Earlier this week, the Edmonton Humane Society announced it would stop enforcing the Animal Protection Act , and on Thursday, the organization’s board chair revealed it was concerns about safety that prompted the organization’s decision.
“Our animal protection employees are put in unsafe situations every day, including seizures from drug houses and situations that they are not well-positioned to respond to,” Summer Bradko, chair of the board of the EHS, told Global News on Thursday.
“Enforcement activities are police-like activities that involve search and seizure and going into high-risk situations that necessitate carrying weapons and going into court,” she added. “That’s not what we’re best positioned to do.
“We believe those activities should be carried out by experts in the field with training in law enforcement.”
The Animal Protection Act gives peace officers the power to see to animals in distress or animals that have been abandoned. It also lets peace officers hold negligent owners to account.
On Tuesday, the EHS announced its board voted in December to end enforcement on Jan. 31.
The Animal Protection Act is currently enforced by peace officers appointed by the Solicitor General of Alberta and who work at the Alberta SPCA, the Calgary Humane Society or the EHS.
In a statement provided Thursday evening, the Alberta Justice said the peace officer act was changed last year 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.
In the past, peace officers in Alberta were categorized as CPO level one and CPO level two, based on the type of enforcement they perform.
CPO1’s have more training in officer safety, defensive tactics, weapons and legal studies. They can enforce traffic safety laws, and are authorized to carry weapons such as batons, pepper spray, handcuffs and body armor.
There was no requirement for level 2 officers to take that kind of training, and were limited batons and could not carry pepper spray on them. Lazenby was a level two officer.
The changes mean almost all Alberta peace officers must meet the CPO level one standard. The new rules also state employers must to draft policy that prohibits a peace officer from attending a location alone where this is a known threat.
WATCH BELOW: (From Jan. 23, 2019) The Edmonton Humane Society is ending its role in protecting animals from abuse and neglect in our city. As Sarah Kraus explains, animal activists are concerned.
The EHS said enforcement was funded primarily through donations and a portion of a City of Edmonton grant.
Earlier this week, the office of Alberta’s justice minister issued a statement that said municipalities are responsible for making their own arrangements to enforce the Animal Protection Act.
The province said that for many years, the City of Edmonton has had an arrangement with the EHS to do some of its enforcement.
In the wake of the EHS announcement, the City of Edmonton said this week it will assist the Edmonton Police Service on any urgent animal-related calls when there is an animal in immediate distress. However, the Edmonton Police Service said it will only be dealing with criminal cases.
On Thursday, Councillor Scott McKeen indicated the city was taken by surprise when the announcement was made by the EHS.
“It’s a little hard right now to know where the humane society is coming from,” he said. “Was there any discussion with the city or with the province before this happened?”
Bradko said her organization had reached out to the city.
“We had indicated our desire to step away from this, and neither the province nor the city offered to step into the void,” she said. “There was nothing that we were given the opportunity to transition to.”
“It looks a little rash. It looks a little emotional, perhaps,” McKeen said.
“Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and we’ll be able to settle this all down and continue to have the humane society involved in enforcement as well as adoption.”
Earlier this week, the city told Global News it collects a surcharge on dog and cat licences that goes to the humane society for adoption and enforcement services. The surcharge totals about $550,000 annually.
The Calgary Humane Society takes responsibility for enforcing the Animal Protection Act in Alberta’s largest city. On Thursday, an official with that organization said he understands EHS concerns about safety.
“There’s no doubt it can be a dangerous job,” Brad Nichols told Global News on Thursday.
“I mean, you’re seizing animals from people who, despite loving their animals, don’t take very good care of them or potentially even abuse them.”
However, Nichols said the CHS mandate is not changing and its peace officers will continue to enforce the Animal Protection Act.
“(There was) some shock, of course… that our counterparts in Edmonton won’t be doing the same work that we do,” Nichols said, adding he was also shocked about the short notice with which the EHS announced it would cease enforcing the Animal Protection Act.
“If there was a transition plan in place, this wouldn’t be so dire,” he said.
Bradko said she also wishes a transition plan was in place, however, she suggested that other officials also have a responsibility for that.
“When we notified the City of Edmonton, as well as the province, of our intention to step away from enforcement, they didn’t have any solutions forthcoming,” she said. “So we felt if we didn’t withdraw, that nobody would ever step into the void.”
Nichols said the CHS has five peace officers and they responded to about 1,050 calls last year. Bradko said the EHS has one peace officer and one assistant and responded to about 1,200 calls in 2017.
Bradko said the EHS will help with the transition once a new organization has been tasked with enforcing the Animal Protection Act in Edmonton. Nichols said the CHS will do its best to support whomever takes over the enforcement role in Edmonton, as much as his organization’s budget will allow.
McKeen described the EHS announcement as “a real curveball coming at us.”
“I don’t think any of us anticipated this,” he said. “I want an organization as devoted to the care of animals as the one that’s doing the enforcement.
“Maybe this organization needs further support, and maybe not all of it financial. Maybe they’ve been floundering a bit and we didn’t know it, and the province didn’t know it. Hopefully we can get people into a room to figure this out.”
WATCH BELOW: The Edmonton Humane Society is a regular guest on Global News Morning, showing off some of the cats and dogs available to be adopted.
–With files from Global News’ Sarah Kraus, Karen Bartko and Emily Mertz