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Examining the state of animal rights in Montreal

City seeks to strengthen animal protection laws

About 200 abandoned pets found new homes the last weekend of October at the Montreal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). The SPCA called the weekend “Operation Adoption,” a project in collaboration with the City of Montreal to encourage new pet owners to adopt animals from shelters rather than pet stores.

“We look forward to the day when it is no longer necessary to have large animal shelters caring for homeless and neglected animals,” read a press release from Montreal SPCA Executive Director Nicholas Gilman.

However, it is unclear whether the weekend-long adoption campaign will significantly address problems of overpopulation and mistreatment of domestic animals.

Quebec was singled out as “the best province to be an animal abuser” in a study published by the Animal Legal Defense Fund this year, based on a number of criteria including standards of basic care for domestic animals and punishment for animal abuse.

In April 2011, an investigation by Radio-Canada’s program Enquête did an exposé on Berger Blanc, Montreal’s largest for-profit animal shelter. Reporters uncovered widespread mistreatment of animals and euthanization by non-veterinarians, which can lead to unnecessarily slow and painful deaths.

The Montreal SPCA runs a non-profit animal shelter. Director of Development Anthony Johnson claimed that Berger Blanc’s for-profit status was the root of its problems.

“We believe that for-profit pounds have a negative impact because they rely on overpopulation to continue to profit, and so are not part of the solution to animal care and control,” Johnson told The Daily.

In the aftermath of the exposé on Berger Blanc, the municipal government made a concerted effort to change the city’s reputation regarding animal welfare.

Currently, animal protection laws vary among the 19 neighbourhoods of Montreal. The mayor’s office has proposed a standardized bylaw for all of the neighbourhoods, which they have not yet approved.

According to Martine Painchaud, the press officer for the mayor’s office, “Each borough is responsible for animal control. They each have their own bylaw, some with the best practices, some not. The city of Montreal worked with the experts and the boroughs to harmonize the bylaw so that we offer the opportunity to every borough to adopt this bylaw, which is based on the best practices, some of which are already in place.”

“Our goal is to harmonize the bylaws so that every borough will have the same bylaw in terms of animal control,” she continued.

The city has also commissioned a new animal refuge, scheduled to open in 2014.

Painchaud believes that the existence of a government-run shelter will do much to resolve Montreal’s problems with domestic animal overpopulation and abandonment.

“We have a big problem in Montreal: all the animal shelters are full. We want to create a municipal animal shelter managed by the city because we want to respond to the needs of Montreal in terms of the control and well-being of animals,” she explained in French. “It will be an integrated centre where all services will be provided: animal control, veterinary services, and a service for animal well-being.”

Johnson praised the city’s initiative in planning a municipal animal shelter and standardizing the city’s bylaws on animal protection.

“The city has got to take the lead in animal care and control,” he said. “I think there are a lot of really good side effects that occur because the city is taking the lead. I don’t believe that the city taking a step forward and creating a best-practices and humane approach to animal care and control will be a negative for those of us who every day are working to make the city better for animals.”

Julie Desgagnés, the communications representative at the Animal Rescue Network (ARN), argued that the city might more effectively accomplish its goal by funding smaller animal shelters like the ARN and helping them expand.

The ARN is entirely volunteer-run. According to its website, it is “the largest no-kill shelter in Montreal.’

“We are glad they want to build [the government-run animal shelter],” said Desgagnés. “It’s important that a city like Montreal takes care of that problem, because there is a problem of overpopulation of animals. But there are existing solutions that need money, and with that money you could really help [an association like the ARN].”

However, even if the city of Montreal’s planned changes solve the problem of domestic animal abandonment, there still remains the fact that most Canadian animal protection laws – and those in Quebec in particular – are restricted to the protection of domestic animals.

Leiba Feldman, president of McGill’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, attributed the lack of legislation protecting non-domestic animals to a general ignorance about the well-being of animals that people don’t encounter on a regular basis.

“In general, there’s a focus in legislation on what people hear about and what they know,” she told The Daily. “We know our domestic animals, but sometimes people disconnect themselves from other kinds of animals. Because of this disconnect, there are less laws to protect them.”