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Changes to animal protections have little impact

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Court-ordered changes to Ontario’s animal protection regulations have officials scrambling behind the scenes, but township residents aren’t seeing any shifts just yet, with the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society continuing to provide services.

“So right now in Woolwich, nothing is changing,” said Jeff Smith, the township’s deputy clerk. “All they’ve told us is they are continuing to provide services – we won’t notice any difference, the township or residents of the township.

“Our bylaw enforcement officers used to do animal control and bylaw; at the start of this year, we formally transferred the majority of those animal control responsibilities to the KW Humane Society. This doesn’t affect that relationship either.”

However, current measures are temporary, with a new model to be in place by year’s end.

The changes stem from a January decision by the Superior Court of Justice in Kingston that found Ontario’s current animal protection regime to be unconstitutional. The decision in Boegaerts v. Attorney General of Ontario determined it was improper for the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a private charity, to enforce animal protection laws without oversight measures and legal accountability. The court deemed a private organization shouldn’t have the power to enter a person’s property or to seize their belongings, for instance, without the transparency and accountability of other law-enforcement agencies.

The court gave the province 12 months to make changes, maintaining the current regime in the interim.

The decision means overhauling a system that has seen the OSPCA overseeing animal cruelty cases for the past century. In March, the OSPCA announced that it would withdraw its animal protection enforcement services, with an extension carrying the organization to continue those responsibilities until the end of last month.

As a result, the KW Humane Society, which serves Woolwich and Wellesley townships, is undergoing some minor changes, including a wider coverage area that now includes North Dumfries, Cambridge, Perth County and parts of Huron County. They will also now have a contract working for the province, rather than with the OSPCA.

“The only other change for our organization is that we are supporting the province by doing all of Waterloo Region,” said Kathrin Delutis, executive director of the KW Humane Society. “We’re certainly getting some Cambridge, and North Dumfries calls this week. It’s just around animal cruelty, and not animal control. So we don’t do bylaw enforcement for Cambridge or North Dumfries. We’re only doing that under the provincial legislation.”

The organization says it has the resources to take care of these additional coverage areas for the time being. There have been some internal changes, including hiring more employees.

“We’re very committed to ensuring that no animal falls through the cracks during this transition period. But for us, it’s really just business as usual, with a little bit larger territory,” said Delutis. “We did get the opportunity to add some additional staffing to make sure that was covered as well.”

The KW Humane Society investigated 769 animal cruelty cases last year.

The Ontario government also launched a new toll-free number available 24/7 to report any animal welfare concerns: 1-883-926-4625. Smith said it may be more efficient to use the same local number to reach the KW Humane Society for these concerns, 519-745-5615.

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