The Edmonton Humane Society has decided to stop enforcing the Animal Protection Act, but no other agency has been named to take over investigating animal abuse and neglect in the city.
The Animal Protection Act enables peace officers to respond to animals in distress or animals that have been abandoned and to hold negligent owners accountable for their actions.
The humane society said its Board of Directors voted in December to end enforcement on Jan. 31, but the move was only announced on Tuesday.
The APA is currently enforced by peace officers, appointed by the Solicitor General of Alberta and working at the Alberta SPCA, the Calgary Humane Society, and the Edmonton Humane Society.
The EHS said it has been voluntarily providing APA enforcement services within Edmonton, with no provincial funding. The agency said enforcement was funded primarily through donations and a portion of a City of Edmonton grant.
“Upcoming policy changes under the provincial Peace Officer Act forced EHS to evaluate the viability of its enforcement program and whether the new requirements could be met,” the society said in a statement released Tuesday evening.
In a statement provided Thursday evening, the Alberta government said the peace office act was changed last summer as a result of the fatality inquiry into the death of Rod Lazenby: a peace office who was killed on a property outside of Calgary in 2012 while responding to a dog complaint.
The accused in the case was found not criminally responsible for the death due to mental illness.
Alberta Justice disappointed with decision
The office of the Justice and Solicitor General issued a statement, saying municipalities are responsible for making their own arrangements to enforce the Animal Protection Act.
The province said for many years, the city of Edmonton has had an arrangement with the humane society to do some of its APA enforcement.
“The Government of Alberta’s Peace Officer Program has assisted this arrangement by designating EHS staff to be peace officers for the purposes of enforcing the APA,” the statement from Alberta Justice said.
“As such, we are disappointed the EHS decided to stop providing these services without a transition plan – however, the City of Edmonton has assured us it is working to make arrangements to continue undertaking its APA responsibilities.”
Bradko said the humane society has been “working behind the scenes to help facilitate the transition of this important service to another agency” but did not say who.
WATCH BELOW: Dozens more animals have been removed from a farm west of Edmonton as part of an ongoing animal cruelty investigation. Fletcher Kent has the latest.
Alberta SPCA, rescue group concerned
The Alberta SPCA is concerned about who will be responsible for enforcing the APA and protecting animals in Edmonton as of Feb. 1.
“While the Alberta SPCA enforces the APA in municipalities in Alberta outside of Edmonton and Calgary, it does so under memorandums of understanding with the local police agencies in those communities,” the agency said in a news release Wednesday.
“The Alberta SPCA has no such agreement to enforce animal protection legislation in Edmonton. Without a memorandum of understanding in place, the Edmonton Police Service becomes the agency responsible for enforcing the APA in Edmonton as it does for other provincial statutes.”
The Edmonton Police Service said it was made aware of the situation on Tuesday and is currently in talks with the city to address it. EPS currently deals with animal complaints that are criminal in nature.
The SPCA said it’s willing to participate in talks to help determine how best to enforce animal protection legislation in Edmonton going forward, but said it has yet to be approached.
“Our organization has enforced the APA in rural Alberta for over 50 years and has the expertise and experience to ensure animal welfare legislation is enforced effectively,” SPCA spokesperson Dan Kobe said in a news release.
“The Alberta SPCA is also not in a position to absorb the extra responsibility of the City of Edmonton without additional resources. To do so would compromise our ability to enforce the APA in the communities we currently serve.”
Kath Oltascher with Zoe’s Animal Rescue Society is worried about who will pick up the slack. The group fields calls from people with concerns about pets being left outside in the cold, tied up without shelter, and not having food and water.
“So when people call and say, ‘This a concern I have here in the city of Edmonton,’ my first response has been to contact the humane society. Now I’m actually at a loss. I don’t know where to send people.”
Edmonton Humane Society changing focus
The humane society said it is not an expert in enforcement. It said the change will allow it to re-focus on their areas of expertise, which include animal welfare and advocacy.
EHS said it will continue to serve abandoned, abused and neglected animals by giving them a safe haven to receive proper care and a second chance through the sheltering services.
The society said the two employees who worked on the animal protection team have accepted other roles within the organization.
The humane society said it is working with the city, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General, to figure out who will take over enforcement duties.
City of Edmonton on who enforces what
In a statement to Global News on Wednesday, the City of Edmonton said that up to now, the division of labour when it comes to enforcement has been that the EHS protects animals from humans (investigates abuse and neglect) and the city protects people from animals (dog bites, etc).
“EHS has peace officers to carry out this provincial act enforcement responsibility.
“The City of Edmonton has staff who primarily enforce city bylaws that deal with licensing, excessive barking, animals at large etc. Any public complaints about animal abuse have always been forwarded to the EHS for review and investigation.”
The city said it has reached out to the province asking for clarification on provincial act enforcement.
“We will bring a report to city council on Feb. 11 and seek council’s direction on the next steps. In the interim, the City of Edmonton will assist Edmonton Police Services on any urgent animal-related calls when there is an animal in immediate distress.”
It added the city collects a surcharge on dog and cat licenses ($3.50 per cat and $6 per dog) that funds the Humane Society for adoption and enforcement services, totaling approximately $550,000 annually.
WATCH BELOW: Shaye Ganam and Erin Chalmers welcome some adorable Edmonton Humane Society kittens to the morning news desk.