Calgary animal non-profits report surge of harassment: ‘It’s been quite stressful, scary’

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Calgary animal non-profits deal with growing harassment: ‘I was told to go kill myself’
WATCH ABOVE: Calgary animal non-profits are reporting a drop in donations and surge in demand, but it’s also coming with something else — a concerning rise in harassment. Lauren Pullen reports. – Jun 9, 2022

A drop in donations, diminishing volunteers and surge in demand — that’s what some Calgary non-profit animal organizations say they’ve been seeing in the last few months.

But it’s also come with something else: “a disheartening increase of abuse of our volunteers, harassment, damage, vandalism,” according to Parachutes for Pets founder Melissa David, who says they’re dealing with it daily.

“Our volunteers are fantastic — they’ve got us through five waves of COVID(-19) essentially,” said David. But in the last two months, there’s been a shift.

“They’re being yelled at… verbal abuse. Sometimes we’ve had stuff thrown at our volunteers.

“I was told to go kill myself the other day when I couldn’t get a hamper to someone in a few hours. I was getting it, but just couldn’t get it in that time frame — we’re all volunteers.”

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David knows times are tough. She sees it firsthand interacting with the charity’s clients.

“There’s such a real struggle right now to get mental health supports available. It’s all piling on – they can’t afford their food, bills, pets’ bills right now. It’s the perfect storm.”

ARTS Senior Animal Rescue organizers say they’ve also seen a recent rise in harassment, twofold — from people who aren’t successful in adoption and the growing number of those needing to surrender their senior pets.

“We just can’t accommodate everybody, and on a weekly basis we’re figuring out who is most urgent, who do we have room for, who we don’t — and we have to unfortunately make decisions of who we can and can’t help,” said Blair Douglas, the Calgary co-ordinator for ARTS.

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“If we aren’t able to help somebody because we don’t have the space, we’ve been told that we killed somebody’s pet because they had to euthanize their pet because of it, which is obviously super heartbreaking. We spend lots of time trying to find homes.”

Douglas says it’s been tough on everyone.

“Unfortunately that leads to some people getting quite frustrated – somewhat understandable. But we’re all volunteers doing the best we can.”

Both Parachutes for Pets and ARTS say even with the recent increase in negativity, the majority of clients create no problems.

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This isn’t something isolated to animal charities, according to the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (CCVO), it spans across much of the sector.

“We hear from non-profits (that) the needs and complexities of the people they serve are getting greater,” CCVO president and CEO Karen Ball said.

“Everyone is feeling stress and pressure, mental health issues are increasing, there are more Calgarians facing the circumstance of living in poverty, and all of these things combined can create tension when someone is seeking services.”

Ball echoes many non-profits across Alberta also dealing with a decline in cash and supply donations along with fewer volunteers and staff.

“In Alberta… we have seen a lot of programs and services that… have provided support to help small- to medium-size businesses to help recover our economy,” said Ball.

“And we at CCVO are in conversations with the government of Alberta about how we recover our community and what it might mean to put the same kind of investments into our social infrastructure and our non-profits to also help community recovery because these two things are interdependent.”

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The CCVO has created a blueprint to help with that community recovery, calling for 3.5 per cent of the province’s Alberta Recovery Plan to be invested into a community recovery fund “targeted to support mental health, diversity, equity, inclusion, youth engagement and digital transformation.”

Both Parachutes for Pets and ARTS know many Calgarians are struggling right now and understand that’s a big reason why donations aren’t what they have been in the past.

Both organizations are searching for more volunteers and any other support Calgarians are able to give.

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