Due to the economic downturn, the SPCA says it is receiving a higher number of requests from pet owners seeking financial assistance to provide proper care for their pets.
The SPCA says that this year, some pet owners in Newfoundland and Labrador struggle to pay for basic care for their pets. Requests range from veterinary assistance, food and shelter to people relinquishing their pets to the SPCA due to financial circumstances.
Debbie Powers, SPCA Shelter Director in St. John's, says the rise of unregulated backyard breeders has been identified as the biggest contributor to an animal overpopulation problem.
She said backyard breeders breed unregistered animals and sell the puppies without papers for tax-free income. The SPCA received a number of complaint calls in 2008 from the public who had purchased dogs from unregistered breeders.
Powers also noted the SPCA responded recently to an anonymous complaint call about a backyard breeder in Carbonear where unregistered Yorkie puppies are sold for $1,200 each. The family keeps 14 Yorkie adult dogs that are used as breeding stock with seven of the dogs kept in a shed in the backyard.
"Under current laws, anyone can set up their own backyard breeding operation with no regulations in place governing the health of the dogs or the conditions," Powers said. "It is an easy way to make tax-free income with the public completely unaware of the condition of these puppies and the inhumane conditions under which they are bred."
Backyard breeders operate everywhere in Newfoundland and Labrador. They advertise their puppies for sale on Kijiji, the Buy and Sell magazine and on NL Classifieds online.
Changes to legislation needed
Powers said she hoped the provincial government will implement long-awaited changes to the Animal Protection Act this year. Changes to be addressed include:
• An increase in fines and penalties for persons convicted of animal cruelty and abuse;
• Prohibition orders for offenders;
• Costs for animal care borne by the SPCA be paid by the offender;
• Anyone using animals in research would have to adhere to the standards articulated by the Canadian Council on Animal Care
• Prescribing of forms for adoption and surrender of animals, and for search warrants dealing with the seizure of animals in distress and the entry into dwellings for purposes of such seizures;
• The right of unannounced inspection of premises where animals are kept for hire, sale or adoption;
• Permit immediate euthanasia where it is impracticable to seize or house animals;
• Allow for constructive de jure or purely legal seizures as opposed to actual physical seizures where appropriate;
• Prohibition against animals travelling without enclosure protection in the back of trucks, the biggest problem being dogs in the back of pickups whether tethered or un-tethered;
• The SPCA and each of its branches are separate bodies corporate similar to what exists in the Nova Scotia legislation
David Buffett, President of the Newfoundland and Labrador SPCA, says the province has not kept pace with animal protection legislation in other provinces such as British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Alberta.
"Fines and penalties are so inadequate that they are no longer considered a deterrent," Buffett said. "We will be working with (government) to model our animal protection legislation largely after Alberta's with some modelling after Nova Scotia's legislation."
Spay Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP)
The SPCA held a targetted fundraiser last October to establish a Spay Neuter Assistance Program for the pets of low-income owners. Proceeds from the fundraiser, private donations and a donation from the cat food manufacturer, Whiskas, will be used to subsidize the sterilization surgery for low-income pet owners. A detailed proposal was sent to all veterinary clinics on the Avalon Peninsula and the SPCA is reporting a positive response to date from many of the clinics.
Powers said the SPCA is committed to reducing shelter euthanasia.
"We want to work together with people and veterinarians to address the overpopulation of pets, which is becoming a community-wide problem," she said. "No birth is the first step to stopping the flow of so many unwanted animals."
Feral cat colonies increasing
The St. John's SPCA receives daily calls from citizens across the Avalon Peninsula who request assistance with the growing colonies of feral cats that are feeding on their properties.
The shelter does not have enough staff to respond to the high number of calls coming in from all the communities.
A female cat can go into heat at six months of age and produce up to three litters in a single year. Instead of spaying and neutering their cats, people are abandoning them in apartments, municipal dumps and in wooded areas.
The SPCA is concerned that worsening economic conditions will add to the problem of people not spaying and neutering their pets.
Municipalities need to help
Many municipalities across Newfoundland and Labrador have no animal control service with the responsibility for animal care falling on the SPCA.
In 2008, the St. John's SPCA responded to 400 calls of neglect and assistance with stray and injured animals across the Avalon Peninsula. All travel costs and veterinary bills are covered by the SPCA's fundraising resources.
"The SPCA cannot be an animal control service for so many towns and municipalities," Powers said. "The time has come for the municipalities to accept responsibility for running their communities and provide basic animal control.
"Sadly, there are dogs in all our communities that live a miserable existence at the end of a short chain where they are forgotten. Better animal control by-laws can address this serious problem by requiring that owners provide optimal levels of care for their animals."
At a time when the SPCA is faced with higher veterinary bills, 2008 also marked the end of Sobeys and Dominion's grocery store tape program which accounted for $18,000 in bottom-line fundraising.
The St. John's SPCA statistics for the year ending Dec. 31, 2008 are:
Total animals: 2264
Dogs - 470 total (Stray 174; Abandoned 15; Owners brought in 250; Seized 31; Adopted 399; Euthanized 71).
Cats - 1418 total (Stray 480; Abandoned 226; Owners brought in 684; Seized 28; Adopted 662; Euthanized 756).
Other animals - Total: 26.
Animals helped outside shelter - Total: 350
Report animal cruelty and suspected animal abuse to the St. John's SPCA at 709-726-0301, Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (1-800-222-8477) or the City of St. John's Humane Services or the Police.