As the City of Edmonton looks at ways to cut spending and maintain a zero per cent tax increase heading into 2021, a number of services and programs are on the chopping block — but there’s one that animal advocates say could be disastrous.
A single line in the potential budget clawbacks reads “elimination of spay and neuter services,” which are run by Animal Care and Control.
The $100,000 program fixes about 1,000 animals each year before they’re handed off to rescues to be adopted to loving homes.
One of those rescues is Furget Me Not. It specializes in saving orphaned kittens, many of which are just days old.
“If a family finds a litter of kittens in their shed or under their deck, and there’s no sign of mom, they bring them to animal control,” founder Christine Koltun explained. “But it is a city-run facility and so they can’t stay there.
“They need care every hour or every two hours for the first few weeks of life.”
Koltun and her volunteers spend countless hours feeding and caring for the little animals before they’re ready to be adopted, and it’s an expensive job.
“One can of kitten formula is $41, and in peak kitten season, I’m going through three a day,” she said.
But cancelling the ACC’s spay and neuter program would download spay and neuter costs onto rescues like hers.
“For us to have to add $200 or $250 per kitten, to do that spay and neuter ourselves when they’re ready, it would make it impossible for me to maintain my intake,” Koltun said. “I would have to reduce my intakes by about 75 per cent.
“Unfortunately, the consequence of that is those kittens would be euthanized by animal care and control.”
Furget Me Not, like many other local rescue groups, is already stretched thin and can’t carry the additional financial burden.
“We’ve got very limited resources — donations are at an all time low because people don’t have money to donate this year,” Koltun said. “We’ve had to cancel our fundraisers (and) cancel our adoption events.
“We’re already struggling, trying to do more with less.”
Koltun feels the city isn’t looking at the bigger picture when it comes to this change.
The city’s budgeting document shows an expected savings of $100,000 — exactly the amount that goes into the program. But Koltun said it doesn’t account for the additional costs of putting animals down.
She said it costs ACC about $30 to euthanize a pet, compared to $50 to neuter one and $70 to spay one.
“But it makes that animal eligible for adoption, eligible for transfer to a rescue, and then the city has potential to earn a little revenue off that animal through pet licensing for 15-20 years of their lifespan.”
Koltun said if rescues are full, because they now have to spend their donation and grant money on fixing animals that previously came fixed from ACC, it creates a dangerous situation when people want to surrender a pet.
“People are going to start getting desperate (in terms of ) what to do with their animals,” she said.
“That’s when you end up hearing stories about dogs in dumpsters and kitties left in boxes on the side of the road, because everywhere people turn, they get a no.”
The co-founder of Zoe’s Animal Rescue agrees.
“If there is less spaying and neutering being done by the city, we are in trouble because that means there’s more to be done by us,” Kath Oltsher said.
She’s also worried about potential impacts on Edmonton’s feral cat population, last reported to be around 65,000.
“We have requests for up to 20 cats a day coming in , and I know that’s just us. We’re one group,” Oltsher explained.
“It’s not good no matter how you look at it, even for one year. One year is enough time for many, many cats to have many, many kittens.”
As it stands, Zoe’s spends about half of its money on spaying and neutering each year — about $250,000.
“This isn’t something we can just skip in 2021 and resume in 2022, I don’t think we’ll ever catch up on that backlog,” Koltun explained.
She said the city is also responsible for treating sick and injured cats, so a potential spike in feral cats would also cost more money that way.
Coun. Aaron Paquette has heard these concerns from his Ward 4 residents, and agrees.
“It doesn’t make sense to me, personally, that we would be cutting this program, of all programs, especially considering the fact that by doing so, we may get ourselves into trouble down the line,” he said.
Paquette also called the $100,000 price tag of the program a blip in the budget.
“In a $3.2-billion or $3.4-billion budget, it doesn’t really amount to very much.”
Paquette said he hopes his fellow councillors look at the potential long-term consequences of a short-term savings.
“We know, for the example of other municipalities who cut these programs, the sheer cost of saving $100,000 has lead to millions of dollars of costs — and even the process of euthanasia has costs.”
Animal advocates are encouraging residents to write, email or call their city councillor to share their thoughts on the potential cut.