Five months after three feral cats who were in the City of Edmonton’s care died, four employees, and the city itself, have been charged with regulatory offences under the Animal Protection Act.
In a news release issued Thursday afternoon, the city said the cats were moved from the City of Edmonton’s Animal Care and Control Centre to another city facility on May 18.
“We’re unsure of the exact reason why they died but they died as part of the relocation from our facility to the intended waste facility that they were heading towards,” David Aitken, the city’s branch manager of community standards, told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.
“Two of the cats, upon landing at the location, were found dead and one died within a day.”
“The staff at the Animal Care and Control Centre care profoundly about animals and their welfare,” Aitken said in a news release. “Our staff had the best of intentions in looking for a new way to help unadoptable feral cats and provide them with a safe place to live. There was no intent to harm these animals.
“This incident has been devastating to our employees and we are doing everything we can to support them while taking steps to ensure this does not happen again.”
Aitken told reporters he couldn’t say if the employees charged faced any sanctions such as suspension from their duties but also said, “we believe Edmontonians expect us to be open and transparent about these incidences and we believe we have been.”
Global News has confirmed the four people facing charges are Ron Gabruck, Amy Buijze, Jessica Stern and Maya Dery.
Global News reached out to Gabruck for comment but was told by a city official that it would be inappropriate for him to comment as the matter is before the courts.
The maximum penalty for convictions under the Animal Protection Act is up to a $20,000 fine, as well as a potential lifetime ban from owning animals.
According to the city, the pilot program under which the feral cats were being cared for was suspended immediately following the animals’ deaths. The city said the incident was reported to the Edmonton Humane Society and a comprehensive internal review was undertaken to look into what happened.
The city said the matter was referred to the Alberta SPCA so that organization could complete its own investigation.
Late Thursday afternoon, the Alberta SPCA sent a statement to Global News confirming it had laid the charges. The SPCA said the incident was reported to it July 2018.
“The Alberta SPCA received a public complaint that three cats in the care of the City of Edmonton’s Animal Care and Control Centre had suffered distress and died,” the statement said. “As a law enforcement agency dedicated to animal welfare, the Alberta SPCA conducted a rigorous investigation to determine the facts of the case and has now laid a total of nine charges in relation to the complaint.”
On Friday, Mayor Don Iveson said he was sad to hear about the cats’ deaths.
“I think the city takes its job with respect to animal welfare very, very seriously and so I think we’re all relieved to hear that it’s being properly investigated, that people are being held accountable.
“As to what that looks like, those are human resources processes internal to the city but rest assured that I and the city take the need for investigation, the need for accountability when it comes to animal welfare very, very seriously.”
When asked why it took the city five months to tell the public about what happened, Iveson suggested the city may look into that further.
Iveson indicated it was too early to say if council will get involved in the disciplinary and review process.
“It’s important for us to wait and see what the independent investigation provides and then council will receive a confidential update on what sort of disciplinary action occurred and then until we’ve seen that, it’s hard to determine whether there should be further action from council,” he said.
“I’m going to let the processes — that are robust — play out and then determine whether council needs to intervene.”
The pilot program to deal with Edmonton’s feral cats was launched in March 2018, the city said, with the aim of providing feral cats that are brought to the Animal Care and Control Centre with suitable shelter.
“After being spayed or neutered and medically cleared for release, the animals were transferred from the Animal Care and Control Centre to other city facilities with warehouses or storage yards,” the city said on Thursday. “The cats are given food, water, and shelter and can live out their lives, including acting as mousers to help keep rodent populations under control.
“Thirty-three cats were successfully placed in City of Edmonton facilities during the program’s first three months.”
According to the city, it’s estimated that about 65,000 feral cats live in Alberta’s capital and about 800 are brought to the Animal Care and Control Centre shelter every year.
“Because they cannot be easily adopted as pets, the distressing reality is many are euthanized,” the city said.
Aitken told reporters that the city’s feral cat program “has been adopted by other municipalities throughout North America, it has been very successful in relocating these cats to warehouse locations, to storage facilities, things like that — to run a normal life and reduce the population.”
–With a file from The Canadian Press