What would you say to a Metropolitan Animal Control department who’s:
- Day-to-day operations are not funded by taxpayer dollars?
- Canine licensing compliance rate is in excess of 90% and a feline licensing compliance rate at nearly 60% and rising?
- Maintains NO pet ownership limit laws?
- Has no Breed-Specific legislation, and sees no need of it?
- Euthanasia Goal is an adamant “No healthy, adoptable pet should be put down” See here for statistics
- Citizen satisfaction rate is 91%, second only to the Fire Department?
Welcome to the Animal Services department of Calgary, Alberta, where I was recently able to sit down with Bill Bruce, Calgary Director of Animal & Bylaw Services.
“Its not about enforcement, its about compliance” –Bill Bruce
The Calgary model of Animal Services is founded on a number of principles that are thought-provoking in their dramatic shift from the standard Animal Services approach. Bill’s team operates from the perspective that the goals of municipal level legislation are to set community standards and framework for maintaining those standards, aiming to truly change behaviour, rather than write tickets & seize animals. This is achieved through a combination of constant, positively structured public education, a trust-based model with the citizenry, No-Kill goals and the highly innovative “My License is My Ticket Home” program.
The Licensing program structure itself is fairly simple.
- All animals over 3 months old must be licensed with a $250 fine if an animal is found to not be licensed
- for puppies (up to six months old) and altered dogs – $31.00;
- for unaltered dogs – $52.00.
- altered cats – $10.00
- unaltered kittens (up to six months old) – $15.00
- unaltered cats – $30.00
No proof of alteration is required, but if an intact animal is picked up and found to be licensed as altered there is a $250-$500 penalty for giving false information when applying for a license. A trust based model, but on with consequences for breaking that trust. In exchange for their high levels of compliance, Calgary citizens receive:
- Feed and shelter cats and dogs in a veterinarian inspected facility.
- Provide emergency medical care for injured cats and dogs.
- Calgary Animal Services adoption program. (including videotaping of every assessment and follow up even after adoptions)
- Educate cat and dog owners about responsible pet ownership.
- Help neighbors resolve their animal-related problems.
- Return lost cats and dogs and enforce the Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw without requiring funding from city taxes.
The “Return lost cats and dogs” service is a massive success with the city residents. In Calgary, if a dog or pet is picked up at-large and is licensed they are not dropped off at the shelter to await the owner’s discovering them there. In Calgary, the Animal Services Officer has a laptop in the truck with a direct link to the licensing database, a cell phone & a GPS allowing the owner to be contacted and the animal to be taken directly home without ever setting foot in the shelter. All the while, the animal is in a temperature controlled section of the vehicle, This approach is not only popular, it is practical and financially responsible. The pet that goes directly home does not cost Animal Services in time or resources. It is an animal that does not bring disease to or catch disease within the facility. Only if an owner cannot be located is the animal taken to Animal Services.
The Calgary Animal Services facility is planned at every turn with practicality and fiscal responsibility in mind. Each housing area is designed with positive pressure air flow. Air is pushed into each room from ceiling vents while each housing is individually vented so that air flows out through the back of each enclosure to an exhaust vent. This minimizes airflow between animals and minimizes potential disease transmission. They have a state-of-the-art veterinary facility in-house for pre-operative set up, surgery, digital x-ray, dental work room and blood analysis equipment plus separate recovery area for dogs and cats. This allows the veterinary staff to perform all work in-house to reduce outlying costs while beginning the implementation of a low-cost spay/neuter clinic for low income residents, (The upcoming low-cost spay neutering program is entirely funded by the increasing number of cat licensing fees)
“You need to be extremely careful of unintended consequences.” – Bill Bruce
The direction of the Calgary Animal Services model began when Bill Bruce took the position of
Director of Animal Services and By-Laws 10 years ago. Coming from a Traffic Engineering background, he brought a fresh eye to both programs with a sharp focus on the intended and unintended consequences of potential legislation. His background in Conflict Mediation led him to make certain everyone is at the table; breeders, Kennel Clubs, rescue and Animal Services all together. No consensus? No law.
Pet limit laws are an example of Bill Bruce’s eye for unintended consequences, as the idea was raised by the City Council. Here is the scenario he put forth to the City leaders which led them to retract the idea. “Grandma has 3 Yorkies, a combined total of 21lbs. Her best friend has a Yorkie as well. She visits Grandma everyday for tea and the Yorkies play together. Grandma’s friend passes away and her Yorkie is willed to Grandma so that the Yorkies can all be together. Now Grandma is a criminal, under a 3 dog limit law while the biker down the street with 3 out-of-control Rottweilers is just fine?” (No offense intended to Rottweilers. Bill Bruce is a big fan of the breed, pit bulls too.)
“If you are being a responsible owner, its none of my business how many animals you own” – Bill Bruce
To that end, the Calgary Responsible Pet Ownership by-law is based off of four principles:
- License and provide permanent identification for pets.
- Spay or neuter pets.*
- Provide training, physical care, socialization and medical attention for companion pets.
- Do not allow pets to become a threat or nuisance in the community.
“If everyone follows those four principles, I’m out of a job” – Bill Bruce
Now, Bill acknowledged that they can do all these things because they have the money to do so. The reasons I see them as being successful are threefold a) they had a leader who truly believed that no healthy adoptable animal should be killed, b) he believed that a positive reinforcement approach with the community would be successful and c) he has assembled a team that shares this vision.
These three reasons may be the very reasons that other locations have not yet successfully implemented the key aspects of the Calgary model. It takes a strong belief that this program will work to implement it. It takes a strong adherence to working for conflict mediation through positive reinforcement not through enforcement. It takes recognizing that the enforcement model doesn’t work, hasn’t worked and will never work no matter how draconian the law. It takes the building of a team who will believes in the new model.
It is incredibly difficult for governments & organizations to look at their standard operating procedures, recognize they have been attacking the problems from the completely wrong direction. It takes courage, humility and faith. As Bill said to me repeatedly, “Its always the animal that pays in the end”. Shouldn’t we all have the courage to demand of our local governments and Animal Control departments recognize that there is a better, more financially responsible way and commit to working with animal owners, instead of against them?
Calgary aims to be a No-Kill Nation. Shouldn’t we all join them?
Copyright 2009 by Erica Saunders, All rights reserved
*Note: Although spay and neuter is included as one of the principles, it is not intended to imply those with intact animals are ‘irresponsible’. It is simply included on the premise that breeding of pets is best left to those who truly have the expertise and experience to do so properly. This was a significant portion of our discussion but is best left to a follow up article