Saskatoon SPCA could have new contract with city by July to address 'financial strain' of running pound

Saskatoon SPCA executive director Graham Dickson hopes the organization will be able to negotiate a new contract with the City of Saskatoon to run the city's pound by July.

"I think there's a shared recognition that a new contract is needed before that one expires, but we just simply couldn't weather that kind of financial strain for another year and a half," Dickson told CTV News.

The current pound contract expires Dec. 31, 2023.

In an earlier request for funding to the city, the SPCA said the pound operates at a $1.16 million loss. Last month, city council approved a funding increase of $200,000 for 2022, to just under $700,000.

"To the city's credit, that did not fall in line with our budgeting cycle. We had not notified them of that previously. So I recognize that we took a lot of people by surprise by this. And I have to say I appreciate what the city has done for us with that in mind," Dickson said.

Dickson joined the SPCA in March 2020 with the mandate to overhaul operations — work that was delayed about a year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By the third quarter of 2021, the group realized how underfunded it was and notified the city.

The SPCA has in previous years taken about $430,000 out of its reserves to stay afloat. It now accounts for its pound operations separately from adoption and educational operations.

As the city has grown, so has the number of animals the pound has inherited, to 1,334 last year from 729 in 2001. Almost all of their intakes are now through bylaw enforcement. The city only funds those animals for a four-day holding period — after that, they become the SPCA's property and responsibility.

That's in addition to inflation and increased standards for veterinary care, Dickson said. It costs from $200 to over $1,000 to make an animal healthy enough to adopt.

"I think people don't really understand just how much is required to care for these animals. At any time we'll have 100 animals in the shelter here. To mitigate the spread of disease, our staff need to use a new pair of gloves every time they clean a kennel. A kennel needs to be cleaned every single day, there needs to be a health check every single day. A lot of animals need specialized food and medicine," Dickson said.

"It's very labour intensive and very structured in terms of what is required. It's healthcare provision. It's not something that can be done by volunteers. It needs to be done by people who are highly trained and have experience."

To cut costs, the SPCA no longer offers proactive, upstream solutions to Saskatoon’s stray animal problem — and the population of stray and feral cats in Saskatoon has "exploded" in their absence, according to the SPCA's request to council.

In addition, as of April 1, the SPCA ceased its animal protection services, which it had been doing for about 40 years, to cut costs. Dickson said the Ministry of Agriculture had licensed the SPCA to have two peace officers on staff to enforce the Animal Protection Act but never provided "a penny" in funding.

The SPCA asked the province last year for $650,000 to continue performing that work but was denied, Dickson said.