Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why We Should Do More for the SPCA

The SPCA has started a drive to move to a better place. They have purchased some land north of the river where they propose to build new facilities, and have started a new fund-raising campaign - A New Leash on Life.

Council members were invited to visit the current facility. I took up the offer a couple of weeks ago, and was toured about by one of the dedicated staff. I was appalled, to put it mildly. The animal rooms are small and overcrowded, and the staff make do in conditions that most work places wouldn't tolerate. That staff have to use as their lunchroom the room where animals are euthanized is unbelievable. While donations of such things as a new furnace have certainly helped, there is no doubt that a new facility is desperately needed.

And this is where council is between a rock and a hard place, largely of our own making. Our support for other facilities (which are not in the need category, but in the nice to have area), our unnecessary spending on such things as spiffing up our own meeting area, our putting off street and sidewalk repair and maintenance so that we could brag about having a zero per cent tax increase this year (after two consecutive years of 6 per cent increases), our decimation of the reserve fund, our decision to dedicate taxes directed for the debt elimination fund to pay for the new soccer centre for the next several years - all of these decisions have left us with very little room to support a new, desperately needed facility. And with the election looming, apparently we don't want to talk about it, either.

The services provided by the SPCA are crucial to the well-being of the city. While most people think of the SPCA as a place where you can go to pick up a kitten or a puppy, every day staff and volunteers are there, taking care of all animals that are brought in to them, some in pretty rough shape. If a dog is running loose, they take care of it. If stray cats are trapped, the SPCA is where they end up. Abandoned animals end up there. Staff don't just give animals away to anyone who walks in; they ensure that people understand the responsibilities of pet ownership before adoption, because they see the results when people don't understand, for example, how important spaying and neutering are.

These services are crucial, but services and buildings cost money, and unfortunately, they don't have a lot of fund-raising options. Unlike facilities like the Art Hauser Centre, the Rawlinson Centre, and the soccer centre, we don't have many ways of charging user fees. The animals can't pay, and some people feel that the adoption fees are too high. The SPCA does get the bulk of the dog licence fee (more than four dollars of the five dollar licence fee), but other than that, the only support provided by the city is a small grant each year. This year the grant was larger than in the past - $80,000. To put that in perspective, we gave the Golf Club $48,000 this year to help them pay for their hundredth anniversary party - a party to which most if not all of the guests could have, I'm sure, paid their own way.

I give the staff and volunteers at the SPCA full credit for doing an amazing job. Their dedication and love for the animals is obvious, and they don't waste much time in whining. They do some creative fund raising - they have a big garage sale once a year, and their walk-a-pet-a-thon was last weekend. I'm sure that they'll come up with other good ideas, and I encourage everyone to help out in whatever way that they can.

But I do think that the city needs to figure out a way of providing better ongoing support. Saskatoon licenses cats as well as dogs, and Andrea was sure that Grethyll Adams had been behind a drive to implement cat licences. But when I went to City Hall to buy licences for Hendrix, Hunter and Gracie last week, I was told that there was no such thing. But that could be an area to explore. And if, along with the licence, you were able to have your cat microchipped, then when strays are brought in, the owners could be found, reducing the numbers that have to stay there, hoping for adoption.

Perhaps if members of council sacrificed their meals paid for by the taxpayer, that would provide a bit more money that could be channeled to the SPCA. The animals certainly need feeding more than councillors do. Despite the tightness of the budget that some members of council have apparently just become aware of, we need to find ways of better supporting this facility.

And here's something that anyone who owns a computer can do - go to, click to automatically donate food, then click on the part that says to vote for your favourite animal shelter. Type in Prince Albert SPCA, and you will have voted for the Prince Albert SPCA to receive a share of $100,000. The top prize is $20,000, and it could be tough to outvote American shelters, but there are two $1,000 prizes for Canadian shelters which get the most votes. If enough people find out about this, who knows? You can vote once a day until mid-December. I figure that it's worth a shot. And it won't cost the city anything.

Quick, go click.

"We call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words." - Anna Sewell

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