UPDATE — Sept. 3, 2021: Victoria city councillors on Thursday rejected the proposal to amend bylaws in order to give animal control officers power to seize pets they suspect had ingested drugs. Some councillors, including the mayor, said they felt the issue was not pressing enough to address since there have been few examples of pets ingesting opioids. Other councillors expressed other jurisdictions, like federal and provincial governments, would be more fit to deal with the issue.
Reports of pets needing medical treatment after eating illicit drugs have spurred two Victoria councillors to propose bylaw changes that would give animal control officers the power to seize any animal they suspect of ingesting drugs and take them to a veterinarian.
Councillors Stephen Andrew and Charlayne Thornton-Joe submitted the motion together after speaking to Victoria Animal Control Services. Andrew says they "found there was an increase in the number of animal abuse situations … seen in the city" the past 18-24 months,
"These kinds of situations need to be investigated," said Andrew. "If the [pet] cannot be cared for properly, then obviously someone has to step in and protect the animal."
The changes to the Animal Control Bylaw would also require that any owner who administers naloxone — a drug which reverses opioid overdoses and is known by the trade name Narcan — to an animal must report the incident to the city's Animal Control Services and the B.C. SPCA.
Thornton-Joe, who's been involved in a number of animal welfare initiatives, said she's a "strong believer that every dog deserves a home, but not every home deserves a dog."
Small dog given naloxone seven times, says animal control
Ian Fraser, senior animal control officer, confirmed there's been an increase in reports of all kinds of animal neglect, and suspects COVID-19 might have created financial or psychological problems that play a role in how pet owners treat their animals.
Fraser said in one case officers received a report at the end of July from the Portland Housing Society of a "small dog" owned by a resident that had been given naloxone after "being exposed to drugs." They later learned the dog had been given naloxone on seven different occasions after ingesting opioids.
Fraser said the dog was found on the 900-block of Pandora Avenue the next day with "rear leg weakness" but otherwise appeared healthy. Veterinarians then found cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine in its urine. The dog was then impounded and has been adopted by a new owner.
"There is no justification for [this]," said Andrew, adding Animal Control Services staff told him about several instances of pets ingesting opioids.
The CBC was unable to reach anyone from the Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital, which provides emergency services for pets in the region, for comment on how common it has become.
Homelessness advocate concerned about bylaw changes
Grant MacKenzie from Our Place Society, a Victoria non-profit that supports people experiencing homelessness, said he's concerned that pets could easily be taken away from their owners indefinitely if they have to report every use of naloxone.
"If there was an accidental overdose, I wouldn't like to see the [owner] lose that animal," said Mackenzie, adding that many in the community who use drugs own pets that offer them the only source of "unconditional love" they have.
"I'd rather leave that up to the judgment of an outreach worker," he said, noting he hasn't heard of any cases of naloxone-use on a pet while working with the society.
Andrew said "the only time an officer would step in is if the animal is in distress."
"This [motion] is not to be seen as an attack on any … class of people," he said. "This is purely to protect animals, and to ensure they are well treated."
Thornton-Joe said some people may be "unable to get their animal back" if they can't afford the veterinary treatment.
Andrew said to surrender a pet because you cannot afford to keep it is a "very courageous thing to do."
He and Thornton-Joe will present their bylaw changes to city council on Thursday.