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Opinion Editorial

Canada needs to take the threat of disease from wildlife seriously

Article originally published in The Province.

Despite calls from experts to take action against the global wildlife trade, which scientists believe is a likely source of COVID-19, the response from national governments has been muted and mixed, with virtual silence from Canada. That’s a shame, as there is plenty Canada could do to improve our own safeguards against diseases from imported wildlife.

Whatever the precise source of COVID-19 might be, the science has been clear for years that zoonotic disease (disease transmitted from animals to humans) from wildlife is a serious threat, accounting for at least 70 per cent of all emerging diseases. And that threat is not just from the much-discussed wet markets in Asia. It’s from a legal global trade worth US$300 billion and an illegal trade worth US$23 billion, both of which involve and affect Canada. Yet there are questions about the coherence and effectiveness of Canada’s defences against disease from imported wildlife.

Currently, responsibility for keeping Canadians safe from foreign zoonotic diseases is spread across several government agencies, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which are in turn networked with a myriad of other bodies, such as the Canadian Animal Health Surveillance System and the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative.

A 2016 study criticized this system, stating: “Canada lacks a coherent and effective regulatory framework to address emerging zoonotic diseases,” arguing that “there are gaps in disease surveillance, wildlife health concerns are not given due priority, risk assessment processes do not explicitly consider the impact of human action on wildlife health, and there is insufficient collaboration between government sectors.”

There also appear to be loopholes in the CFIA’s system for controlling which animals are allowed into the country. For example, the agency does not inspect reptiles (except turtles and tortoises) imported into Canada. As its website states, “there is no Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) requirement to obtain an import permit, nor a health certificate. Under normal circumstances, there are no border inspections. Imports are permitted from any country, for any use, to any destination in Canada.”

Yet, reptiles are known to carry zoonotic diseases. Snakes were an early suspect in the research into the source of COVID-19, although they’ve since been ruled out.

The CFIA also says rodents (with some exceptions) can be imported into Canada without an import permit, health certificate, or inspection. So, for example, someone could import capybaras, the world’s largest rodents, into Canada, despite the fact they are known to carry dangerous ticks and have been known to shed coronaviruses. They are also sold online as pets.

The CFIA’s surveillance system is reactive rather than preventative, relying on prior intelligence indicating that a specific animal is a disease carrier. The system’s weakness was demonstrated when Canada prohibited pet Gambian rats from entering the country four months after they caused an outbreak of Monkeypox in the United States in 2003. Before the outbreak became manifest, the CFIA would have allowed the rats into Canada. Use of the precautionary principle, in the form of a ban on exotic pet imports, would be a far better safeguard.

Another concern is the lack of resources Canada devotes to fighting the illegal wildlife trade, one of a number of tasks given to the federal Wildlife Enforcement Directorate. According to a 2017 article in Canadian Geographic, the directorate had only 75 field officers nationwide. The article quotes the head of the directorate on the continued rise in wildlife crime: “And when you couple that with downward trends in government spending, that means more work for us and fewer resources to do it.” A 2017 survey of the directorate’s employees found that 65 per cent felt the quality of their work suffered because of “having to do the same or more work, but with fewer resources.”

Clearly, Canada must take the threat of disease from the wildlife trade more seriously. It needs a coherent regulatory framework to address the threat from zoonotic diseases. It needs to ban the import of wild and exotic animals and it needs to devote more resources to stop wildlife smuggling.

In July 2003, the medical journal The Lancet described the wild animal trade as “a disaster ignored” and called for its end. The warning went unheeded and that disaster is now upon us. Let’s not make the same mistake again.

Categories
Media Release

Vancouver Humane Society calls for investigation into animal care at Greater Vancouver Zoo

Call follows euthanization of moose and allegations of poor animal care

Vancouver – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) says disturbing images of an emaciated moose at the Greater Vancouver Zoo and allegations of poor animal care should be investigated by the BC SPCA.

The moose, which has now been euthanized by the zoo, appeared to be emaciated in photos posted online by a zoo visitor. Subsequent media reports included allegations of poor animal care by an individual claiming to be a former zoo employee.

“The photos of the moose were very disturbing,” said VHS spokesperson Peter Fricker, “but equally troubling are allegations that animals at the zoo have not been receiving adequate care and that a number have recently died.” He said the zoo should publicly report all animal deaths.

Fricker said the allegations should be investigated by the BC SPCA using independent veterinary experts rather than veterinarians paid by the zoo.

VHS is encouraging the former zoo employee to make a confidential report to the BC SPCA.

VHS recently released a report that called on the zoo to improve conditions for its animals, stating undersized and barren enclosures are preventing animals from engaging in natural behaviours.

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Categories
Media Release

Thought-provoking billboard urges Vancouverites to “Go Veg”

New Vancouver Humane Society ad campaign promotes kindness to all animals

Media release
July 23, 2020

Vancouver – A striking new billboard in downtown Vancouver is encouraging Vancouverites to treat farmed animals with the same compassion as other animals by transitioning to a plant-based diet. The billboard is part of The Vancouver Humane Society’s (VHS) new Go Veg campaign.

The billboard, which shows the faces of a cow and a dog with near-identical markings, states: “Animals are the same in all the ways that matter” and urges people to “Be kind to every kind.”

“Farmed animals are thinking, feeling beings, with complex emotional lives – just like the pets we open our homes and hearts to,” said VHS campaign director Emily Pickett. “They suffer greatly under today’s industrial animal agriculture system. Our Go Veg billboard calls on society to recognize that animals, regardless of the label they are given – farmed or companion – are the same in all the ways that matter.”

Pickett said that, in 2019, more than 830 million land animals were raised and slaughtered for food in Canada. “Our overconsumption of animal products has led to the rise of the industrial animal agriculture system, characterized by large numbers of animals confined in cramped, barren and unnatural environments and subject to painful procedures, lengthy transport journeys and frightening slaughter conditions.”

The billboard ad will run in select locations in Vancouver throughout the summer. In addition, VHS is running ads in 24 Vancouver condo buildings, also promoting a plant-based diet.

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Vancouver Humane Society billboard near the intersection of Georgia & Richards in Vancouver.
Categories
Media Release

Vancouver Humane Society says horse carriage rides in Stanley Park are unsafe

Vancouver – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) is commenting on the controversy over the traffic problem caused in Stanley Park by horse-drawn carriages. The society says the carriages not only create a risk to public safety but also compromise the horses’ welfare.

This week, the operator of the carriage horse rides was quoted in media stating that conducting rides under a new traffic configuration in the park was an “accident waiting to happen.” 

But VHS points out that a near-disastrous incident involving a runaway carriage took place in 2016, when spooked horses left the roadway and came close to falling off the seawall.

“The horse carriages have always been an accident waiting to happen, whatever the traffic arrangement in the park,” said VHS spokesperson Peter Fricker. “Now is the opportunity for the City to listen to local residents and prioritize safety, ensuring the increase in cycle traffic is adequately accommodated.”

Fricker said the current temporary arrangement, which provides one lane for motorists and another for cyclists might be a reasonable compromise but putting horse carriages in the mix appears unworkable. “If the new traffic pattern gives much-needed access to the park to both motorists and cyclists, it would be a shame to scrap it because of one business putting public and animal safety at risk unnecessarily.”

VHS opposes carriage horse rides in the city because of the dangers of the horses’ close proximity to traffic, the exposure to noise and pollution and long hours standing in all weather conditions.

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Categories
Uncategorized

Free Wills Month postponed until October 2020

Due to COVID-19, this year’s Free Wills Month has been moved from May to October 2020. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause.

You can support our work for years to come by leaving a legacy for the animals this Free Wills Month! If you’re an animal lover aged 55 or over, starting October 1, you have a unique opportunity to either make a new will or revise your current will, for free! VHS is participating in a campaign that allows you to provide for family and friends and make a significant contribution to charity, if you choose to do so. There is absolutely no obligation to include a charity in order to participate.

Free Wills Month brings together respected charities to offer people aged 55 and over the opportunity to have simple wills written or updated free of charge by using participating lawyers.

For more information, visit: www.freewillsmonth.ca. If you have any questions, contact Claire Yarnold claire@vancouverhumanesociety.bc.ca or call 604 266 9744.

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Uncategorized

A sneak peak at our new Go Veg ads

While COVID-19 has put a temporary hold on our work with schools to put more plant-based options on cafeteria menus, we’re continuing to speak out and work behind the scenes to support food system change that will benefit animals, the planet and public health.

We’re excited to share a sneak peek of our brand new Go Veg ads, which build on our popular “Food vs. Friend” bus ad campaign that we’ve run the last few years. The ads will touch on the benefits of a plant-based diet and will be running online and in public spaces (see billboard above) throughout Metro Vancouver in the coming months.

VHS also participated in the City of Vancouver’s Climate Emergency survey and advocated for climate actions that include transitioning public menus toward fewer animal products and more plant-based options. The consumption of food makes up nearly half of the City of Vancouver’s ecological footprint and animal products have a larger environmental impact than plant-based foods, making this an opportunity to change the food system to help protect both animals and the planet.

VHS executive director, Amy Morris and projects and communications Director, Peter Fricker also recorded a podcast in which they discuss local plant-based foods and food sustainability. You can hear their discussion here.

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Uncategorized

McVitie program aims to keep people and pets together

VHS is now working with Terri Gillis, program coordinator, to administer the McVitie veterinary assistance program. Terri’s background working with people who have mental health challenges makes her perfectly suited for this part-time role. When Terri is not working with VHS, she is in school or snuggling with her rescue pup Schnitzel. Here Terri shares her experiences regarding keeping people and pets together:

Terri Gillis is VHS’s program coordinator for the McVitie veterinary assistance program

There are many stereotypes about low-income individuals with pets. The general public often asks why vulnerable populations have animals when they may not have homes or money to pay for vet bills or food.

Every person I’ve met who is classified as low-income will do anything in order to keep their pet. And yet, when their animals get sick or need veterinary assistance, they are often told to surrender their animal. While this may make financial sense, it makes no sense on any other level.

Animals help keep their humans safe; they help keep them warm at night; they help them from becoming overwhelmed with the stress of their daily lives. In return, the animals receive unconditional love; food, no matter what; and unending affection.

The goal, moving forward, needs to be how we keep animals with their humans, rather than encouraging them to surrender them due to financial deficiencies.

The Vancouver Humane Society continues to seek out sources of funding so that we can keep pets with the people they are bonded with.

Categories
Uncategorized

We’re fighting the wildlife trade

VHS launched two campaigns against the cruel and dangerous wildlife trade this spring.

The trade is not only cruel and damaging to biodiversity, but also poses a threat of zoonotic disease (diseases transmitted from animals to humans).

In April, we started an online petition calling on the B.C. government to strengthen regulation of the sale and ownership of wild and exotic animals in the province. The petition, which gained nearly 3500 signatures, has been forwarded to B.C.’s Wildlife and Habitat Branch, which is due to review the regulations this year. VHS had two opinion editorials published in local media to draw public attention to the issue.

In late May, we launched a similar campaign, this time urging the federal government to do more to combat the wildlife trade. We urged federal ministers to engage with international partners to ban the trade; devote more resources to fight the illegal wildlife trade; and to improve Canada’s systems for detecting imported wildlife diseases. 

The federal campaign is ongoing and supporters can join us in sending an e-message to the government.

Categories
News/Blog

Odie’s his old self again

The McVitie Veterinary Assistance Program has been helping pets of low-income caregivers get assistance for many years, ensuring guardians are not forced to surrender the animals they love and are bonded with. During this time, other caring individuals have provided some of their own money towards the program to keep people and their pets together. Sandra Todd is one of those individuals, always working to assist those in need to ensure their pets have care. 

When Sandra was partially laid off due to COVID-19, she faced a difficult decision herself for the first time. Sandra cares for a few aging rescued animals, and her 17-year-old dog Odie was showing signs of sickness. Odie lived a rough early life, abused by his first owners and treated roughly by his second owners. He came into Sandra’s care with wounds on his neck and a broken leg. 

Since then, Sandra has worked to give him a good life. At the end of March, Odie started sleeping too much, he became too weak to walk and gastro problems were evident. Sandra knew the bill would be high for the veterinarian to diagnose the cause and hopefully heal Odie and that she would fall short with her own available funds. She reached out to the Vancouver Humane Society for help with covering the cost of a blood panel, fluids, and antibiotics to get 17-year-old Odie feeling well again. 

Please consider contributing a gift today to support the McVitie low-income veterinary assistance program.  

Categories
News/Blog

Poisoned owl rescued by VHS supporter

Update: District of North Vancouver votes to ban rodenticides!

District of North Vancouver Council has voted to ban anticoagulant rodenticides on district-owned properties. The unanimous vote on June 15 approved Councillor Megan Curren’s proposal for a ban. 

Thank you to everyone who wrote to the council and signed the petition by VHS supporter Yasmin Abidi. Yasmin raised the issue with Councillor Curren after rescuing an owl poisoned by rodenticide in the district. (Full story below.)

The vote also means that the council will petition the provincial government to ban anticoagulant rodenticides in B.C. and will communicate their harmful impacts to all residents and businesses in the district.

Update: Speak up to save owls like Lucky

Lucky the owl was lucky to survive being poisoned, twice. Most raptors aren’t so lucky.

Councillor Megan Curren of the District of North Vancouver has proposed the following recommendation, to be voted on June 15, 2020:

  • Recommendation:
  •  THAT a complete ban of anticoagulant rodenticides on all District of North Vancouver owned properties is supported;
  •  AND THAT staff is directed to petition the Province to ban anticoagulant rodenticides;
  •  AND THAT staff is directed to communicate the harmful impacts of anticoagulant rodenticides to all residents and businesses in the District of North Vancouver and to share findings about alternatives.

How you can help

  • You can sign this petition created by Lucky’s rescuer, Yasmin: Save the Owls

Original story:

Birds and other wildlife are often the unintended victims of rodent poison

VHS supporter Yasmin Abidi helped rescue what appeared to be an injured owl last week in North Vancouver. It later emerged that the owl had been poisoned, most likely by rodent poison.

Yasmin and several other Good Samaritans found the owl in a tree near a main road, bleeding and being attacked by crows. They contacted the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL) in Delta and protected the bird until OWL staff arrived to take it back to their clinic for examination.

The examination found that the owl had ingested rodent poison and needed immediate treatment. Nicknamed “Lucky” by Yasmin, the owl is expected to recover, thanks to her quick actions. 

It also emerged that the owl had been poisoned three weeks earlier (and treated by OWL), indicating such poisonings are not uncommon.

Wildlife are often the victims of poisons used by businesses, landlords, municipalities and homeowners to control rodent populations.These “secondary poisonings” happen when birds of prey or other predators eat poisoned rodents and can cause a slow and painful death.

The BC SPCA has more information on how you can help wildlife by decreasing the amount of rat poison in the environment. If you find sick or injured wildlife you can contact one of the organizations listed by the Wildlife Rehabilitators’ Network.