The city pound is poised to move, presuming council approves a staff proposal.
In a business case put forward in this year’s budget, staff recommend making the current pilot project for the animal shelter a permanent municipal service, as well as “starting a siting process which would allow for a more central location for the shelter.”
Since 2016, when the city took over animal control from Rainbow District Animal Services, the pound has operated out of a leased facility in Wahnapitae.
The service has proven to be effective, staff say, fostering trust among the public while also being affordable for the city.
“During the 26-month pilot project for animal shelter services, the bylaw department has provided an efficient, accountable and transparent service level for animal shelter services that meets or exceeds the expectations of the community,” according to the business case.
Meanwhile, the pilot has “confirmed that the service can be provided by municipal staff at a cost that is less than the last comparator contract price.”
Staff members say the city is saving more than $300,000 per year by going with an in-house animal control service instead of contracting it out.
There are aspects of the existing facility that are not ideal, however, including structural issues and the remote location.
“There are concerns for the integrity of the building and inefficiencies for the amount of travel for staff to transfer animals and respond to calls,” staff note.
There are also issues regarding communications (cell and internet) in Wahnapitae, and some health and safety questions.
For these reasons, the Corporate Services department deems the location “not sustainable,” and suggests the city should build a new shelter in a different location.
“Staff recommend beginning a siting process for municipal property with adequate zoning, setbacks and municipal services in order to construct a 6,000-square-foot animal shelter within the city limits,” the proposal states. “This will allow for up to 1,000 square feet for staff space and 5,000 square feet for animals.”
Staff members estimate a new building would cost about $1.5 million, which could be financed through debt repayment.
“Considering mortgage rates between 3.6 and 4 per cent and an amortization period between 20-30 years, the annual cost of borrowing would be between $89,000-$110,000 annually, thus allowing for an overall annual savings of approximately $198,430 (the net benefit compared to contracting for the service level considering all costs and revenues, including cost of borrowing for the newly cited location),” according to the business case.
The department is also recommending two limited positions for shelter staff be made permanent, which would have a slight impact on the operating budget.
“An additional annual $21,248 of salary and benefits will be incurred as a result of added employee benefits attached to permanent positions,” the proposal states.
The move will “positively impact employee engagement and productivity,” however, and build on what is already a positive reputation for the service, according to staff.
“Making this service permanent will continue to provide a fiscally responsible municipal service that aligns with the expectations and needs of residents in the community … (and) bolster the reputation of the department and the city as a whole.”
Pet Save director Jill Pessot said she has been pleased with the way the city has operated the pound and supports the proposal to construct a new shelter.
“They should, really,” Pessot said. “Even to buy an old building and retrofit it, it’s just going to cost more money, because with animal shelters you need the right amount of property, you need proper ventilation. I think they should just go ground-up and it will actually be cheaper.”
As for location, the Pet Save director doesn’t feel it should be too urban.
“I don’t think it should be in the central city because you need pens for the dogs to run,” she said. “Exercising those dogs in a pound situation is very important for their socialization and mental stress. There’s nothing worse than seeing these tiny little facilities that have dogs.”
Dogs will also bark, she noted, and “you have to be respectful of your neighbours.” Yet keeping them inside all the time isn’t an answer, either, as it can “cause behavioural problems and might make them unadoptable.”
She said she’s heard complaints about the Wahnapitae shelter being too far off the beaten path, but that in itself is not, in her view, a huge problem.
“I think it should be on the outskirts somewhere and if people are going to complain about having to go 20 or 30 or 50 kilometres to pick up their pet, they shouldn’t own it or they should have taken better care of it,” she said.
The existing building is in a good spot for animals to be exercised and the owner “maintained it well,” she said, but “there’s a limit and it’s just outdated in terms of ventilation, which is really key to running a good shelter. As soon you cause any stress or discomfort for a pet they can break out into upper respiratory infections and then you’ve got that in your building.”
A new facility spanning 6,000 square feet would be appropriate, said Pessot, to accommodate the 1,000 or so animals the city pound takes in annually.
“That’s about the same number we see each year,” said Pessot. “I have 4,000 square feet (at the Pet Save shelter in Lively) and feel like I could use another thousand, for sure.”
Overall the city has done a good job in taking over animal control services, said Pessot, who was one of the loudest voices calling for change when Rainbow District held the contract.
“The standard of care has moved way up,” she said. “Plus you have that level of accountability that you don’t get with a private contractor. Our old pound, you couldn’t go behind the door to see anything.”
She said animal welfare groups like her own now collaborate more with the pound service, as they have more faith in the way animals are treated.
“When we have an injured pet on the city streets now they’re actually tended to in that emergency, and they receive medical treatment, whereas before they were left in a cage at somebody’s discretion and rarely ever saw a vet,” she said.
“They’ve developed partnerships with the groups in town and everybody’s willing to help, where before there was the animosity.”
Under the city’s management, the shelter has implemented a mandatory spay and neuter program, which has made a big difference in bringing down the number of feral animals.
“That’s huge for me because that’s hitting the root cause, which is overpopulation,” said Pessot.
She’s also pleased to see “euthanizing done properly” at the municipal pound, where a veterinarian is required to be on hand to perform the procedure.
“The city’s not perfect and there are growing pains, for sure,” she said. “It’s a big learning curve. But it’s certainly a huge improvement in where we were at with animal care 10 years ago, so I’m extremely happy about that.”
According to the budget proposal, the annual operating cost for the shelter is $635,780, although $285,710 is recouped through user fees (for animal redemption, adoption, microchipping, etc.), bringing the yearly outlay down to $350,000.
The annual amount spent on enforcing animal control bylaws also “falls well below the median average” for municipalities that provide an in-house service, staff point out.