For many, pet ownership is akin to acquiring an extended family of furry companions: the loyal camaraderie and warmth provided by domesticated animals can give life to any household and a pet’s love rarely falters from being unconditional.
Yet during certain times of the year a pet can become an extended symbol of consumerism as cute, playful puppies and kittens are purchased as presents for young ones or significant others, only to be discarded once they mature and need more care. Many an article has documented a post-Christmas boom in unwanted pets dropped off at shelters with a myriad of reasons why they are no longer part of their owner’s future plans. But like anything, one person’s unwanted dog is another’s beloved pet: this is why shelters such as the Hanna Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) play an integral role in ensuring animals, both unwanted pets and strays, are cared for humanely and safely until they can find a loving family to adopt them.
The Hanna SPCA has been operating since 2005 when it was solely based upon a network of foster homes in the area, whereby people would accept strays or unwanted pets into their residence until a more permanent housing situation was found. Due to an increasing demand for room the group moved into their present building in 2009, an open concept space where the animals can roam free.
Diana Pottruff, secretary of the SPCA board and shelter worker has watched the shelter evolve to become an important part of the East Central Alberta community as a base for transitory animals. She has witnessed many tales of pets rescued from dramatic circumstances to be given a second chance, recounting stories of kittens brought to the shelter soaked in urine for days and a kitten found frozen on a farm who survived due to the diligence of the Hanna veterinary staff’s resuscitation efforts.
Particularly inspiring is the story of Kismet, a tiny kitten found in the parking lot of Nick’s Family Restaurant and Lounge.
“She was found underneath a car by two young girls who worked at the restaurant [and] you could see there was something wrong with her,” says Pottruff. “So I wrapped her up in a sweater and brought her to the vet here [in Hanna].” Because Kismet’s arm was badly injured – possibly from being unknowingly transported underneath the vehicle – it required invasive surgery and she was taken to Drumheller, where Pottruff was informed that they could not save her arm.
“They did a beautiful job, you can’t see any scarring,” she says. “She gets around quite well on three legs.” Kismet has learned to expertly navigate life on three legs despite such a traumatic experience, but many animals do not survive such harrowing experiences. Illness, disease, threatening animals and inclement weather are hazards many feral animals face daily in the wild.
Pottruff notes that preventative measures have to be taken as a collective to prevent tragic stories from occurring, including a focus on spaying and neutering feral animals.
“What we really want people to understand is that if we could get the feral [cat] population fixed and released back to where they were found, they would keep other cat colonies from forming because they are territorial,” Pottruff says. “So you would have the same cat population, it wouldn’t get bigger.”
She notes that the SPCA assists in this process when they can, although the cost of surgery is sizeable when coupled with costs of food, medications and maintenance of the animal’s quality of life at the shelter.
“A big [cost] for us is covering the vet bills,” Potruff says. “for ferals we just absorb the cost of spaying or neutering.” She says some pet owners will drop off their dog or cat claiming it’s been found as a stray to avoid paying a surrendering fee, yet this severely hampers the SPCA’s ability to have enough funds to care for all the creatures in their possession.
“Also, when an animal is surrendered it can be put out for adoption almost immediately,” Potruff adds. “If it comes in and is not surrendered [but is dropped off as a feral], you have to wait at least 10 days to ensure that it’s okay to be adopted out.”
Potruff says in future she would like to see the shelter move into a new building with more available space so that animal housing options are increased and dogs and cats can be separated into dual free-roaming areas. She would also like to see more animal education occur on a regular basis to open a dialogue about pet care.
The shelter hosts events to generate funds, including the wildly successful Cabaret held in the fall, and sells calendars. Pottruff notes that her aspirations with the shelter are ultimately to give animals a better chance of being adopted into a loving home.
“Some say it’s a privilege to own an animal, not a right,” she says. “I don’t believe that. Animals make people’s lives so much better.”