Essex Council unanimously supports animal spay/neuter voucher programs

- the programs help control the pet population -

by Sylene Argent  

During a special meeting hosted in the large meeting room at the Essex Municipal Building last Wednesday evening, Essex Council unanimously voted to having the Town offer a spay and neuter voucher program for feral cats in 2019 and 2020, up to a maximum of 175 vouchers, valued each at $75, for each year.

  Council also moved to offer a spay and neuter voucher program for dogs and cats of low-income families for 2019 and 2020. This program will include a maximum of 10 vouchers, valued at $75.

  Funding in the Town’s Trap, Neuter, and Release (TNR) Program for 2019 and 2020 will also be increased to $9,750.

  The total financial impact in 2019 and 2020 for spay and neuter voucher and TNR programs will be $23,625 per year, an increase of $4,875 over prior years’ programs, the report to Council notes.

  Council also moved to have any unused funding from spay and neuter voucher programs and the TNR program from prior years be transferred to reserve to offset the cost of TNR programs in future years.

  In the report Essex’s Deputy Clerk, Shelley Brown, prepared for the meeting, titled “2019 and 2020 Spay and Neuter Voucher Program, it noted Essex Council first approved spay and neuter voucher programs in 2013. The programs were designed to offer $75 vouchers to residents in need so free roaming cats, in addition to dogs and cats of low-income families, could get spayed or neutered.

  At that time, 125 vouchers for each program were offered, for a total budget value of $18,750. The voucher programs were again approved for 2014 to 2016 and 2017 to 2018, with the number of vouchers offered varying per program, depending on need.

  In 2015, Council also approved the TNR program, which has been supported since. The report noted $4,875 was offered to support this program in the budget each year the TNR program has been offered.

  In 2018, the report continues, 147 spay and neuter voucher programs for feral cats were returned for reimbursement. This was an increase from 123 in 2017, 121 in 2016, and 119 in 2015.

  Since 2015, 13 vouchers for the low-income program were issued. None of these vouchers, were however, redeemed.

  In 2015 the Town commenced its TNR Program, which the Town’s Animal Control

Officers manage with help from volunteers, to help stop the breeding cycle in free roaming cat colonies. The report noted, as part of this program, 99 feral cats were spayed or neutered in 2015, in addition to 91 in 2017. In 2018, 198 feral cats were spayed or neutered.

  During the meeting, individuals who volunteer their time to trap, neuter, and release free roaming cats noted a difference can be noticed when comparing a feral cat and one that has been domesticated. Feral cats will often be seen at night, rather than during the day. They also tend to be unapproachable and personify “wild” behaviour.

  The volunteers also explained that when there is a free-roaming cat, unneutered, the feral cat population can quickly increase.

  There were some questions as to why Council was looking at this file before budget deliberations begin, but Councillor Steve Bjorkman answered that, in the past few years, Council has been able to complete the budget before the New Year begins. With 2018 having an election, budget deliberations have been pushed back.

  Bjorkman added the voucher programs are a good resource. When he used to live downtown Essex Centre, he said he could notice a reduction in the feral cat population.

Donna Hunter, Essex’s CAO, added that it is important to offer the voucher program as early as possible so those animals can be spayed before getting impregnated.

  Councillor Sherry Bondy noted some of this spay/neuter voucher funding is redeemed through residents purchasing their dog tags. “I don’t want to move backwards,” she said. “In the past, we haven’t used all the funding [available for the programs]. A complaint she often heard about a few years ago included feral cats.

  Melanie Coulter, Executive Director for the Windsor-Essex County Humane Society (WECHS), said Essex has been a leader in getting animal welfare programs initiated. She said there is a value to the programs to those who need them.

  “It really has made a difference,” Coulter said, adding that recognizing the WECHS is the only major and consistent cat shelter over the last 20 years, a decrease in drop offs have been noticed since voucher programs have been initiated. If programs are not kept up, that population can rebound quite quickly.

  Brown noted, to her research, Essex is the only municipality in the area to offer a TNR program.