Plans to establish Steinbach’s first permanent animal shelter cleared city hall Tuesday and prompted several councillors to reflect on their own relationships with their furry friends.
Council unanimously approved a proposed 3,000-sq-ft. animal shelter with a fenced dog run and gravel parking lot on a triangular property at 39 Keating Road.
Michelle Neufeld, president of Steinbach and Area Animal Rescue Inc. (SAAR), applied for a conditional use permit required of all animal shelters under the city’s zoning bylaw.
Neufeld marshalled several letters of support from local veterinarians and animal care advocates who said it’s high time Manitoba’s third largest city had such an animal shelter.
Neufeld said the building will primarily house stray cats along with a few dogs and the odd rabbit.
Established in 2013, SAAR achieved charitable status in 2017. Since then, Neufeld has turned her attention to constructing a permanent shelter.
The rescue receives animals from Steinbach and four surrounding municipalities. A total of 175 animals arrived last year alone.
The rescue currently places animals in foster homes that Neufeld said are continually at capacity. As a result, SAAR must turn away 75 percent of the calls it receives.
Neufeld said the shelter will not only improve animal safety and reduce the number of strays, but will also welcome schoolchildren, at-risk youth, the elderly, and those with disabilities for workshops and field trips.
"I think anyone that has an animal can attest to their natural therapeutic abilities and unconditional love," Neufeld said.
Administration said council should approve the application.
While the property is zoned light industrial, several homes are located across the street. One homeowner wrote in support of the shelter, but two others objected at Tuesday’s public hearing, citing noise and odour concerns.
Neufeld assured council barking dogs won’t be an issue.
Coun. Susan Penner rejected a friendly amendment proposed by Coun. Damian Penner that would have required the rescue to ensure no dogs were outside unattended between the hours of 6 p.m. and 7 a.m.
"I hesitate at adding too many restrictions. In any business, things change and are fluid," she said.
"I think this is something that our city has needed for a long time," Coun. Michael Zwaagstra said. "I’m pretty sympathetic to cats. We have two cats that were strays."
"We have two cats as well," Susan Penner said.
Mayor Earl Funk recalled being Steinbach’s de facto animal rescue when he was a young boy.
"Every dog followed me home…My mom was forever finding homes for dogs."