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Animal rescue sees increase in pets needing help in North Okanagan

Okanagan Humane Society has seen a increase after BC SPCA Vernon shelter closure

Over the last 10 days, the Okanagan Humane Society has taken in four senior dogs all of whom are in desperate need of veterinary care.

The dogs came from all over the Okanagan, including the south, Lake Country, Falkland and Kelowna.

Mickey a black and white Chihuahua was found by a Good Samaritan in the South Okanagan on Easter Sunday. The dog is considered geriatric and was in serious need of dental surgery.

The person who discovered Mickey tried to call the local BC SPCA as well as animal control, but due to the holiday it appeared no one was answering, which is when they turned to the Okanagan Humane Society (OHS). After several days no one claimed the dog and Mickey has now been placed with a foster.

OHS provides around-the-clock response and communication with the community when it comes to helping animals.

Around the same time Mickey was discovered, OHS was contacted about a senior shih tzu named Charlie who was left without a place to call home after their owner died. Charlie also needed dental surgery as she was obsessively pawing at her mouth due to the pain and couldn’t eat properly. The family of Charlie’s owner had taken her to the vet to have her treated but they could not keep the dog and were told by vet staff to call OHS for help.

Then last week a landlord discovered his tenants had moved out after they could no longer afford the rent. As they were on the verge of homelessness the couple left the province and left their senior dog Jax behind. The landlord explained to OHS that they had taken the dog to the Kelowna BC SPCA but as it was before noon and the shelter wasn’t open and he was told they couldn’t help him until later. He was advised to call the animal helpline and that someone would be assigned to his case. However, the man was on a time crunch and also wasn’t familiar with dogs, so wasn’t comfortable keeping Jax with him.

The landlord then reached out to OHS president and board chair Romany Runnalls who responded right away and had the man drop the dog off at Spall and Harvey Veterinary Hospital for medical examination.

“Jax had all of his teeth removed except four. He was in a lot of pain, but now the surgery is done he has a lot of life left in him. He is full of energy and feeling better. He is on pain meds and antibiotics but is in amazing shape,” said Runnalls.

Runnalls explained that when it comes to rescuing not everyone has the time to wait for a shelter to open or for someone to call them back with information.

“You can’t always schedule a rescue. When you have to leave and you have no home to take your dog or cat, people turn to the shelters but are being told no they can’t bring their pet in, for whatever reason,” said Runnalls.

Runnalls said OHS has received multiple calls from people throughout the Okanagan who claim they have been told by the BC SPCA to reach out to OHS for help instead.

Stories like Jax’s and Charlie’s are far too common said Runnalls.

“Situations where people are dying with no provisions for their animals or shelters are denying older dogs and cats are things we are dealing with all the time. There is also the housing crisis, people not having rentals and they can’t find another home to go to with their animals as pet-friendly housing is critically low,” said Runnalls.

Since 2023, the pet rescue program has doubled and the pet assistance program has tripled for OHS.

“I think this is because people are learning about us and that we are responsive, we are nimble and we act quickly. Especially on the rescue side, when it comes to the absence of responses from shelters and animal controls due to various reasons such as hours of operation or the fact the shelter has pulled out of the community, people are looking at other ways to help rescue animals,” explained Runnalls.

In the case of Shadow, the dog was found wandering Chase Falkland Road in the Pillar Lake Resort area, her mouth was bleeding and was in clear need of medical attention.

The man who discovered Shadow tried to reach out to animal control as well as the BC SPCA but was unable to get in touch with anyone who could help right away. Shadow was brought to a vet as her rescuer was concerned for her well-being. The vet then reached out to Runnalls who once again answered and took Shadow into OHS care.

“All of these cases happened at different times of the day, and what is important is that we are working with residents to take in animals and provide care. When dog controls are closed and shelters are closed, OHS is responding,” said Runnalls.

OHS is seeing a rising number of animals coming from the North Okanagan, with 33 per cent of all animals coming to OHS from that region compared to 38 per cent from the Central Okanagan.

Since the start of this year, 22 per cent of animals that come through OHS are from the Vernon area, where the non-profit sees about 27 per cent of animals needing assistance in Kelowna.

READ MORE: Okanagan Humane Society urges spay and neutering

BC SPCA responds

Black Press Media reached out to the BC SPCA regarding the increase OHS has seen in assisting animals in the North Okanagan following the Vernon shelter closure.

Senior manager of the Thompson-Nicola Okanagan region Ashley Fontaine-Ost said the BCSPCA has continued to provide services and support to the community and surrounding areas.

“I can’t comment on the increase the Okanagan Humane Society has seen. However, we did close the doors of the Vernon shelter in November due to the compromised infrastructure of the building. Since then we have been able to provide programs and services to the community,” she said.

However, those in the North Okanagan looking for help for animals are being directed to the animal helpline.

“The animal helpline will determine which department the call would need to go to. If someone called with a stray cat or dog, that call would be directed to the Shuswap or Kelowna shelter to see if they have space,” explained Fontaine-Ost.

The BC SPCA did recently hire a new Vernon community services coordinator who will be taking over the operations of the programs and services in that community and the surrounding area.

According to Fontaine-Ost, the BC SPCA received 82 calls for assistance from animal protection services from Vernon since Nov. 15, 2023. But, while the animal protection officers will follow up on all the calls Fontaine-Ost said she couldn’t say how many animals actually came into care or needed assistance.

“Many times once our officers follow up these cases don’t turn out to be neglect or abuse. Our goal is to keep companion animals with their guardians together,” she said.

Often animal protection officers will attend a residence after receiving a report of animal neglect or abuse and will instead provide education and services to those who may need it, according to Fontaine-Ost.

When asked why members of the community are being told by BC SPCA staff at various Okanagan shelters to call other non-profits such as OHS, when it comes to needing help for rescues or animal support, Fontaine-Ost said BC SPCA staff members are not to recommend sending animals to other societies.

“If someone called the animal helpline we have prioritized Vernon, especially since the closure to ensure we make space to intake the animals. We would never say we don’t have space or communicate that. We are supported not just by Kelowna and Shuswap but by Kamloops and Penticton as well,” explained Fontaine-Ost.

She added there is a program called Drives for Lives that has volunteers and staff to transfer animals to other centres to make space for the most vulnerable.

Fontaine-Ost said that occasionally if there isn’t room for someone who is surrendering an animal, BC SPCA staff would ask that the person go on a waitlist or try and re-home the animal themselves.

“This is only for surrenders, not rescues or any animal that is vulnerable or needs medical attention,” she said.

She added that centre hours are seven days a week noon until 4 p.m. and staff are available to those who ring the doorbell outside that time.

“We also never discriminate on age, we have a lot of seniors in our care. We provide support to them unless they have a loss of quality of life then we will have to make a decision there - but they would still be brought into our care,” said Fontaine-Ost.

READ MORE: Okanagan Humane Society: Keeping pets and people together

READ MORE: ‘Hotel living isn’t fun’: Evacuated Kelowna residents want answers from city, UBCO

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Jen Zielinski

About the Author: Jen Zielinski

I graduated from the broadcast journalism program at BCIT. I also hold a bachelor of arts degree in political science and sociology from Thompson Rivers University. I was also a reporter for Castanet and CBC. I am a volunteer with Okanagan Humane Society.
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