'It's about the damn animals': City's animal adoption program is still alive - for now

Hamilton city council will debate next year whether to make its animal adoption service permanent, but only after one councillor urged them to remember that it's "about the damn animals."

At one point, the city was euthanizing more than 4,000 animals per year

Frisky is one of the Hamilton Animal Services cats up for adoption right now. Some councillors worry the city is treading on the turf of the non-profit SPCA. (Hamilton Animal Services)

The city's publicly run animal adoption service is still alive for now, despite some city councillors worrying it was encroaching on the operations of the SPCA.

City council will debate whether to make the 18-month Hamilton Animal Services pilot program permanent during early 2020 budget deliberations. One councillor worried the city was creeping into what non-profits do, while another urged people to remember that it's "about the damn animals."

"It's a little bit of the extra government creep that will occur, and I don't want to go down that path permanently," said Coun. Tom Jackson of Ward 6 (east Mountain).

Sam Merulla, Ward 4 (east end) councillor said that fear is missing the point.

Olaf is up for adoption through the Hamilton-Burlington SPCA. (Hamilton-Burlington SPCA)

"This is really about the animals, not about protectionism of agencies," he said. "It's about the damn animals, and we're killing less of them now."

"There is nothing we should be talking about today except commending the program."

At one point, some cat lovers called Hamilton the "kill capital of the world." HAS didn't adopt out animals before the pilot project, and in 2005, about 4,000 cats were put down.

That number is trending downward, said Sue Russell, HAS project manager.

In 2015, HAS received 3,547 animals, and about 500 were euthanized, she said. In 2016, HAS took in 3,427 animals and euthanized 679. The downward trend continued in 2017 with 3,134 animals and 526 euthanized. In 2018, 458 of 2,511 animals were euthanized, and from January to November this year, 363 of 2,466 animals were euthanized.

Claus is one of many Hamilton Animal Services cats up for adoption right now. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Of the euthanizations this year, four were for behaviour, 88 for temperament, 187 for health reasons and 41 at the request of the owner.

The city started the pilot program last year. This new ask for the spring budget includes spending about $90,000 for a full-time coordinator for the animal adoption program.

The program, said Russell, has generated $103,048 in revenue from adoption fees. Russell said HAS has also seen a "significant increase" in the public donating money, and that money was used for medical treatment.

Marion Emo, local SPCA executive director, says it's hard to say what impact the city program has on the SPCA, but "no one is competing with one another for the care of the animals."

Sam Merulla is a Hamilton Ward 4 (east end) councillor. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"At the end of the day, the councillors made a decision, which is their right to do. They made that decision based on the information in front of them. We respect that decision."

The two organizations share a building, she said. "We have an interest in the same cause — healthy, safe and wanted animals."

Jill Collins, a long-time volunteer with local animals shelters, rallied animal lovers to push for the program. She wants the city to make the program permanent.

"The more adoptions," she said, "the better."


Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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