Some on Norfolk council want the county to tread lightly when it comes to concerns over animal abuse and neglect.
A void is looming as the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals prepares to wind down its involvement with animal abuse and neglect cases.
Some on council want a plan prepared in case the Ford government downloads responsibility for this file onto municipalities.
Windham Coun. Chris Van Paassen doesn’t doubt that planning is a good idea. But he also believes there are occasions where it doesn’t pay to look too eager.
“This is a subject I don’t want to get sucked into,” Van Paassen said at the April 23 meeting of Norfolk council. “If you see a hornet’s nest, don’t walk up to it and hit it with a stick. Just walk past it.”
Rather than looking to catch something from above, Van Paassen suggested a sternly-worded letter asking the province what it intends to do now that the OSPCA is vacating the field.
Van Paassen was responding to motions from Simcoe Coun. Ian Rabbitts.
Rabbitts wants Norfolk’s obligations in the county’s animal control bylaw clarified. He also wants staff to collaborate with Norfolk’s Police Services Board on a report about “service delivery models” in the area of animal cruelty prevention and enforcement involving the OPP, the Simcoe and District Humane Society, local animal shelters and so on.
Waterford Coun. Kim Huffman also worries about the county looking like it is searching for something to do. If municipalities look willing, Huffman said the province might decide they are able.
For his part, Rabbitts said Norfolk should have a plan in case the Ford government imposes responsibility for animal welfare on municipalities.
“It seems to be a hot potato, and I’d hate the county to get burned by it,” he told council. “My concern is that – if we don’t have this conversation – we could be reacting to a worse situation.”
Council members are concerned because animal neglect and cruelty evoke an emotional response in the public. Even with the OSPCA in place, many turn to the municipality to do something.
“If anyone comes across cruelty, it is all over the internet in five seconds,” Mayor Kristal Chopp said.
Council members and Norfolk staff have fielded complaints of late about raccoons acting erratically in broad daylight in rural and urban settings. Many believe the county is responsible for doing something about nuisance animals.
Best he can tell, Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus said the public’s only recourse is to call a pest-control agency and have a trained professional remove raccoons and other wild animals from the neighbourhood. This is not a county service and is delivered at the complainant’s expense.
Former mayor Dennis Travale, of Simcoe, was appointed chair of Norfolk’s Police Services Board on April 24. His opening remarks touched on the province’s precarious financial position and how the Ford government will be looking for opportunities to download programs onto municipalities.
After referencing council’s discussion of animal welfare, Travale said finding efficiencies and eliminating the needless deployment of resources is key to keeping OPP costs under control.
“We’re going to have to put our heads together and look at cost containment,” Travale said.
At last Tuesday’s meeting, Norfolk council agreed to identify the county’s current obligations regarding animal welfare and have these explicitly stated in Norfolk’s animal control bylaw.
Staff members were also directed to prepare a report on the implications for Norfolk if municipalities are called on to fill the pending void left by the OSPCA.
Van Paassen noted that members of the South-Central Ontario Region (SCOR) coalition of municipalities will soon hold their annual meet-and-greet event with Ontario MPPs and provincial officials representing this organization.
Van Paassen said he would be happy to use the occasion to raise the OSPCA situation with Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, and other senior members of the Ford government.