'What are we doing wrong?' 2017 worst year in past decade for animal welfare complaints in Manitoba
Chief vet's office says it investigated 1,026 complaints in 2017, compared to 317 in 2009
The province is planning a full review of Manitoba's animal welfare services this summer as reports of potential neglect and abuse have spiked.
Data provided by the province's Department of Agriculture show the number of complaints have increased sharply in the last decade, more than tripling since 2009.
In 2009, the office of the provincial vet investigated 317 complaints of suspected animal abuse or neglect from all areas outside of Winnipeg. In 2017, it investigated 1,026 complaints.
"We've seen a steady increase in animal-welfare complaints coming in," said Dr. Megan Bergman, the province's chief veterinary officer. "Some of that, I think, is attuned to the fact that the public is more aware of the animal care line and how to report."
On Wednesday, the department issued a request for proposals and is seeking a review of the Animal Welfare Program and legislation to handle the growing problem.
Bergman isn't convinced that more abuse is taking place. She thinks that people are just being more vigilant.
"The public is more aware of animal care and how to report [abuse]," she said. "I think there's an expectation from the public and the industry that we should have sound animal care practices."
Complaints most commonly involve dogs
Since 2005, public complaints involving the suspected abuse or neglect of animals have been steadily rising by an average of 15 per cent each year, according to numbers provided by the Department of Agriculture.
In 2017, the Winnipeg Humane Society led 1,575 investigations in Winnipeg alone, compared to 1,129 in 2015. While there were 76 complaints of animal abuse or neglect in January of 2017, the humane society received 147 complaints in January of this year.
That's in addition to the 1,026 complaints the province's chief veterinary office investigated last year throughout the rest of Manitoba.
Complaints handled by that office since 2009 most commonly involved dogs, followed by cats and horses, then other animals like pigs and reptiles.
The three most common complaints the chief veterinary office investigated were failure to provide adequate food and water, failure to provide adequate medical attention, and failure to provide adequate protection from the heat and cold.
Complaints about the infliction of harm to an animal, or confinement of an animal to an area with unsanitary conditions or inadequate space, were consistently among the fourth and fifth most common complaints investigated in each year since 2009.
While just over half of the reports are valid, according to Bergman, the province has an obligation to investigate each one under the Animal Care Act.
Currently, there are 100 animal protection officers conducting the investigations. Additionally, all municipal police officers and RCMP can enforce the act.
'Worst year I've seen': D'Arcy's A.R.C.
D'Arcy Johnston, founder and CEO of D'Arcy's A.R.C. (Animal Rescue Centre) in Winnipeg, said the problem isn't just an increase in complaints. He's seeing growing numbers of seized and abandoned pets arriving at his shelter in need of homes.
"Last year  was the worst year I've seen in our 18-year history," said Johnston. "We saw an unbelievable number of cats, just little kittens, and dogs come through our doors."
Johnston agrees that the public is becoming more aware of animal welfare. He thinks the province has taken positive steps in revamping and providing funding to the Winnipeg Humane Society, but he's confused as to why he's seeing an increasing number of animals in need each year.
"I'm sort of disappointed," said Johnston. "Every year I'm asking, 'what are we doing wrong?'"
Johnston said he's happy that the review is taking place but he's not expecting to see anything change for a while.
Bergman said her office is hoping to come out of the review process with a full report on the current state of the program and comparisons to other provinces. She also wants to see recommendations for how to best address the increasing reports here in Manitoba.
She said the review process might be complex, as the nature of many of the complaints span beyond just her department.
"Some of the more challenging types of cases that we deal with are associated with hoarding," said Bergman. "We have individuals who are often struggling with mental health issues — they have a large number of animals in their home and there are other issues they're trying to cope with."
According to the request for proposals, the consultant the province hires will have to provide three new options for the province to deliver animal welfare services. It states the goal is to maintain excellence in animal welfare "while managing the significant resource demands."
The province is committing up to $75,000 for the review, which is expected to begin in mid-May and conclude in September.