New focus for SPCA as RMWB takes over animal control services for the region

Executive Director of the Fort McMurray SPCA, Tara Clarke, poses with Luna, a good girl who is looking for her furever home. PHOTO: By Megan Wilson.

Executive Director of the Fort McMurray SPCA, Tara Clarke, poses with Luna, a good girl who is looking for her furever home. PHOTO: By Megan Wilson.

By Becky Benoit

After more than 15 years, and months of back-and-forth discussions with the RMWB, the RMWB has taken over the reins of Animal Control in the region.

Since 1997, the SPCA has been responsible for dealing with animal control issues across the region, from barking dog complaints in the city to stray dogs as far away as Janvier and Conklin. But as of October 1, the RMWB has taken over the provision of animal control services for the region, allowing the SPCA to focus on its core values and true mission, says executive director Tara Clarke.

“Animal Control was an enormous responsibility,” Clarke says. Over the 15 years that the SPCA provided animal control services, the city’s population exploded, putting the shelter under pressure in terms of capacity and resources. “With a greater population comes a great number of domestic animals and a greater number of problems,” Clarke says.

The animal shelter has suffered from a chronic shortage of space for years, resulting in long wait lists for owners looking to surrender their pets.  With the separation of services finally official, Clarke says the SPCA is looking forward to finally being able to take surrenders from owners who are no longer able to care for their animals.

“The SPCA has been carrying a very long-standing surrender wait list. People have been waiting for months,” Clarke says. “We just didn’t have the space to accommodate both animal control [impounded animals] and surrenders.”

The space crunch left animal owners in a bind, with some owners driving as far as Edmonton to surrender their animals. “Owners were left on their own to try and make alternate arrangements. Owners who couldn’t wait had to contact other rescue agencies or shelters within the province,” Clarke says. “Often the situation is very dire, when an owner can no longer care for their pet. There are a whole host of reasons why people can no longer care for an animal.”

Clarke says the SPCA, while still operating near capacity due to animals collected under the old animal control contact, is working hard to find homes for the animals currently in the shelter to free up space for new surrenders.

The organization has long focused on providing humane education and prevention programs within the region, and Clarke says that the SPCA is looking forward to focusing more fully on these core values.

The shelter will continue to provide such programs as Animal Safe Haven, which provides temporary shelter to pets of families fleeing domestic violence, as well as the companionship program for regional elders, which places pets in long-term foster care with seniors in the region, covering the cost of pet ownership and vet care and providing home visits to the elderly person and their pet.

“This is a program that really benefits both parties. The animal gets a home to live in and the elderly person gets a companion,” Clarke says. “Studies have shown that animal companionship improves both the quality of life and the health of elderly people.”

The Animal Safety and Awareness program will continue to provide humane education and animal safety information for children, and Clarke says the SPCA is particularly excited about its newest initiative, the Northern Animal Management and Education program (NAME).

“This is ground-breaking – it’s the first of its kind in the region,” Clarke says. NAME will provide support and resources to communities in the region with limited access to animal services such as veterinary care, providing spay and neuter clinics, animal identification, wellness services, education and advocacy. NAME’s first event, a wellness clinic held in June in Fort Chipewyan in partnership with a Fort McMurray veterinary clinic, was a resounding success, with 50 dogs provided with a veterinary exam, vaccinations, deworming and microchip identification in a single afternoon.

“The SPCA has been working for the last few years to identify gaps in services and availability of resources in communities within our region, and we’re working to ensure those resources are available,” Clarke says. “In the end, we want pet owners to keep their pets, we want owners and animals to be happy and communities to be safe. This program is going to have long-term sustainable impacts in these communities.”

While the loss of animal control services doesn’t represent a significant blow to the SPCA’s budget – animal control was provided to the RMWB on a cost-for-services basis – Clarke says the organization will continue to depend on the generosity of donors and the support of the community, as it always has.

“We’re an independent welfare organization that relies entirely on donors to provide the services that we do,” she says. “We’re always looking for donations, as well as volunteers to come up and walk a dog, groom a cat in our cat room, help us with refurbishing project or just attend an event and show your support.”

On November 22, the SPCA will host its fourth annual Paws in the Snow fundraiser at the East Village pub, an evening featuring local live music, raffles and a silent auction. Clarke hopes to see the community come out once again to support the animal shelter. The SPCA will also be running its popular Kennels for Christmas campaign, in which donors can sponsor a dog or cat for Christmas. Funds provide some special treats for the animal on Christmas Day, as well as helping to cover the costs of veterinary care for the shelter’s animals.

Clarke says she’s very optimistic about the SPCA’s future in the region. “I think the future is really bright for our organization. This is an opportunity to focus on our core values, to expand existing programs and develop new ones to address the needs of this community,” she says.

To donate to the SPCA, or to volunteer, visit their website at or call 780-743-8997