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Sociologists take care of pets

By Janet Harron | Jan. 3, 2013

Sociologists at Memorial University are hoping a new study on domestic animal policy will encourage wider public discussion about the responsibilities of pet ownership.

Taking Care of Pets: Institutional Policies, Perceptions and Practices regarding Domestic Animal Welfare in Newfoundland and Labrador is a result of a partnership between the university and the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In the report, researchers Drs. Mark Stoddart, Liam Swiss, Nicole Power  and Lawrence Felt identify short-term issues surrounding animal welfare  in the province and recommend increasing the resources available to animal shelters, which according to Dr. Mark Stoddart, do the "heavy lifting" of stray animal care in the province.

“Increasing resources to animal shelters as well as increasing the amount and quality of communication between animal shelters, the provincial government and local governments will ultimately have a larger impact on improving domestic animal well-being than only focusing on immediate issues,” said Dr. Stoddart.

Currently much of the responsibility for stray animal welfare is left to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (SPCA) and similar organizations. Despite the existence of federal and provincial legislation that aim to promote domestic animal welfare, one of the study’s central findings is that most local service districts and many municipalities are not well engaged with animal welfare or stray animal issues such as collecting and holding stray animals, running adoption programs and promoting animal welfare issues to the public and in schools. These issues are often dealt with by animal shelters who rely on volunteer labour and limited-to-moderate communications and financial support from local, provincial or national governments.

According to the Memorial research team, this project is timely for a number of reasons. There have been several news stories centering on domestic animal misuse in the province in 2012 – most recently a woman in Victoria is currently facing charges after an emaciated dog was removed from her property. In addition, demographic shifts are thought to generate consequences for domestic animals but are poorly understood. As the province becomes increasingly more urbanized, attitudes towards domestic animals are changing and greater demands are being placed on various government levels to respond.

“The Department of Natural Resources approached Memorial with an interest in doing baseline studies on attitudes towards animal care in this province,” said Dr. Hugh Whitney, the province’s chief veterinary officer. “We are grateful to them for having carried this out and look forward to more co-operative work in this area so that we can better target educational programs and follow changes in attitudes over time."

Surveys were conducted with representatives of municipal districts, local service districts, animal shelters and veterinary clinics throughout the province. Among the findings of the researchers were the emphasis on problems with stray cats (i.e. populations associated with landfills) as opposed to stray dogs and the gap between local governments and shelters in terms of the perception of problems and subsequent engagement in responses to those problems. 

“We are very grateful for the assistance of the chief veterinary officer and his staff, as well as for the participation of the many representatives from the local service districts, municipalities and shelters across the province,” said Dr. Stoddart.

The report is intended to encourage wider public discussion about responsibilities of pet ownership, to help determine where the province is in terms of domestic animal care policy and procedures, to encourage more research on the topic and to help to inform future government legislation at the local and provincial levels.

The report is available online at www.mun.ca/soc/Taking_Care_of_Pets-Nov2012.pdf and a summary has been posted on Yaffle.ca, Memorial’s online research resource.


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