This is Part I of a two-part series with guest blogger Kevin Mackenzie, Development Manager, Leadership Giving with the Ontario SPCA.
Having just joined the Ontario SPCA in a fundraising role, I was lucky enough to arrange spending some time with some of the individuals who are integral to the Ontario SPCA operations. During this time, I was able to better understand the front line work agents face on a day to day basis and had the opportunity to visit the sites most directly involved with the welfare of the animals.
When I told friends and family that I’d have the opportunity to ride along with an animal cruelty agent to learn more about the roles I will be helping raise funds for here at the Ontario SPCA, I found myself answering the same question over and over: “Are they the animal police?” The answer I would give to that question now, having spent a day with an agent, is yes. Well, sort of. They are much more than just animal police. They’re also teachers, ambassadors, relationship managers, dot connecters and, by definition, sworn peace officers with the powers of police officers in enforcing all animal welfare laws in Ontario. But most importantly, they work extremely hard and really know their stuff.
The agents respond to complaints or concerns that come in via phone or email about the welfare of animals. A skilled dispatcher, who will have completed the agent training as well, vets the calls prior to dispatching an agent. The identity of someone making a complaint is protected by the privacy act.
Each truck is equipped with some necessities: dog and cat food, water, hay cubes, duck feed, chicken scratch, blankets, nets, etc. If you might need it to care for, save or transport an animal, it’s in one of these vehicles. The agent and the truck are backed by a machine — a system, which to my “new eyes” certainly appeared well oiled — complete with a database for tracking complaints; training in the area of animal welfare legislation, legal jurisdiction, natural disaster response and personal safety; and a broad knowledge of animals that crosses breed and species.
The animal cruelty agent’s mandate is to first educate the owner by explaining what needs to change to meet the standards set for animal welfare in Ontario. Based on the conditions, education might not be enough. If so, orders are issued explaining the changes in the environment and care of the animal necessary to meet legal standards, with a date by which to make those changes. Should those orders not be met by the deadline, the animals can and will be removed from the conditions that led to the call.
The agent’s work is at the core of why the Ontario SPCA exists, and their roles are funded thanks to the generosity of our donors. Having gone on five calls the day of my ride-along, I can attest to the importance of their work and can’t fathom what would happen to the welfare of animals in Ontario without this great group.
Thank you to Agent Sara who allowed me to tag along and pester her with questions all day. I was blown away by her professionalism and knowledge. Her role is key to ensuring the Ontario SPCA strives to achieve our mission and vision.
Next page: A Day on the Road With an Animal Control Officer
I had a great opportunity to spend a day learning about another important function within the Ontario SPCA when I went on the road with Andrew, one of our animal control officers. Since my first ride along was spent with an animal cruelty agent, I was looking forward to seeing how both roles differ.
Animal control officers are designated as provincial offence officers, who investigate and enforce noise by-laws, trespassing and dog-at-large laws. They also deal with domestic animals who are roaming freely, aggressive animals, injured wildlife, and they work with the owners of domestic animals on by-law compliance. If compliance does not take place, fines can be issued.
Our first call of the day was a home owner who had a stray on his property which he safely sheltered in his garage. We went to pick up the dog, a big friendly black shepherd mix, and brought him back to the shelter where he was checked over to ensure he was in good health.
While this was occurring, we also received another call about a missing dog. Based on the general location and description of the dog, it sounded as though this was the shepherd we had just picked up, so we contacted the owner to advise him that his dog was at the shelter.
Each ‘call’ is documented, and our records indicated this was actually the fourth time the dog had been picked up for roaming freely. While local city by-laws can vary slightly, most municipalities require that dogs be leashed and not roam onto other properties. In such cases, fees are charged for the impounding of the animal. For this particular owner, there will likely be a fine levied given that there have been a couple of past conversations expressing the owner’s responsibility and obligation to obey by-laws.
Animal control officers are not “dog catchers,” and their role is not nearly as simple as picking up strays. They educate owners on local by-laws, on the Dog Owner Liability Act and on responsible animal ownership. They also deal with wildlife that has been injured or is in distress and help determine whether rehab is possible.
Andrew told me about being called out to retrieve a nest of orphaned baby raccoons to get them to wildlife rehab in order for them to survive. After hearing that particular story, my mind continually goes to my daily drive to work and seeing animals on the side of the road. I’d never considered that those animals could have offspring waiting to be fed or cared for. It tugs on my heart more so now.
Raccoons, geese, skunks, porcupines, squirrels, coyotes, foxes, birds of all kinds – Ontario SPCA animal control agents are involved in the welfare of these animals and do their very best to help them.
That work is not solely done by the agents in the field. I got to witness one of our amazing dispatchers Maureen on the job. Her role is just as important as she fields phone calls to the agents, and much like them, does her best to educate, inform and advise on what can be done to deal with each caller’s situation.
Andrew shared another story with me about a time he was called to an apartment building where a squirrel had managed to lodge his head between the bars on a balcony. Andrew suited up and gently freed the squirrel. For me that was another example of the great work done by Animal Control and of everyone I’ve met at the Ontario SPCA so far.
The animals come first. It isn’t a slogan or brand; it’s just how everybody here feels. Big. Small. Friendly. Not. The animals and their welfare are at the forefront of everyone at the Ontario SPCA, and I don’t mind telling you I’m pretty proud to have joined this organization. I hope you will join me in supporting it.
Stay tuned for Part II of the Animal Rescue Insider series.
Through its province-wide network of 50 plus Communities, the Ontario SPCA is one of the largest, most responsive animal welfare organizations in the country, providing care and shelter for tens of thousands of animals every year.
Photo Credits: Ontario SPCA