Fort McMurray SPCA begins a new chapter

A couple of weeks ago one of our local social profit organizations issued a press release that shook things up a little bit. I had suspected it was coming for some time, as I knew a bit about the situation that led to it. And when it arrived in my email inbox I was not surprised.

You see the Fort McMurray SPCA, which has been under contract to provide Animal Control services for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, recently issued a press release indicating their intent to sever the contract this summer. They have been meeting the mandate of this contract, and have been serving our community very well in this regard – but it has caused their true mandate to suffer. Their true mandate is not to deal with the myriad animal control issues but rather to educate the public on animal care and welfare, speak out against animal abuse, and continue to provide safe haven for animals in distress. Their long-standing contract with animal control had a deep negative impact on this mandate, because animal control is a rather huge issue in our community.

Perhaps you think that last statement is not true, but when you consider that this municipality encompasses not only Fort McMurray but also Fort Chipewyan, Fort McKay, Conklin, Janvier, Anzac, and Gregoire Lake Estates it becomes a bit clearer as to the true magnitude of the territory animal control must cover. And the issues are complex, as in the rural communities spaying and neutering services are not easily accessible, leading to pet overpopulation and many feral domestic animals. Then add into this mix the thousands of people who move into and out of this region on a yearly basis, bringing with them and leaving behind their pets. Suddenly you begin to see this is a huge issue, and a complicated one. Then add to the mix inadequate funding from the municipality due to an Animal Control contract negotiated in 1997 (a contract that has not changed to reflect the rapid growth in our region and the increased demand for services), an animal control workforce that does their best with what they have (but who are hindered by a lack of defensive gear and proper training), and an SPCA struggling under the burden of too many animals and too little cash and what you have is, potentially, a social profit crash.

I have been worried about the state of the SPCA for a very long time. I knew they were struggling, and I knew that they were under significant stress, particularly those who are in leadership positions within the organization and on the board. I knew that they felt they had few options, and they too were worried the SPCA could collapse under the financial strain. This collapse would be catastrophic, leaving us without an organization that is not only important now but also crucial as we move into a future that includes tremendous population growth. With new residents come new pets, and new problems, and organizations like the SPCA need to be there to handle them. To lose the SPCA would be extremely harmful to the future of this community, and so when they announced they would sever the Animal Control contract I was, in fact, relieved – and proud.

I was relieved because it means the SPCA can get to be the grassroots foundation it is meant to be, not the operators of the local pound. I was relieved because I knew that individuals in this community would continue to support the SPCA financially to ensure their continued existence. And I was relieved because I knew it was what they needed to do, regardless of how difficult it was for them to do so.

In essence what it truly means is that the SPCA will no longer be catching stray animals, or issuing licenses. They will not be dealing with barking dog complaints, and they will not be enforcing the municipal bylaws regarding animal control. They will return to their mandate as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and they will do so with my full support – and I suspect the support of many others who finally know the true depth of the financial load they have been carrying.

As of July 1 the RMWB will take over all Animal Control services in the region. What this will mean remains to be seen, including if they will incorporate the SPCA’s policy as a no-kill shelter. And what it will mean to the SPCA also remains to be seen, as their role in this community will change once again. I think in the final analysis what it truly means is that they will be able to return to their true mandate and continue to care for the animals – and the people – of this community in the way the SPCA has always traditionally done. I think it will reduce the stresses on them, and allow them to expand their programs into areas of education and animal abuse prevention. And I think, in the end, it was the right decision.

The SPCA has a long and rich history in this region, and this is both the end and the beginning of another chapter. I believe this will make them stronger, and I truly believe that with the support of the community they will thrive and continue to provide the services they have given to us for the last thirty-five years. I wish them well as they embark on this next chapter – and I lend them my full support as they do.