When it comes to speakers, movies, etc, I always try to temper my expectations. Usually when I get excited about how great something, I leave disappointed. I'm the only person who was disappointed by the movie Forrest Gump -- because I had built it up to be so great in my mind before seeing it that no movie could have met those expectations.
In spite of these efforts, I was really excited to listen to Bill Bruce speak at the Canine Legislation Conference. Calgary has had a tremendously effective animal control program, and I couldn't wait to hear more about it. Mr. Bruce didn't disappoint.
Calgary has a 90-95% dog licensing compliance rate. Most cities hover between 10-20% licensing compliance....and 20% are the good ones. Calgary has done this by providing benefits to people for licensing their dogs....for animal cotnrol being a SERVICE instead of a pain in people's butts.
Overall, they have about 95,000 licensed dogs (in a city with the population of about 1 million). Licensing fees are $31 per year ($52 for an unaltered dog).
In 1990 they raised the fines for getting caught with an unlicensed dog from $30 to $250 - -Bruce said that fines should generally run about 10x the cost of actually obeying the law in the first place in order to encourage compliance with the law. They also made it very easy to license your dog -- online, via phone, at your vets office, and keosks at the animal control office, etc.
Every dollar that they raise from animal licensing (and fines for non-compliance) go back into funding animal control -- not back into the city's slush fund. So with an operating budget of $3.5-4.0 million, they are able to really do some things right with their animal control department.
They strongly encourage all people who license their dogs to also have them microchipped (which allows the dogs to be scanned and the owner determined immediately). Every animal control vehicle is equipped with a scanner -- so if they find a stray dog, the animal control officer can instantly scan the dog for the chip, and deliver the dog home free of charge (although there are fines if your dog becomes a frequent flyer).
This home delivery a) is a service for people who obey the rules and b) saves money in animal control costs because stray dogs seldom even make it to their shelter. They are returned home where the dog belongs. The city then doesn't incur the costs of putting the dog in the shelter, maintaining the dog while it's in the shelter, food etc. Bruce's goal for next year is to gett 50% of the dogs returned directly home without ever reaching the shelter.
If a dog does end up making it to the shelter, its photo is taken immediately and placed on their webpage within 15 minutes of the dog reaching the shelter. All the dogs in the shelter are treated for the basic diseases - -and if a dog is found injured, animal control will take the dog to a vet. The vets treat the dogs because a) animal control is usually able to find the owner of the dog because they're all licensed and b) if they don't, animal control will cover the medical costs associated with treating that dog. Wow.
Calgary built a new shelter for their animals about 5-8 years ago that is state of the art...and has never been filled to its capacity.
Calgary also focuses a lot of its energies on education and encouraging responsible dog ownership. They have a full time staff member, that is trained in education, that puts together a public education program. They have six specific programs that are part fof their public school's curriculum that emphasizes respect for living things.
Calgary also has 140 dedicated off-leash areas for dogs -- so that's 140 "dog parks". Kansas City, MO is struggling to find a way to get a second one. These off-leash areas provide a ton of areas for socialization for the dogs to learn how to enteract with other dogs and other people.
The net results of their efforts have been impressive. Over the past 18 years, the city of Calgary has cut their number of dog bites and chases by more than 50% (all the while, the human and dog population of Calgary has doubled). Last year calgary only had to euthenize 256 animals (Kansas City, KS alone euthenized 5,000 DOGS last year, the KC metro area kills in the neighborhood of 40,000 dogs and cats each year). Almost all of the euthenizations came from dogs that had behavioral or health issues. Bruce estimates that Calgary will become a true no-kill city within the next 3-5 years.
When Bill was talking it sounding like a utopia. I hear stories about local animal controls breaking through locks to steal people's pets based on what breed they think it might be, the massive killing of dogs in our shelters, dogs that are put to sleep because they've been in the shelter too long but never made it up on the website or petfinder or anywhere so people knew where to find them. I hear about dogs being taken out of someone's loving home and euthenized because someone was over the pet limit -- apparently death is perceived to be better for animals than having to live with 3 other dogs.
Calgary has accomplished so much by focusing on root issues of problems, providing service to their "customers" (it was so weird to hear an animal control officer refer to their constituents as "customers"), and getting people to obey their current laws.
They did it all without mandatory spay/neuter laws, breed specific laws, anti-tethering laws or pet limit laws. And through paying animal control officers a fair wage -- as Bill said, "If you pay peanuts, you'll only get monkeys."
I really wish that more cities (ahem, KCMO) would look at successful ordinances around the country (or in Calgary) and model their ordinances and enforcement efforts off of true success stories.
All of the city administrators were invited to attend Bill's speach, unfortuantely only one city council person and two animal control officers were able to make it. I'd have loved for them to hear Bill's message and start working toward Calgary as a model of success.