Kathleen Hebb holds one of the many cats she has rescued since founding GNAWS in 2015. (photo contributed)

Bylaw barking up the wrong tree

Critics point out inconsistencies, other problems

A new Animal Control Bylaw (No. 1183, 2018), passed by Vanderhoof’s Council at its May 14 meeting, has raised concerns among some residents who say that the regulations have not been well thought out and have significant problems.

The Bylaw seeks to offer some parameters around how many animals can be kept within a single household, imposes licensing requirements for dogs, and authorizes the establishment, maintenance and operation of a pound and the appointment of a pound-keeper. It goes on to authorize the pound-keeper, after a minimum of 72 hours and a maximum of seven days, to arrange for the animals to be euthanized by a lethal injection of a barbiturate.

“It’s not our intention to put animals down,” said Mayor Gerry Thiessen at the Monday night meeting.

“We (mayor and Council) are all very nice people here and no one wants to see animals put down. The Bylaw calls for every attempt to be made to ensure that these animals are adopted and find a good home somewhere.”

The Bylaw does, in fact, call for the pound-keeper to make an effort to place impounded animals, should the owners of that animal not come forward to claim their pets.

But Kathleen Hebb, the Vice-President of the Greater Nechako Animal Welfare Society (GNAWS), appeared at Council after sending a letter to Thiessen in which she raised a number of concerns regarding the (then) proposed Bylaw.

GNAWS was established in 2015 in response to a concern about abandoned cats and the fact that feral cats were congregating in areas where some good-hearted souls was feeding them.

“I’m an animal lover and we had come to council looking for assistance and, when that didn’t really happen, we took it upon ourselves to start GNAWS,” explained Hebb.

“We operate a Trap-Neuter-Return program where we trap the cats and have them neutered at a reduced cost by our local vet. We can then return them to where we got them and know that they won’t be reproducing.”

The organization has followed the procedure for about 100 cats to date and is concerned that these animals may be swept up under the new Bylaw and euthanized.

“There are no provisions that acknowledge the Trap-Neuter-Return activities occurring in Vanderhoof,” said Hebb. “And they really didn’t want to listen to us tonight.”

“We need well-written bylaw provisions or policy that ensure that the time and money invested is not wasted and that the relationships built with the people caring for the community cat colonies we are managing are recognized. We also want to ensures that the cats that have been sterilized are not destroyed at the discretion of the District of Vanderhoof and its staff.

Asked about Thiessen’s assertion that it is not the intention of the District to euthanize animals, Hebb said she believes that he is sincere in that position.

However, said Hebb, those assurances can disappear should new representatives be elected in the future or if there is a significant change in staffing.

“If you have that position, put it in writing,” she said.

Another Vanderhoof resident, Kristen Rudolph, also spoke out against the Bylaw, and voiced her own concerns regarding the new rules.

“The mayor has said that Bylaw enforcement will be “complaint driven”. That sets the stage for a bad neighbour to use the Bylaw to get back at someone for something by reporting them under this Bylaw,” said Rudolph.

She noted that there is no “grandfather clause” within the Bylaw that would exempt people who currently have more than the newly proscribed number of animals.

“If I’d known that this was going to happen, I would never have bought a house inside the town boundaries.”

Another point raised by Rudolph is that, should a cat be impounded, the Bylaw states that they won’t be released until the owner buys a licence.

“There is no provision in this Bylaw for cat licensing…so what happens. If the law was meant to apply only to dogs, then say so,” said Rudolph.

“I just don’t think this was very well thought out or written. They should go back and take another look at what they’ve put on the table.”

Despite these concerns and others, Council unanimously adopted the Bylaw as written.

“We didn’t think any amendments were necessary. We’d taken a lot of our Bylaw from what other communities have done and felt it was very well written,” said Thiessen.

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