After 22 years, Ken Reid expected at least a phone call from someone at the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake that the municipality was looking at other options for animal control.
It never happened and instead he found out from a bylaw department employee that his job was hanging by a thread.
“That’s what hurt the most,” NOTL’s longtime canine control officer said in an interview on Remembrance Day.
“After this much time they didn’t even give me the consideration to inform me that they were going to be eliminating the position.”
Reid said he had no idea his job was coming to an end until he asked about his contract.
"I went to the town, I talked to the bylaw supervisor just because normally they talk to me about redoing my contract in November. So, they usually contact me before that, but I heard nothing, " he said.
“So, end of October, it was like the 21st or something like that, I just happen to be talking to the bylaw supervisor so I said, 'Hey, do you know what's going on with the canine control contract?' "
"All he said to me was, ‘The town’s going in a different direction. You should check out the website.'"
Reid said he was surprised he had not been informed much earlier since the change must have been in the planning stages for some time.
“If I didn’t reach out to start asking questions, I’m not sure that I’d even know about it now," he said.
"I would think that they should have given me some sort of written notice or had me involved somehow ahead of time."
NOTL has issued a formal request for proposals, in partnership with the Town of Grimsby, for the two municipalities to hire shared animal control services. The RFP also states that other municipalities in the region could join in the future if they so choose.
The RFP, which can be found on the Town of Grimsby’s website, calls for the successful bidder to be able to handle all issues involving domestic, livestock and wildlife animals, and to be capable of starting on Jan. 1, 2022.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero said her discussions with chief administrator Marnie Cluckie “led me to understand that they dealt with (Reid) in a professional manner and notified him.”
However, Reid said, “As far as I’m concerned they still haven’t officially given me any notice.”
“Reid has served this community well for 20 years,” Disero said in an interview on Nov. 8. “He answers the call when he gets one and is deserving of the respect of everyone in this town.”
Disero said the RFP is a result of the town hiring a new procurement officer, who is responsible for managing and acquiring contractors for the town's varied service needs.
“I think they are liable to go out and do a public open process for transparency,” she said.
“Whether or not (Reid) is out of a job is not my decision. I’m trying to sort out what happened and I’m sure staff will come forward with a statement as soon as they can.”
"I can't tell you more as I wasn't involved." The change is a staffing issue and falls under Cluckie's purview as the chief administrative officer.
Despite several requests by The Lake Report for an interview, Cluckie was not available for comment.
Reid said he has subsequently been told to put in an application. Considering the proposal has the potential to add more municipalities in Niagara and will involve all kinds of animals, Reid said there’s no way he could provide the required services as a one-man operation.
“The only entities that could fulfil this contract would be the established SPCA or the Lincoln County Humane Society. They are the only ones with the infrastructure in place to take over on Jan. 1,” he said.
Any other contractor who applied for the role would need to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to build the infrastructure to house domestic and wild animals, all in less than two months, he said.
Reid said he just spent $3,500 on a new vehicle so he could do his job. He started using it in September.
“Had I been in the loop at all I may not have had to spend that money,” he said, a good sum “for someone who's going to be unemployed real soon.”
On top of that, Reid has lived on a large property on Regent Street for decades. His property tax bill is nearly $1,000 a month and he said he doesn't know how he'll afford his home once his job with the town is over.
Reid, 68, said he isn’t sure what kind of work he can do in the future but is considering his options.
“I am ready and willing to continue working (for the town) but I’m not given that option.”
The news that Reid, a staple of NOTL and respected worker in town, was going to lose his job has been the subject of a public outcry on social media. That prompted a phone call to Reid from Cluckie, he said.
It was the first time Reid had received any direct communication from the town about the situation, he said.
“(Cluckie) reached out to me to apologize,” he said.
But Reid said the apology was lacking.
“The way she worded it was, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way.’ To me, an apology would have been, ‘We’re sorry we went about it this way and we didn’t intend to,’ ” he said.
Reid said his contract costs the town about $50,000 per year. He is on call from 8 a.m to 8 p.m., 7 days a week.
He estimates the price for all the new services will top $150,000. “That’s a big jump in budget.”
Reid said he couldn’t think of any outstanding issues that would cause the town to relinquish his services and said he has been more than capable of covering all the calls that come in during the day.
The only reason he can think of that might have motivated the town is the desire to increase ticketing revenue.
“They haven’t questioned the way I’ve done my job until the last couple of years. It got to the point where, to me it sounded like, ‘Where’s the revenue from this?’ ” he said.
“In 22 years I’ve never personally (written a ticket). I’ve been overstepped by bylaw supervisors that have gone in and written tickets to certain people, and this is just lately.”
His focus has been on bylaw compliance and he never has an issue making that happen with NOTL residents, he said.
“I’ve found over the years that I can get a lot further and get absolute compliance with bylaws through discussion as opposed to fines,” he said.
The town’s animal control bylaw lists its fines. The largest fine is $250, equivalent to about 600 tickets annually if the new service does indeed cost the town $150,000.
The RFP says there were about 115 dog complaints in 2020.
Reid sees the outcry about his precarious employment as a result of residents' fears NOTL is losing another one of its small-town characteristics.
“There’s a lot of people unhappy that one of the last bastions of small town feel is being taken away,” he said.
“No other community has their own animal control. I’m in a position now where, after 22 years, I know most of the dogs in town.”
Reid said when he finds a pup wandering the town he usually knows exactly who it belongs to and has the canine returned in a few hours at no cost to the owner.
“Now the dog will be picked up, whether it’s known or not, taken out to wherever they’ll be taken to and held for ransom,” he said.
Reid said the town has a history of knee-jerk reactions to wildlife problems, as exhibited by the hiring of a trapper for foxes a decade ago which resulted in a baby fox getting trapped.
The trapper was nowhere to be found and Reid and the humane society had to respond to the sounds of yelping at 2 a.m. and release the fox.
The town stopped using leg-hold traps after residents complained, according to news reports from 2008.
“Nobody knew those leg-hold traps were there. Any kid could have cut through that property and got his leg caught in it.”
He noted leg-hold traps are illegal. He said this RFP may be another knee-jerk reaction by the town spurred on by complaints about coyotes during the spring and early summer.
Reid lives near the Commons, an area that is home to coyotes, but over the decades has never had a problem with them.
“People just don’t get the concept of wildlife. They don’t want them here, they don’t want to see them,” he said.
“I get complaints all the time of, ‘There’s a raccoon in my backyard in the middle of the day. It must be sick,’ ” he said.
“No, it must be sunning itself because it’s a nice day. It’s not rocket science. But people are coming from the big city and they just don’t want them there.”
Reid said he has always resisted interfering with NOTL’s wildlife.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report