Waiting for her forever home
Waiting for her forever home

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?


Bill Bruce with 2 members of his wonderful team

Bill Bruce with 2 members of his wonderful team

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. 

Follow up is key, for the adopted too web

Follow up is key, for the adopted too web

  • 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.
Clean and snug after neutering

Clean and snug after neutering

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.

Individual venting for infection prevention (Note the holes in the back and the solid side walls)

Individual venting for infection prevention (Note the holes in the back and the solid side walls)

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

Every behavior evaluation gets recorded for further evaluation and follow-up

Every behavior evaluation gets recorded for further evaluation and follow-up. (A tool, not a pass-fail test)

 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. 
    In-House Operating Facilities

    In-House Operating Facilities


  • 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.

Temperature controlled animal bays

Temperature controlled animal bays

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

7 Responses to ““It’s about Human Responsibility”, The Calgary Model for Animal Services”

  1. selwyn marock says:

    The Calgary model has long been the accepted one and is considered the most reasonable by animal-lovers,unfortunately bring a genocidal-maniac like michael bryant into the equation then it all goes belly-up,but hopefully ,justice will be served and he will not be around for a long time.


  2. Tom says:

    This model depends very much on not being strictly enforced as the law is written. Anything close to fair treatment of owners of animals depends entirely on the enforcers being nice guys. Every article that encourages this "Calgary model" should include a link to a copy of the actual bylaws. http://www.calgary.ca/DocGallery/BU/cityclerks/23

    The bylaws have several unacceptable provisions, including an abusive definition of "vicious dog", leash-length laws, and having to pay at least $250 to get their dog out of the pound. There are several things in there that we would have protested if they weren't wrapped in some kind of gilded package. I can't even see the gilding for the contents myself. I can just see Santa Barbara drooling over this and saying "why didn't we think of that?"

    I've read that Calgary has 110,000 dogs between 1.2 million humans. A hundred thousand people or more must have divested themselves, or been divested of, their dogs. Dog ownership is weaker and poorer for this, and being made a minority, can be oppressed even more conveniently in the future. I will resist the introduction of the Calgary model in the United States.

    • Willa says:

      you must be jealous!! that is all I can say–I do not live in Calgary but I appreciate what they are doing–responsible dog and cat ownership is what strengthen dog ownership not quantity of animals!

  3. Fayclis says:

    Ontario would GIVE anything for Calgary's animal by-laws. Instead, it's dog owning ciitzens have had to raise half a million dollars, dollar by dollar, to fight the new Ontario Dog Owner's Liability Act. (DOLA)

    Innocent dogs KILLED based on looks.
    Reverse Onus now law, must prove innocence.
    Discrimination and profiling now law.
    Brutal muzzles now the norm on Ontario's streets.
    If one is from Ontario they cannot travel throughout Canada if they have a medium built, short haired dog without papers.
    Since the new DOLA,
    Animal Control goes in and demands people "turn over their dogs" to be killed, if similar in looks to pit bulls.
    Courts are filling up with people trying to save their pets.
    Dog owners are now 2nd class citizens, NO matter how responsable they are.

    WE WOULD GIVE ANYTHING to return to pre-Bryant dog days in this dog forsaken Province.


  4. meow says:

    I wish this wasn't so old so Tom could explain how the defintition is abusive and why the leash length law is unreasonable.

    • There is a risk assessment scale available to identify dogs that can potentially be problems. No single aspect of an animal is overlooked as the risk for aggression is evaluated on a scale. This type of behavioural assessment is done in Australia and in some European countries. A factor that could lead to your dog being scored as at risk for aggression (perhaps your dog frequently slips his leash or escapes from your yard) can be addressed with education and training, removing the risk. I think it is time that all municipalities demand a risk assessment of dogs within its jurisdiction.


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