Public criticism rained cats and dogs over Tofino’s municipal council last week following their decision to turn down a $30,000 contract proposed by the Coastal Animal Rescue and Education Network.
The proposed annual contract would have seen CARE handling cat and dog licences, finding and sheltering lost, stray or abandoned animals, providing spay and neuter services and putting together a census of the community’s companion animals.
Council received seven letters from CARE’s supporters during their Feb. 22 meeting all clamouring against the district’s decision to scrap CARE’s contract proposal and opt instead for a $10,000 pilot project headed by the district’s bylaw department.
Carol Atkinson of Ucluelet wrote that she is a CARE supporter and volunteer and has seen first-hand the impact the network’s animal shelter has had on the region and urged council to visit the shelter themselves to learn more about the facility’s importance.
“Look into the faces of the injured feral cats, abandoned kittens, frightened displaced dogs. Could you turn your back on an injured eagle or raven, an abandoned baby raccoon? Please look more closely before you make a final decision,” Atkinson wrote.
Tofino resident Kellsie Forbes doubted the bylaw department’s $10,000 pilot project would be effective, suggesting that a wide majority of animal calls go to CARE, not the bylaw office.
“Please accept this letter as my support for the Mayor and Council to properly fund animal related services in our community, now. CARE Network has established essential, regional animal care and control related resources and services and our community should be paying for our share of the associated costs,” Forbes wrote.
“Animal situations happen all the time in our community and at all hours. There are stray dog situations that put people and other animals at risk, unwanted cat situations that attract wild predators into the community that increase human/wildlife conflict potential, injured birds and sea mammals that are often catalysts for dog and human safety concerns.”
Mayor Dan Law suggested the seven letter writers shared a “significant misunderstanding,” of council’s decision and the belief that “the district has somehow defunded CARE or voluntarily put CARE at risk” by denying the contract proposal.
“I do want to say that in all recognition of the wonderful work CARE does, there is not now, nor has there ever been a contract between the district of Tofino and the CARE Network,” he said.
He suggested he had reviewed CARE’s contract proposal with district staffers who had recommended the $10,000 pilot project route.
“That proposal, ultimately, in both staff’s recognition and council’s decisions, contains significant issues that are not resolved on multiple levels. There’s been also significant issues with communication,” he said. “I think that council’s decision to create $10,000 of new funding that may or may not be accessed by the CARE Network for kennelling and transportation of dogs specifically is a reasonable and prudent decision.”
He added CARE’s proposal was “far and above” the town’s current bylaws and kennelling needs.
“My understanding is that injured animals, feral cats and all these sorts of things are not something that either council or staff have looked at taking on or endorsing,” he said. “I know discussions were happening about kennelling dogs, but certainly the proposal appears to me to have some issues.”
Coun. Tom Stere said CARE has received funding support from Tofino through council grants and suggested the network reach out to the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District to put a regional funding proposal together.
“I think everybody on council really recognizes the role that CARE has played and we have supported the CARE Network through grants over the last four years, specifically in 2021 where the amount was, I think, just over $6,000,” he said. “There has been support. There has been an acknowledgement of the work that they do.”
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Coun. Al Anderson suggested there are specific processes council would need to undertake to reverse a decision.
“It wouldn’t just happen based on a number of letters coming in. It would have to be a motion of council to reconsider,” he said.
Anderson also questioned the way CARE’s proposed contract had been presented, suggesting unsolicited contract proposals are rare.
“Normally the district would identify a service that we need, either through staff reports or generated from the public as a whole, or council members might bring forward due to a public outcry for it,” he said.
“Not to diminish the work that CARE has done, I do support them and I think that the community greatly appreciates their work, but the process that this proposal came forward is highly unusual for municipal government.”
Law encouraged CARE to reach out to council for any further clarifications needed.
“We are beholden to the community charter, we are beholden to many levels of accountability and also ultimately to the people of Tofino to decide what we spend our money on and how far our reach goes,” he said. “I don’t want to belabour the point, I think we can all agree that the CARE Network does very valuable work and I certainly hope that the district of Tofino can continue to support the CARE Network in many ways.”
During the meeting’s public question period, CARE co-founder James Rodgers thanked council for their words of support, but expressed surprise that the contract proposal was considered unusual.
“(District) staff encouraged us to actually prepare a proposal for the budget process and that was based on the fact that they request our services annually…For the last three to four years, we’ve been discussing how to work together,” he said. “There’s liability issues for us to even handle an animal on behalf of your bylaw staff without a contract…Without a contract it puts our non profit at great risk on many levels.”
He asked how the proposal could be made “less unusual” and what the process would be to get started on a regional process.
“My understanding was that the budget process was the normal process for bringing potential service contracts to mayor and council, or to the district, so that the public could offer input on those proposed costs,” he said.
Coun. Anderson said he was unaware CARE had worked on the contract proposal with district staff ahead of time and said he did not recall council ever requesting a contract.
“That part I don’t understand. As far as I know, it was an unsolicited proposal and perhaps I stand corrected on that,” he said. “There may have been a misunderstanding somewhere along the way, both where the proposal came from and on council’s end, what did we indeed ask for?”
Coun. Tom Stere is Tofino’s representative on the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District board and advised CARE to submit a proposal to the ACRD’s West Coast committee.
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