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Okanagan rescues look to fill gap after Vernon BC SPCA closure

The Vernon shelter closed due to a number of ongoing structural integrity issues
This is Finnegan a male 15 year old Himalayan cross. He is in foster care with the Okanagan Humane Society. (Facebook)

It takes a village, is what the motto the BC SPCA is standing behind when it comes to animal welfare in a community.

With the closure of the Vernon shelter, due to a number of ongoing structural integrity issues, the BC SPCA is looking to residents and other Okanagan rescues to help provide care to animals in need.

Adrienne McBride, BC SPCA senior director, said the non-profit believes that animal welfare isn’t the sole responsibility of the BC SPCA but of the entire community.

“It takes a village for sure. It takes other animal rescues and human support agencies who recognize the value of pets in housing strategies and food support programs. So, the more we can all work as a community to do what is best for animals in our area the better outcomes we will have,” said McBride.

One of those animal rescues is the Okanagan Humane Society (OHS) which has been operating in the region for the last 27 years.

Romany Runnells, OHS president, said the reality is the rescues don’t know what the closure will mean or if a gap in care for animals will be created.

“We have been feeling the pressure for many years, with animals being redirected into our care from Okanagan (BC SPCA) shelters. Many times the SPCA is unable to care for pets brought to them, because of space or staff, and so we are picking up the slack,” she explained.

Long before the Vernon shelter closed its doors, she said animals in the North Okanagan were being redirected to OHS.

OHS has no brick-and-mortar and relies on volunteers and fosters to help provide care and temporary homes for animals.

“It’s not just OHS, it’s many rescues across the region who are helping to provide care for animals the SPCA has turned away or cannot care for. We sometimes take on the bigger share because we have more fosters or we have generous donors which allow us to accommodate for more animals,” said Runnells.

The animals who were at the the Vernon shelter have been transferred to other BC SPCA shelters in the province.

“It is one of the good things about the BC SPCA is that animals have a wider network across the province that they can receive support from. In this case, we had two litters of puppies, one of which went to Kelowna and the other to the Lower Mainland. While our cats and rabbits went to the Shuswap and Kelowna,” said McBride.

While it might feel like there could be a gap without a physical branch, McBride says the BC SPCA has programs and services in place to care for animals beyond the walls of a shelter.

“In Vernon, we will have foster homes, our animal protection officer who works in the community will continue, our humane educator who travels throughout the Okanagan to provide youth education will continue, our food bank partnerships will still exist and outreach programs will continue. So, we want to continue to support the work of an animal bond outside of the shelter,” explained McBride.

While Runnells knows all too well the benefits and challenges of operating without a shelter.

“We have an incredible foster network of more than 130 foster homes. But it’s a lot of work to operate without a shelter, there are many costs associated with fostering and human resources when it comes to finding the right volunteers and replenishing that foster system when people no longer can do it,” she explained.

However, for Theresa Nolet president of AlleyCats Alliance there is concern that abandoned or surrendered animals who would normally be brought to the BC SPCA will be instead given to smaller rescues who face significant challenges as they do not have the same financial aid or grants that the BC SPCA does.

“This could put a lot of strain on smaller charities if they have to fill the gap in care. We are stretched to the max. AlleyCats deals with feral or abandoned cats, not surrenders, and we are always overwhelmed with cats,” explained Nolet.

She worries that fewer animals will receive care with the shelter gone in Vernon.

“We have a physical shelter, but we don’t have public access. We are much smaller than the BC SPCA and we are able to keep afloat with a building,” said Nolet.

For those who find abandoned, abused or neglected pets in the North Okanagan the ability to drop them at the Vernon shelter is no longer available, which puts a strain on the Regional District of the North Okanagan.

Dogs will be brought to the regional district’s canine control and for other animals McBride said people can call the BC SPCA’s provincial helpline for information on what can be done.

During the RDNO Nov. 15 meeting, it was stated that the district was notified only one day before the shelter closed and no requests for any help were made to the regional district by the local centre or provincial branch.

“There’s a whole series of issues this creates,” said Electoral Area B director Bob Fleming. “But when we have one day’s notice, it’s hard to do much.”

RDNO rural services manager Andrew Hunsberger said they will work with the BC SPCA moving forward, but did mention it would be challenging.

“We have also asked for a copy of the engineer’s report,” said Hunsberger.

Construction of a new BC SPCA facility in Vernon is not in the works, but there are plans for a new replacement facility in Salmon Arm.

~With files from Roger Knox

Jen Zielinski

About the Author: Jen Zielinski

Graduated from the broadcast journalism program at BCIT. Also holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science and sociology from Thompson Rivers University.
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