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Mild winter putting rescue shelters into space crunch
Winnipeg’s mild winter has left community animal shelters desperately searching for space and volunteers to accommodate an influx of rescued and surrendered animals.
On Monday, the Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter took in 17 new puppies rescued from inside and outside the city. Some have come from as far away as northwestern Ontario, according to shelter founder and director Carla Martinelli.
With some 70 to 80 dogs already in its care, foster homes, and overflow facility at Santana Kennels, the rescue will push the St. James-based organization over capacity.
"It’s like having triplets instead of one kid," Martinelli said.
On top of that, the organization’s kitten population is expected to scamper past 100 in the coming weeks, Martinelli added, forcing the shelter to use every inch of space it has.
"It’s very, very rare that there are not animals and a puppy pen in our office," Martinelli said.
"We have a sick room at the back, but that will be used if we need more space."
Over at Craig Street Cats, kitten season has arrived nearly two months early. The organization recently took in its first litter of spring kittens, and has another pregnant cat ready to deliver soon.
"Already we’ve had seven pregnant females," when there are normally none at this time of year, said founder Lynne Scott.
Scott, who is currently caring for about 90 cats in her Wolseley home, has had to turn away about 20 to 30 cats on a daily basis.
"I anticipate that will get much higher," she said.
D’Arcy Johnston, owner of D’Arcy’s A.R.C., said the mild winter has increased the breeding cycle for animals that haven’t been spayed or neutered.
D’Arcy’s is currently nursing 40 kittens and recently received three pregnant cats. Another 40 puppies are in foster homes.
"We’re full to capacity," he said. "It’s difficult to keep the shelter in a positive position to keep things going for the summer."
It’s the same story year after year, Johnston says.
"We see this every year so it doesn’t surprise me anymore. ‘I forgot to get my cat spayed’ or ‘I can’t afford it anymore,’" he said. "It gets to the point where it’s just frustrating because it’s a never ending battle."
The three no-kill shelters are strong advocates for low-cost spay and neutering programs, and for the city to bear some, or all, of the expense.
But the advocacy has largely fallen on deaf ears and the city is more interested in animal licensing programs, Johnston said. Annual spring and fall animal influxes will continue to hamper shelters until the city helps fund a plan, he said.
"A lot of it does become financial for people," added Martinelli, who has operated her shelter for 22 years. "Outside of Winnipeg, it’s often a different mentality. In some areas, they control the pet population by shooting them."
Both shelter operators would also like to see current animal welfare laws strengthened. Animals must also be recognized as beings, not personal property, Johnston said.
"(Once) that changes, maybe our animals will have a little more value," he said.
With summer fast approaching, volunteer numbers are expected to drop at the shelters and big influxes of animals can exhaust an already small volunteer base, Scott said.
"Volunteers are compassionate and have big hearts and are doing this because they love animals," she said. "When they can’t help really taxes them. It contributes to volunteer burnout."
Unlike the Winnipeg Humane Society, which receives some support funding from the city for a subsidized spay/neuter program and emergency animal services, the three rescue shelters receive none. The challenge always remains having enough money to keep the shelter afloat as animals continue to come in.
"People get angry at us because we can’t take any more animals. We can’t help it and they don’t want to fund it. It’s a Catch-22," Johnston said.
"We have two objectives — the interim care of animals and the solvency of shelter," Martinelli said. "If we can’t dovetail those two objectives, the shelter doesn’t stay open it’s as simple as that. It’s a constant struggle."
For more information on Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter, visit www.petrescueshelter.com.
For more information on D’Arcy’s A.R.C., visit www.darcysarc.ca.
For more information on Craig Street Cats, visit http://cats.wolseleygirl.com.
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