Local shelters, vets reporting animal welfare crisis


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Local animal rescues are sounding the alarm about the crisis of feral cats and abandoned dogs in Westman.

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Local animal rescues are sounding the alarm about the crisis of feral cats and abandoned dogs in Westman.

Paws Crossed Animal Shelter, located in Brandon, issued a call for help on its Facebook page Wednesday about a group of cats at a rural pound that was scheduled to be euthanized the following day. The shelter managed to raise enough money — about $600 — to save the cats. The funds would be used to spay and neuter the felines.

While this particular story has a happy ending, Brittany Bergwall, a volunteer at Paws Crossed, said the problem of feral cats is widespread in Manitoba, resulting in shelters so full that they must institute intake freezes. Bergwall said Paws Crossed is currently on an intake freeze but made an exception for the animals it rescued Wednesday.

One of the cats that was rescued thanks to local donations and the Paws Crossed Animal Shelter. (Submitted)

“There are charities and rescues Canada-wide that are dedicated to just taking rescues from Manitoba, because we have such a large problem. But unfortunately, they are also reaching capacity and are on intake freezes.”

Manitoba doesn’t have uniform animal laws that other provinces do but rather a “piecemeal” system that contributes to the problem, Bergwall said.

“There’s nothing saying that you need a breeder licence in order to breed. Everyone can breed if they want to. There’s no legislation other than individual municipalities and cities … that have bylaws of spaying and neutering.”

Many of the problems veterinarian offices and shelters face would be prevented if more pet owners had their animals fixed, she said.

Another contributing factor to the issue of feral animals, Bergwall said, is the shortage of practising veterinarians in the province.

“Manitoba is losing vets at an alarming rate. Right now, in the city of Brandon, you can’t get a vet. A lot of vets aren’t taking patients, because they’re at capacity.”

Dr. Liz Ostendorf, who has been practising at the Neepawa Veterinary Clinic for nearly 10 years, works closely with Paws Crossed. She said an overlooked reason behind the veterinarian shortage in Manitoba is suicide.

“As a profession, [veterinary medicine] is very busy, and it has lots of ups and downs and lots of stressors in it. People have this idea that being a vet is … petting puppies and kitties all day. There’s actually a lot of hard stuff that has to happen,” Ostendorf said.

“Vets are very prone to mental health issues, and suicide is a big issue for our profession … we lose a fair number of colleagues every year to suicide. We also have colleagues that leave the profession just because it becomes too much for them.”

Ostendorf also noted that schools aren’t producing enough veterinarians to keep up with the pace of retirement across the profession.

Sherrill Creasy runs A Tail to Tell frontline rescue, a non-profit organization based out of Ste. Rose du Lac and Carberry that focuses on dog care.

She has noticed the issue of sick and injured dogs is especially prominent in First Nations communities. Last Sunday, she rescued seven dogs from just four houses, she said. Part of the problem is that some people are reluctant to spay or neuter their animals and there are typically no bylaws enforcing residents to do so.

A Tail to Tell does offer owner assistance programs, and it has been trying to work with community leaders to create awareness around the issue of feral dogs.

“We are trying our best to communicate with chiefs and councils and it just seems to be put on the backburner all the time,” Creasy said. “We’ve tried every angle … they have to take ownership of their dogs.”

“I would love to go onto the reserves and educate if I could, but … it would just fall through the cracks unless chief and council supports it, and somehow there is a bylaw put in and somebody is policing it.”

Creasy said she and other volunteers are working on a petition to get spay and neuter clinics on reserves.

“Rescues are getting full, No. 1, and No. 2, dogs and puppies are dying.”

The Sun contacted the Manitoba government, Brandon Animal Control, and several First Nations communities, but didn’t receive a response by press time.

» mleybourne@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @miraleybourne

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