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw, which requires a unanimous majority, something it did not receive at the last meeting.