About 15 seniors gathered outside Social Development Minister Sue Stultz's constituency office in Moncton on Monday to protest a department policy that could force seniors to give up their pets or move out of their subsidized housing units.
The provincial government has ordered seven seniors who live in Lions Seniors Tower, a subsidized seniors' complex in Moncton, to get rid of their pets or risk being evicted.
Rita Bihr was among the protesters who braved the frigid temperatures to march in front of Stultz's office waving posters, hoping to change the minister's mind about the no-pets policy.
Pets are good companions for seniors, said Bihr.
"Some of them need a little animal for comfort and for their health and they should open up their hearts for our elderlies in our community, that's what I think," she said.
Fellow protester Kelly Sherrard agrees.
"The majority of seniors are voters and they do make a point to get out and vote because they built this province and paid taxes for years. And for the government to turn around and treat seniors like this is totally, totally reprehensible," she said. "It's totally ridiculous."
Signed no-pet agreement
But the minister, who is also a Moncton MLA, said the 160 residents at Lions Seniors Tower all signed a lease agreeing not to have a pet in the building.
The policy, which applies to all NB Housing units, exists for a reason, said Stultz.
"It is a no-pet policy. It has been in place for over 25 years and if someone is sneaking a cat in there, they could be potentially hurting someone else," she told the protesters.
The department has recently received complaints about pets in the building, she said.
"People in there that have allergies, there are people that had slipped on feces and so on. And we cannot have the safety of our seniors jeopardized in any way," said Stultz.
"If they would like to have their pets, I don't have a problem with it. They just cannot live in our units."
Eileen Mitchell, who has lived in the complex for five years, agrees.
"Personally I'd love to have a kitten to be company, but when it says on a lease 'no pets allowed,' it should be stuck to," she said. "There's a reason why things are written in a lease."
Fight not over
But resident Agnes Burgess-Mitchell, who was ordered to get rid of her cat Lily, calls the situation "ridiculous.
"A 25-year-old law that has not been enforced? Doesn't that sort of go dormant after it hasn't been enforced for years?"
Burgess-Mitchell said the provincial government wrote her a letter warning her that she would be forced to leave if she kept the cat beyond the end of February.
She told CBC News on Friday that Lily keeps her from becoming depressed and when she was informed she couldn't keep Lily in her apartment anymore, said she felt lost.
"For two days I couldn't even think. I sat in the chesterfield," she said.
Burgess-Mitchell has sent Lily to live with a relative in order to keep her affordable housing, but said her fight to keep her cat is far from over.
She and the other protesters are now circulating a petition to present to the legislature to try to get the policy changed.
Meanwhile, New Democratic Party Leader Dominic Cardy is urging the Department of Social Development to reconsider the policy.
Cardy has written the minister, asking her to reverse the department’s order.
"Some of these folks have had their pets for years and there was never any problem. So why are they getting eviction notices in the middle of the winter?" Cardy said in a statement.
"Sharing your house with a pet relieves symptoms of depression and feelings of isolation and loss. It is hard enough being a senior on a fixed income. Does the Conservative government really need to make things worse?"
A spokesperson with the Department of Social Development said last week that residents were never supposed to have pets inside the units. However, the letters were sent in response to a complaint.