Islanders think the welfare of farm and companion animals must be improved, according to a new report from the province's Department of Agriculture and Land.
The report came from a recent survey where more than 50 per cent of Island respondents indicated that they thought animal welfare on P.E.I. had improved over the last 10 years — though they believed changes still need to be made.
"We got a lot of feedback," said Dr. Carolyn Sanford, a veterinarian, epidemiologist and director responsible for animal health and welfare in the Department of Agriculture.
The survey was conducted from last December to Feb. 15, 2021. About 4,000 people responded to the survey, which included 2,500 Islanders from the general public. Most of the non-Islanders who participated in the survey identified as animal welfare advocates.
Who to call with concerns
One of the report's main findings was that Islanders don't know who to call if they see an animal being mistreated. Sanford said the department will work on making the process clearer for Islanders to report concerns.
"We're going to make sure that we utilize our internet and our web resources more appropriately to have easily searchable, kind of, instructions or awareness on who you should call."
According to the report, companion animal welfare concerns should be reported to the P.E.I. Humane Society, while farm and exotic animal welfare concerns should be reported to the Department of Agriculture. Sanford said the department does take anonymous calls.
The department will also look into developing an online complaint tool for animal welfare that people can use on their smartphones, said Sanford.
'There is a problem'
The majority of Island respondents suggested more interventions are needed for puppy mills.
"We need to have some conversations on what we could do in that area," Sanford said.
"We need to look across the other provinces too, just to see how they handle dog breeding situations."
Candy Gallant, an Island resident who's been taking care of injured or abandoned wildlife for 48 years, said the Department of Agriculture should be doing spontaneous checks on dog breeding operations. Gallant also said she thinks while the department has tried to improve the welfare of animals over the years, it doesn't have control over the situation.
"I've seen hoarding and breeding for money," said Gallant. "That's a couple of weeks and months ago. There is a problem."
Some Islanders indicated in the survey that they'd contact Gallant if they had concerns about farm, companion or exotic animal welfare.
"I get about 100 phone calls a day in between feeding and watering things," said Gallant. "It's usually, 'my neighbour's cat is sick doing this. What can I do? I found a baby squirrel. What can I do?'"
Sanford said survey respondents commented that they wanted "some kind of a certified or registered wildlife rehab centre on P.E.I." In May, after the survey was completed, Gallant became the first individual to receive a permit from the province to rehabilitate wild animals. Gallant is not paid for this work.
Sandford said the province could be deciding whether or not exotic animal shows should be allowed on the Island in the next six months. Exotic animals include lizards, snakes, sloths and other creatures that require advanced knowledge on how to take care of them, Sanford said.
"We would put the lens of animal welfare on those types of shows and those animals are moved around a fair bit," she said. "We have been in touch with our colleagues in wildlife, and also the [Atlantic Veterinary College] has a new exotic veterinarian expert. So we've been talking to her as well."
I never thought I would get a permit for wildlife, but it didn't stop me from trying. — Candy Gallant
The province currently has no plans to amend the Animal Welfare Act, Sanford said. However, there will be discussions between the province and local groups, such as the P.E.I. Humane Society, on how animal welfare can improve. Sanford said her department will work to educate the public on the Animal Welfare Act.
Ashley MacLeod, the P.E.I. Humane Society's development and communications co-ordinator, said she thinks the Animal Welfare Act is currently not clear enough when it comes to unlicensed breeding operations and welfare of all animals from puppies to exotic species.
"Having something a little more clear laid out for Islanders and for the community will help us do our job better," said MacLeod.
For now, Gallant is optimistic the animal welfare situation will get better on P.E.I., especially if more people are educated on the problem.
"I never thought I would get a permit for wildlife, but it didn't stop me from trying and that happened. So I believe anything's possible," Gallant said.
"People have power. We're the ones that elect our parliament. We can make things change if we want it."
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