A partnership between the Village of Valemount and the Robson Valley Spay and Neuter Society (RVSNS) to tackle animal control has fallen through.
At the May 14 Council meeting Council decided not to continue to pursue a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the RVSNS or provide them with the $1,000 in financial assistance the Society requested.
Wendy Cinnamon, a founding member of the RVSNS, said in a phone interview that what the Village asked for in the original draft of the MOU was well beyond the scope of the Society and included bylaw enforcement. The Village cannot comment on any specifics relating to the decision because the negotiations were held in camera—closed to the public.
“I think there were just differing expectations,” Village Chief Administrative Officer Anne Yanciw said. “It was a mutual decision not to pursue this.”
The Society, a four-person organization, has been in existence since October 2012, and was initially created in response to a cat colony of about 80 cats living near the home of one of the founding members, Chris Dolbec. Since its inception the Society has helped deal with two cat colonies in the Tete Jaune area, have spayed or neutered cats whose owners can’t afford the vet bill, and, as of last week, have begun an initiative for dogs.
“We’ve done about 59 cats,” Cinnamon said, referring to the Society’s catch, fix and release program. “Right now, we’re limited as to how many cats and dogs we can do per week, so that’s what is holding us back at this point. We do have a list of people waiting.”
In December, the RVSNS requested $1,000 in funding for their volunteer initiative addressing the feline population. The Society was applying for an SPCA grant of $5,000, which the Society was required to match with their own fundraising efforts. They had already secured $1,500 from the Regional District, and planned to fundraise the remaining $2,500.
Before getting a response from the Village, the Society had the opportunity to help the Village with an impounded dog in early January. Dolbec was able to get the help of the SPCA in Kamloops, where she used to work, in finding a home for the dog.
The Society’s work with the impounded dog elicited glowing reviews from council and Village administration.
Village Deputy Corporate Officer Braden Hutchins presented a memo to Mayor and Council on January 22, entitled “Animal Bylaw Control Implementation.” Noting the time and money saved by partnering with the RVSNS, Hutchins wrote that creating an MOU with the Society was necessary “to ensure this partnership continues into the future.”
But from that point the negotiations took an unexpected turn, from the Society’s perspective.
“I don’t know how it morphed into the MOU,” Cinnamon said, “because my feedback was that council was supportive of helping us fund the feline initiative and it became something big and difficult.”
Cinnamon said the Village wanted the Society to be responsible for placing or euthanizing impounded animals that were surrendered or not claimed. Cinnamon said this was beyond their capacity– especially with just $1,000 coming from the Village to cover these costs. The Society doesn’t euthanize healthy animals either, Cinnamon said, unlike the
Village’s animal bylaw which says after 72 hours and “reasonable efforts” to find a home, an impounded animal can be euthanized.
But that wasn’t all the Village administration asked the Society to do for the $1,000 funding, according to Cinnamon.
“They also wanted us to step into the bylaw enforcement roll,” Cinnamon said, saying the Village wanted the Society to cite bylaws to residents. “And we’re not qualified to do that. We can educate people on what they should be doing … but we’re not bylaw officers…We just wanted to help with the cat population.
Cinnamon said helping the Village in January with the impounded dog was the result of a favour from the Kamloops SPCA—not something legally binding or consistent.
“They help us out when they can,” Cinnamon said of the SPCA.
The biggest factor in rejecting the village’s first proposal, however, was $2-million liability insurance the Village required the Society to purchase. Cinnamon said as a small new volunteer organization, they couldn’t afford to.
Hutchins could not be reached for comment; CAO Yanciw and Mayor McCracken were the spokespeople from Council and Village administration on this issue.
No bylaw officer
The Village made an effort to hire a bylaw enforcement officer earlier this year, even advertising outside of Valemount for the position. But with the limited resources the Village can allocate to bylaw enforcement, and the qualifications needed for a successful applicant, the Village “simply couldn’t find anyone who would be able to fill the position,” Yanciw said.
Mayor McCracken said the lack of a bylaw officer poses a number of nuanced challenges. The last bylaw enforcement officer didn’t catch any animals reported to the Village, he said.
“It’s not because he wasn’t doing his job; he was really trying to do the best he could. But you show up and the dog’s not there anymore.”
“So we’ve been working on a system, trying to do something smarter, using education.”
Yanciw said they are doing a trial period of bylaw enforcement without a bylaw officer, focusing instead on education.
“If education alone is not enough, then we’ll go back to council and look for a decision.”
Yanciw said she hopes the Village’s general Bylaw Enforcement Strategy, currently under development, will be ready by this fall.
Prof. Annie Booth, in the Ecosystems Management Science program at UNBC, has worked on municipal animal bylaw strategies and said that a combination of education and enforcement is “usually the only way to go.”
Prof. Booth says relying on education alone “relies on people wanting to do the right thing, and people do a lot of things even if they know they’re wrong.”
RVSNS expands efforts
Prof. Booth said enforcing animal control laws is often dangerous, and SPCA officers get special training at the Justice Institute of BC. The former bylaw enforcement officer for the Village attended a 10-day course on bylaw enforcement at the Justice Institute. Special training was also part of the qualifications the Village was looking for in an attempt to fill the role earlier this year.
“There’s a lot of skill required,” Prof. Booth said, “To expect a volunteer to do that, if that’s the expectation the Village had of the Society, then I would agree … that would be an unreasonable request.”
Mayor McCracken could not comment on the in camera deliberations, but said, “The Robson Valley Spay and Neuter Society is doing excellent work, independently of us. Would it be better, in an ideal world, to do that work together? Yes. But ultimately, they’re free and they want to do it unencumbered by the Village so we support them.”
Cinnamon said the Society redrafted the original MOU with Hutchins to their satisfaction, but that Council voted to drop the potential partnership for reasons she is still unaware of; she was told a letter would be sent to the Society from the Village about the decision but hasn’t yet received it. In the meantime, the Society was able to fundraise the additional $1,000 to match the SPCA grant.
Mayor McCracken said that partnering with the Village is tough, especially for small organizations, because it inevitably involves a lot of paper work, rules and regulations.
“To a small organization that must feel like a total encumbrance, I totally understand that. But if we’re going to have a formal relationship with you, it has to have certain pieces.”