Local advocates are continuing to press for greater municipal involvement in the care and upkeep of animals in Norfolk County.
The latest gesture involves an online petition at change.org that has so far secured 625 signatures.
The Simcoe and District Humane Society – organizer of the petition – is aiming for 1,000 signatures and intends to forward it to Governor Simcoe Square once the drive is over.
Cathie Hosken, president of the local humane society, says the petition addresses a void in Norfolk not found in neighbouring municipalities. Norfolk contracts for canine-control services but has nothing in place to address wildlife complaints.
“The rest is left up to volunteer organizations,” Hosken said. “What we’re saying is a form of animal control has to be brought in, whether it is contracted or taken in-house.”
Hosken says volunteer groups in Norfolk bear the burden for homeless cats and problem wildlife. This, she said, is a drain on resources that groups in neighbouring municipalities do not experience. Hosken and supporters of the petition want Norfolk to level the playing field.
“It would be great to have a dialogue between the humane society, the municipality and the province to see what we could come up with,” Hosken said.
Norfolk council has discussed the issue at length on several occasions since the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals withdrew from the field of animal protection last year.
Council is leery of committing resources to an area that has historically been provincial jurisdiction. Especially contentious is the suggestion that Norfolk pitch in to relieve the burden on local wildlife rescue operations.
Norfolk County and Norfolk’s Police Services Board have discussed the possibility of the Norfolk OPP responding to wildlife calls as part of their normal routine. PSB chair Dennis Travale recently rejected the idea, saying this is not a good use of police resources.
Norfolk Coun. Chris Van Paassen has been vocal in his opposition to the county assuming more responsibility in this area. Van Paassen said Queen’s Park would be happy to let municipalities assume provincial responsibilities if they’re willing to raise the taxes and the manpower to do so.
In September, Van Paassen said a department of five individuals on call 24 hours a day would be necessary to respond to wildlife complaints. This would be expensive, he said, because many wild animals are nocturnal and would require attention after dark.
Given the financial challenges facing the county, Van Paassen says council has little appetite to explore expensive new services.
“We will have a lot of discussion come budget just to maintain the programs we have,” Van Paassen said last Tuesday. “I don’t think council is looking for additional programs that require the input of taxpayers’ dollars.”
Chantal Theijn, manager of the Hobbitstee Wildlife Refuge in Jarvis, says there’s a discrepancy between the service offered in Haldimand versus Norfolk County.
The Welland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is contracted to respond to wildlife complaints in Haldimand County. There is no corresponding service in Norfolk, Theijn added, meaning she routinely travels to Simcoe to collect sick, distressed raccoons and injured wildlife for treatment at her compound on Walpole Road 4.
“You get the same call in Norfolk and there is basically nothing,” Theijn said. “We don’t know how serious rabies is in Norfolk County because no testing is being done. We’re basically doing work the county should be doing.”
Hosken adds this is a serious problem, one that should concern the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit. Wild animals, her petition says, carry dangerous viruses that remain infectious beyond the death of their victims.
“If an animal dies in the winter and freezes, once the carcass thaws the rabies virus can become active again,” the petition says. “This causes concern for other animals coming in contact with the carcass.”