The SPCA is making good on its promise to no longer accept any dogs from the nine boroughs it serves, as a response to Mayor Denis Coderre’s anti-pitbull bylaw.
But that may leave the city’s dogs entirely to Berger Blanc — the for-profit municipal pound that has had to fend off criticism about the treatment of animals under its care.
Starting March 31 — the day the animal control bylaw comes into effect, forcing owners of “pit bull-type dogs” to get a special permit — the SPCA says it will cease to provide any services for dogs, as providing these services would likely mean having to euthanize “pit-bull-type dogs,” the organization argued — because of their looks, not their behaviour.
“If it had been in effect this year, the bylaw would have made it impossible to find adoptive homes for hundreds of perfectly healthy, behaviourally sound dogs,”explained Dr. Gabrielle Carrière, head veterinarian at the Montreal SPCA, which takes in 2,000 abandoned, stray, or seized dogs every year. “As we know, animals that cannot be adopted must too often be euthanized.”
The SPCA first notified the nine boroughs of its intentions in September, after the Coderre administration passed breed-specific legislation.
It will prevent people from buying or adopting pit-bull-type dogs not already in their possession, and require existing owners to leash and muzzle them outdoors and buy a special $150 permit.
In October, the SPCA successfully challenged the bylaw in Superior Court, arguing among other things that the description of dogs was too vague, and the bylaw was suspended for two months.
But the Court of Appeal overturned the suspension Dec. 1, allowing the regulations to come into effect until the Superior Court considers the legality of these provisions. No date has been set for the hearing.
The SPCA recontacted the affected boroughs this week, said SPCA spokesperson Anita Kapuscinska.
“They are concerned with the situation but they also understand, and are looking into how they will proceed,” Kapuscinska said. “This isn’t a pressure tactic or protest. We found this decision to be extremely difficult to make.”
The mayor’s office released a brief statement Thursday afternoon, saying the administration was also working with the affected boroughs to evaluate their options in light of this “unjustified abandonment.”
“The solution chosen will aim to ensure the continuity of animal services in these boroughs,” the statement continued. “That said, it is worth remembering that the City of Montreal has made a commitment that no order to euthanize will be issued against any dog, including a pit-bull-type dog, without a declaration by the competent authority that the dog is dangerous, at risk, stray, dying, critically injured or highly contagious.”
The only other organization that currently provides the same level and kind of services as the SPCA, however, is the for-profit municipal pound Berger Blanc, which has contracts with seven boroughs of Montreal.
In September, Berger Blanc said it would take over from the SPCA if they stopped taking in dogs.
At the time, Pierre Couture, Berger Blanc’s president and executive director, said “We won’t let dogs wander around the city attacking children.”
But that may not have reassured those who remember Berger Blanc’s not-too-distant past.
In 2011, a Radio-Canada investigation revealed that some of the methods used by the pound to euthanize animals were cruel, and that services to help pet owners find their pets after they had been picked up were almost non-existent.
Subsequent protests called on the city to cancel its contracts with Berger Blanc, and transfer them to the SPCA.
Couture was not available for an interview Thursday, but a spokesperson for Berger Blanc said the company has taken measures to ensure the animals are treated properly.
There are now surveillance cameras in every department, and all employees must sign an agreement to report any mistreatment of animals, or be held criminally responsible, said Alexandrine de Lasalle, a biologist and assistant director at Berger Blanc. And the order of veterinarians makes surprise visits to inspect its activities, she added.
“There are still people who are worried about what changes we made, and why we are still open,” said de Lasalle. “But we’ve made sure (mistreatment) doesn’t happen again. And people have no problem leaving us their animals to be euthanized with the utmost respect.”
That said, de Lasalle doesn’t believe that the new pit bull bylaw will lead to mass euthanasia. At Berger Blanc, all dogs that do not have severe health or behavioural problems are kept until they are adopted, she said, adding 10 pit-bull-type dogs were adopted over the last month, some by families in Montreal.
Once the bylaw takes affect, however, they will be adopted by people in municipalities without breed-specific legislation, de Lasalle said.
Asked what she thought of the possibility of Berger Blanc taking over the SPCA’s contracts, Kapuscinska said the SPCA is worried about what will happen to the contracts and these animals.
“But regardless of who takes these contracts, as long as there is breed-specific legislation, we are concerned with dogs being euthanized because of their looks, not their behaviour.”
The SPCA will continue to provide services for other animals (cats, wildlife, and exotic animals) in all the affected boroughs.