Tofino’s municipal council is considering a $10,000 pilot project that would strike a devastating blow to the Coastal Animal Rescue and Education Network’s proposed $30,000 animal care services contract.
“We were surprised to say the least,” CARE co-founder James Rodgers told the Westerly News after council signed off on the pilot project at their Jan. 25 regular meeting.
“I’m not sure what kind of pilot project this is and essentially what’s going to happen to animals in Tofino this year that need help because we certainly, as a team of volunteers, really can’t keep subsidizing this affluent community with the services that we’ve been providing.”
The pilot project was pitched by Tofino’s manager of protective services Brent Baker who said district staff had been speaking to CARE about the potential “all-inclusive” contract for $30,000 a year for four years with a 2 per cent increase each year, but suggested there’s not enough information about the number of dogs CARE handles in Tofino to recommend signing it yet.
Baker suggested the proposed agreement would have had CARE facilitating and managing a cat and dog licensing campaign, proactive stray dog and cat patrols including trapping, kennelling stray and abandoned animals and rehoming when needed, providing access to affordable spay and neuter services within the region as well as conducting a community animal census.
He said the number of lost or at large dogs that get reported to his department varies from year to year and that the community would benefit from a “fee or service agreement with a local or nearby service to ensure that resources are available to support these situations.”
He added the district does not currently have adequate facilities to care for animals that are brought in, nor the capacity to track down lost or abandoned pets.
“Short term kennelling of stray and abandoned domestic animals to meet the needs of the current animal control bylaw is the area of highest challenge for the protective services department,” he said.
He recommended establishing a one-year pilot project for up to $10,000 that would fill the current animal care need and added that the project would provide additional time to work out whether a more robust program, like CARE’s proposal, is needed.
Council unanimously agreed to add the $10,000 pilot project to their ongoing budget considerations.
Coun. Tom Stere asked Baker how many dog-related incidents occur in Tofino each year.
Baker responded that he could only speak to the number of reports coming directly to his bylaw department, which range from 7-25 each year and he added that those animals often need short-term assistance while their guardians track them down.
“Currently we don’t have the facilities here to actually look after somebody else’s pet for even a couple of hours. We do need to find some sort of service where we can have them still somewhat nearby or as accessible as possible so that when the owner have tracked them down they can be given back to their owners,” he said.
He added that the $10,000 program would include fees being paid by the owners’ of lost pets, which would hopefully recuperate costs.
“If we’re not able to get that type of service from a local provider, it may require us to go with the likes of the SPCA in Port Alberni where we can establish an agreement at a certain base-rate and then we pay for each incident on top of that,” he said.
Coun. Cathy Thicke asked what the $10,000 project would mean for the proposed $30,000 CARE contract that had been proposed to council last year and Baker clarified it would take it off the table for the time being.
“Currently we don’t have money in the budget for animal impounding and transportation, but we do come across this need. Between ourselves and the CARE Network proposal, I think we’re some ways apart as far as where we see the dollar value being and what the CARE Network is suggesting that it may be,” Baker said. “I’m working off the number of animals that are reported to us in the department and looking at what I think might be a maximum (dollar amount) that we may need in one season and making sure that we’re not short on funds in that area…I don’t feel that I have enough information to fully support (CARE’s) all inclusive proposal at this time.”
He reiterated that the pilot project would provide more time to better identify the need in the community and whether CARE’s all inclusive contract is a necessary step to take.
Rodgers attempted to refute Baker’s suggestion that 7-25 animals need assistance in any given year during the meeting’s public question period, but mayor Dan Law directed him to only ask questions to council.
Rodgers then asked if councils’ opinion of the $10,000 project would be different if the number of local animal incidents was “much greater” than presented.
Law responded that “data is always important to council” and said he looked forward to seeing the information collected from the pilot project.
Rodgers told the Westerly News after the meeting that he was “surprised and disappointed” by Baker’s presentation and that he was caught off guard to see it on the Jan. 25 council agenda as he had thought CARE’s contract proposal would be discussed during a budget meeting.
“I was absolutely floored,” he said. “I was scrambling to try and get input into the (council meeting) because it was out of the blue and I thought, ‘This is nothing we’ve talked about. I don’t understand.’ I’d never heard about the $10,000 amount. I still don’t know exactly what it’s supposed to cover. It’s certainly not going to go to the CARE Network because there’s not much we can do for $10,000.”
Speaking to the Westerly News, Baker reiterated that he based his recommendation to council on the animal reports his department receives.
“I don’t feel that I have enough information and facts to fully support the greater contract at this time,” he said. “I just don’t feel that we’re there yet.”
He added that the $10,000 project, “will support the current needs of the bylaw department based on the reports that we get from the community.”
“That’s what we’re focusing on now and we’re really hoping that we can work with individuals and organizations like the CARE Network to gather further details so that we’re in a better position to support something greater for the future,” he said.
Rodgers suggested that CARE responded to 168 animal incidents in Tofino, equaling 22 per cent of the network’s total call volume, in 2020 and that while 2021’s final tally is not yet complete, the need is growing exponentially.
“That $30,000 contract represents less than 22 per cent of our operating costs, so really what we were moving towards was Tofino paying their share of the regional costs of animal care and control,” he said. “The hard part for me is that we set up this animal shelter here on the Coast to be a regional resource and, so far, it’s really only the Indigenous communities in the region that have come forward to support and sustain the operating costs and by default are then essentially subsidizing communities like Tofino with regards to animal control services.”
He said he was confused by Baker’s suggestion that between seven and 25 dogs need help in Tofino each year, noting that CARE is celebrating its 10th anniversary on the West Coast this year and has consistently recorded its numbers and submitted that information to the district.
“Anyone who thinks there’s eight animal issues a year in Tofino brings to mind an ostrich with their head in the sand at the beach,” Rodgers said. “If you’re even just glancing at Facebook in the summer, can you really believe that eight animal situations are happening in the District of Tofino?”
He added that, without a contract with Tofino, CARE finds itself in “terribly awkward” situations in terms of liability, adding the network has pleaded with the district to formalize the relationship.
“When does the district start paying for animal control and why do they need to spend another year and $10,000 of the taxpayers’ money for what? I don’t know what they’re trying to figure out for the $10,000,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to see any of that $10,000 and, quite frankly, anything less than the $30,000 doesn’t make any sense to us. We’re so behind at this point because we’ve been providing these services to the District of Tofino for free for so long.”
He suggested a regional approach to animal services is the best path forward for the West Coast, but it needs buy in from the communities as call numbers are increasing.
“We are so stretched. We can barely haul together enough volunteers to keep things going, so I’m feeling quite desperate right now,” he said. “I don’t even know that we’re treading water anymore, it feels like we’re sinking.”
He suggested that if the proposed $30,000 contract is indeed kaput, dogs may have to be turned away from CARE’s shelter.
“We’re struggling with that. Our mandate is to help every animal that needs help in the region,” he said. “We’re here to support the animals and their guardians and the community health and safety here in the region…We’re certainly having a lot of discussions right now internally about what we can do and what we can’t do and what that’s going to mean to the animals. They’re very hard decisions that we don’t take lightly, but everything’s on the table right now…We just can’t keep going down this road. It’s been a decade that volunteers have been providing animal related services to the district of Tofino and, at some point, it has to get budgeted for annually.”
He encourages supporters of the CARE Network to reach out to council and ask for the $30,000 contract to be reconsidered.
“Maybe it’s not too late for animal wellness and community health and safety for all residents and visitors, whether they have two legs or four, to be included in the annual budget,” he said.