||JOIN US ON FACEBOOK
"We don't have a pet problem. We have a people problem." Bill Bruce, the Director of Animal Services & Bylaws in Calgary. "We don't punish breeds, we punish behavior. The bottom line is, we believe all dogs are capable of biting." "It's not controlling pets, it's about holding people responsible for their pets."
Bruce (who took the reins of animal control in 2000) targets owners, rather than pets, saying "any animal that ends up in a shelter is there because the human end of the relationship failed." His approach to responsible pet ownership incorporates licensing, providing permanent identification, training, physical care, socialization and medical attention, and not allowing pets to become a threat or nuisance in the community, public education and enforcement, with supporting agencies all working together to achieve the same goals. Educational programs, developed for school age children through to adults, address responsible citizenship and responsible animal ownership. Educational programs are based in the curriculum and include PAWS: Dog Bite Prevention, Dogs in Our Society, Urban Coyotes and the Junior By-Law Project, just to name a few for students from kindergarten to Grade Six. The educators visit schools, present the programs, and supply resource material for students and teachers, free of charge. The team also speaks to community groups and attends any animal-related events held in the city. There is strong public support for the efforts of Bill Bruce from the citizens of Calgary. They know that their kinder friendlier Animals Services Department is there to help, not harm.
"To encourage a safe, healthy, vibrant community for people and their pets, through the development, education and compliance of bylaws that reflect community values", their mission statement says it all. Bruce believes people "have a right to have pets and we want to ensure they're properly cared for, so we don't end up with more unwanted pets." None of the 5000 dogs per year that end up in Calgary shelters are euthanized for population control. Aggressive animal incidents are almost non-existent. Of the 203 dogs euthanized last year at Calgary's shelter, 145 were considered irredeemably vicious. Thirty-six were put down for health reasons and 22 for serious injury, according to Bruce. "We don't euthanize anything that is healthy and adoptable," he said. "I euthanized 203 dogs last year in a city of 1.1 million people." "Within three to five years, we'll be a no-kill city. No animal will be killed unless it's in the best interest of the animal.""
Calgary's dog licensing rate is over 93-98%, where 10-30% is the norm in most cities. Bruce believes such a high number of dog owners license their pets because residents are aware of the value received for the money spent. There is no way to achieve this kind of licensing compliance in an environment where citizens feel they must hide their dogs and cats from pet limit laws, BSL, crushing differential licensing fees, or mandatory spay/neuter laws. Without the high licensing compliance, none of the rest of the success could have happened.
Bruce notes the program makes it extremely convenient to license a dog: licenses can be bought in person at two city locations, online, at banks, by mail, by night deposit or through any bylaw officer. "It's no hassle. And every nickel we collect goes back to the animals. The humane society gets an annual grant from us and it pays for my officers and my salary and our education programs. If an animal needs emergency medical care because it's been hit and is injured, it's all covered. Dog owners see the value for their dollar." The Calgary program not only pays for basics such as staff, equipment and the new shelter (Calgary built a new shelter for their animals about 5-8 years ago that is state of the art, and has never been filled to its capacity), but also for extras like a new clinic under construction that will provide free spaying and neutering to low-income families. Calgary Animal Services adoption program includes videotaping of every assessment and follow up even after adoptions. Officers even help neighbors resolve their animal-related problems.
The city has a strict fine structure that includes a $250 penalty for chase incidents and $350 fines for bites. Those whose dogs defecate on public property in Calgary are fined $250. Dogs are not allowed to be "at large". This means they need to be attended or supervised (depending on whether it s public or private property). The fine for an "at large" dog is $100.A person caught teasing or tormenting a dog is ticketed $100. "Tormenting a dog is an offense here because if that dog gets out, it's going to bite the first kid it comes to, just because it's got this pent-up anger and frustration," Mr. Bruce said. The bylaw also allows the officers to declare specific dogs as "dangerous" and this label brings with it higher license fees, muzzling rules and age restrictions on the dog's handlers. The bylaw states that a dog can only be destroyed by owner request or court order.
They strongly encourage all people who license their dogs to also have them tattooed or microchipped. Every animal control vehicle is equipped with a scanner, so if they find a stray dog, the animal control officer can instantly scan for the chip, and deliver the dog home free of charge (although there are fines if your dog becomes a frequent flyer). This home delivery is a service for people who obey the rules and saves money in animal control costs because stray dogs seldom even make it to their shelter. They are returned home where the dog belongs. The city then doesn't incur the costs of putting the dog in the shelter, maintaining it while it's there (food etc.) "Your pet's license is his ticket home" is the motto. Once the dog is back at home, the officer who delivered it will spend time with the owner offering suggestions on how to keep their pet properly contained. "They might suggest installing a $14 spring for their gate," says Bruce. "The number one cause of dogs getting loose is because someone, like a kid or a meter reader, didn't latch the gate. Another inexpensive suggestion is to install a piece of pressure-treated wood at the bottom of the gate so the dog can't dig its way out."
If a dog does end up making it to the shelter, its photo is taken immediately and placed on their webpage within 15 minutes of the dog reaching the shelter. All the dogs in the shelter are treated for the basic diseases. And if a dog is found injured, animal control will take the dog to a vet. The vets treat the dogs because a) animal control is usually able to find the owner of the dog b) if they don't, animal control will cover the medical costs associated with treating that dog.
This approach helps facilitate a $5 million annual operating budget, which is generated through license and penalty revenues, with absolutely no cost to the taxpayer. Fees generated from cat licenses have provided the community of Calgary with a state of the art facility, staffed by a full-time vet, providing no-charge spay/neuter services for pets from low-income homes.