An animal at large, such as a dog running elsewhere than on the property of its owner, is one of many restrictions under the District of Clearwater's animal control bylaw. (Pixabay)

Facebook post causes stir around animal control

A resolution passed at the Nov. 3 District of Clearwater regular council meeting caused quite a stir on social media.

Council voted in favour to reappoint Patricia Ellis, Sille Enterpirses, K9 Systems Control, as the District’s animal control officer for another two years. Ellis has been on retainer with the DOC since 2016.

“If someone is being paid to do this, should this person not be enforcing it rather than myself who isn’t paid?” Maddy Capostinski wrote in a post published to the Clearwater Info Board discussion group on Facebook on Nov. 15.

“Or maybe the DOC can give the rescue the contract? Just a waste of money being paid out to someone who isn’t doing anything. And by all means, correct me if I’m wrong. Loose dogs is an issue and if the DOC pays someone then that person should be doing something.”

What followed was over 100 comments on multiple posts, containing support, confusion, and futher questions, as well as responses from current and former DOC staff and council, including Mayor Merlin Blackwell.

Many of those comments questioned if the company (and Ellis) even existed, as Google searches for the company name came up with understandably questionable results. The K9 Systems Control website is currently under construction. A few numbers are listed on the single-page site, with Ellis’ number posted in the middle.

“I didn’t know, and I think the majority of people didn’t know that there was animal control here,” Capostinski told the Times. “The lack of animal control in the DOC with regards to loose animals and I think people want to see the District be be more proactive with the animal control.”

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All of this lead to a few recurring questions: Who did the DOC hire? Why is it outsourced? How do I make a complaint and to who?

Who is K9 Systems Control?

Ellis has been in the animal bylaw industry for 40 years. She contracts out to the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, and many other rural areas, in addition to the DOC.

As an animal control officer, Ellis is hired to enforce the local animal bylaw and to hold animals that need to be impounded, though it is a last resort. Therefore, she is requried to complete education, including level 1 and 2 bylaw compliance training.

K9 Systems Control, she said, also puts on courses to help educate pet owners and residents, such as courses for responsible dog ownership, and safety and disaster courses.

“People think we just go out, take dogs and put them down,” said Ellis. “We don’t…I’ve had dogs all my life. People will say to me, ‘Oh, you hate dogs.’ No I don’t. If I hated dogs, I wouldn’t be in this business.”

Why not hire local?

Animal control is a requirement of all B.C. municipalities, as outlined in the Community Charter, the provincial legislation that provides statutory framework for local governments.

The DOC had looked into the cost of hiring a local animal control officer for the district. The cost doesn’t just cover the officer. A facility or kennel to house animals, liability insurance, appropriate vehicles and trailers and impounding and safety equipment are just some of the requirements of animal control, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish — on the taxpayer’s dime.

The $500 per month payment to K9 Systems Control is a type of retainer for the services. If Ellis were to be called out to the district, then there would be other charges for travel, impounding and any other circumstantial charges.

And while the focus is mainly dangerous dogs, animal control officers are equipped to deal with any kind of animal, except for wildlife, including poultry and livestock.

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This is different than animal rescue operations, like Maddy’s Paws and Claws, or the SPCA’s animal cruelty investigations.

“The SPCA, they’re there to protect the dogs from the people, whereas dog control is to protect the people from the dogs,” said Ellis.

How do I make a complaint?

This is where it can be tricky.

Local rescues, like Maddy’s Paws and Claws, Capostinski’s unregistered rescue that focuses on feral cats, will focus more on spaying or neutering homeless cats or dogs, taking them in and adopting them out to new homes. This is something that is a personal endeavour, and is not registered as a business or a non-profit, but does have large community support in the area. She does not, however, have the training or facilities for animal control.

If a community member is concerned about an animal’s well-being (malnourishment or abuse, for example), they should call the BC SPCA animal cruelty hotline.

The DOC animal control bylaw, however, addresses animals, such as dogs, running at large (in public spaces where it is not permitted), or dangerous dog, among others. For complaints pertaining to these concerns, residents are to fill out a form that can be found on the DOC website. That form can be submitted by mail, email or in person.

Every complaint is investigated, and the name of the complaintant and the accused are kept confidential. The DOC cannot keep the concerned party aprised of the investigation because of the B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Despite the confusion and concern, the dust settled around the animal control controversy as some questions were answered when the DOC posted a response on Nov. 19.

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“As a compassionate community, it is wonderful to see how many of our residents care about our furry friends,” the post reads. “With much discussion surrounding the animal control officer, the District would like to provide information and address comments that have been buzzing around Facebook.”

Capostinki also shared some news as she posted a copy of a cerfiticate for the new registered non-profit Clearwater Humane Society. The next steps, she said, are to register as a charity and apply for grant funding to establish a building in the area to house animals and have a sterile treatment area.

She added the new building will help to keep the animals local by working with the animal control officer, something Ellis is more than happy to do.

“I certainly have no problem giving her any of the dogs that I pick up,” said Ellis, saying she is required to hold onto the animals for at least 72 hours before giving them away, unless the owner collects them.

“If I can help her, and she can help me, we should work well because it’s all the same business.”

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