The 2019 National Animal Welfare Conference (NAWC), an annual professional development and community-building event, was held at the Bonaventure Hotel in Montreal April 14-16. As the Côte Saint-Luc city councillor responsible for Animal Protection, I was pleased to attend this conference. I did so a few years ago in Vancouver. To be in a room with more than 400 animal lovers from across the country is empowering to say the least.
My biggest disappointment? Neither the City of Montreal nor any other municipality in the province was represented at the conference. How was this possible? Ditto for our new CAQ government, which is too busy focusing on religious symbols. The fact that our province gives animal protection minimal importance by tossing it into the Ministry of Agriculture says it all. This is the biggest and best-attended animal welfare conference in Canada.
The year 2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the humane movement in Canada and this country’s first SPCA: our Montreal SPCA. I was pleased to meet with Montreal SPCA Executive Director Elise Desaulniers and Director of Animal Advocacy Sophie Gaillard, as well as a number of other Montreal animal advocates. It is too bad the conference did not organize any regional caucuses so we could get to know some of the people who do the same work in the province.
There were more than 70 conference sessions and activities, world-class speakers, daily networking opportunities, lightning sessions for quick takeaways, amazing exhibitors and prizes, shelter tours of the Montreal SPCA, a brand-new delegate recharge station for fun and networking, and chances to converse and collaborate with thought leaders to gain insights into emerging animal welfare trends.
This dog named Ophelia was registered for the conference. I kid you not!
This two-day event takes place in a different major Canadian city each year and includes presentations, workshops, keynote addresses and panel discussions on new animal welfare initiatives, emerging animal welfare research, best practices in animal sheltering, leadership practices in an animal welfare context, animal welfare community engagement, advocacy and stakeholder relations techniques. This year there was more content on animal sheltering, humane education and leadership best practices than ever before.
The event welcomes students in any discipline, veterinarians and vet techs, academics, researchers and scientists, animal enforcement personnel, animal care professionals who work with companion animals, farm animals or wildlife, staff from humane societies, SPCAs and animal rescues, animal welfare advocates, policy experts, humane education professionals and members of the general public who want to advance their work for animals.
I must say that the opening keynote speaker, Jackson Galaxy, was a major disappointment. The well-known “cat daddy,” and TV show host for Animal Planet took to the stage for less than a half hour and was completely uninspiring. He responded to pre-written questions and offered me absolutely nothing new. With that in mind I won’t waste any more space on him.
The Montreal SPCA’s Fight Against Breed-Specific Legislation
Sophie Gaillard gave an excellent presentation on a compelling subject. In June 2016, a Montreal woman was tragically mauled and killed by a dog identified in the media as a “pit bull.” Shortly thereafter, then Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre announced his intention to ban “pit bulls” and did in fact adopt breed-specific legislation (BSL) a few months later. The following year, the Quebec government followed suit and introduced a bill aiming to implement province-wide BSL, which would have sentenced tens of thousands of adoptable shelter dogs to death. Fortunately, thanks to efforts led by the Montreal SPCA, including a high-profile lawsuit challenging BSL, Coderre’s municipal bylaw was ultimately repealed, and the provincial bill defeated. This talk will provide an inside look into the Montreal SPCA’s successful fight against BSL. Sophie explained why and how BSL was adopted in Montreal and nearly adopted province-wide, what legal, political and communications strategies were used by the Montreal SPCA to successfully fight BSL at both levels of government and what lessons were learned along the way.
With Sophie Gaillard.
Sophie joined the Montreal SPCA in 2013, after having graduated from McGill University’s Faculty of Law and articling at the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions office in Montreal. In her role as director of animal advocacy, she supervises the SPCA’s inspectors, as well as acting as a liaison with prosecutors and other law enforcement. Me. Gaillard also works on initiatives to strengthen animal protection legislation at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. She is namely one of the instigators of the Animals Are Not Things manifesto, which led to the adoption of a new disposition in the Civil Code of Quebec recognizing animals as sentient beings.
Ending Declawing in North America: Past, Present, and Future
This interactive lecture, which was followed by Q&A period, examined the current state of the practice of declawing in Canada and the US, including some of the key issues, trends and challenges associated with professional and public education. The session concluded by looking at future possibilities for continuing education for the veterinary profession and the public. The speakers offered tools and scripts for motivating veterinary teams to stop offering "partial digital amputation" (as the CVMA describes declawing) and offer suggestions for using the right words and arguments to convince clients and veterinary teams that declawing is not the best solution.
Key learning included what is declawing, and what are the known physical and behavioral complications of the procedure, including how to recognize subtle, and less subtle, signs of pain in the short and long term, what is the current position of the CVMA, AVMA and other veterinary organizations on declawing (partial digital amputation),why declawing does not prevent or reduce abandonment, relinquishment and euthanasia, and how humane organizations are leading grass-roots efforts to discourage and end declawing, recent decisions in Canada to stop declawing for ethical reasons, and the progress of legislative and other efforts in the US to end declawing, how declawing has been shown, in recent studies, to cause behavioral problems in cats, and why human medical authorities say declawing is not an effective means of protecting human health and finally what are the reasons motivating veterinary teams to offer this procedure now, and what can be done to motivate teams to stop practicing it and client to stop requesting?
THE RISE OF THE ANIMAL PROFESSIONAL: Supporting Growth and Change in the Animal Welfare Sector
Animal welfare is a complex, multi-faceted and evolving field. Even though it is one of the oldest social institutions in our country, the sector’s drive for professionalization has never been higher than it is today. Professionalization is the social process by which a group of workers transforms itself into an occupation of the highest integrity and competence. The natural trend in all professions is toward greater specialization and recognition, but in animal welfare, the career path is not always clear, it can be challenging to enter the field and, while we apply standards for others, we don’t have industry wide standards for ourselves. This plenary explored concepts of professionalization both for individuals and for organizations in the animal welfare sector. The panel of experts discussed the path to an animal welfare profession and the role of codes of conduct or ethics, education and training, standards and accreditation and certificates and certifications.
An award-winning executive leader in animal welfare, conservation and education. Humane Canada CEO Barbara Cartwright headed the panel. She is one dynamic lady with a terrific stage presence. Her work has spanned five continents and 25 years. .
Cat Behaviour: What People Don't Know, But Should
I really enjoyed this session in which well-known cat educator Daniel Filion (L’Éduchateur), covered two interesting subjects. He gave tips and tricks on how to deal with fearful cats but also demystified and offered some explanations on their behavior in general. If cats are the most popular domestic animal sin the world, why are we so oblivious to their behaviors and needs? Even professionals and people dealing with cats everyday will often, involuntarily, contribute to all the myths surrounding them. Why don’t we know? What should we know? What should we stop saying? Filion, who resides in Laval, offered some explanations that helped us better understand our cat’s behavior and raised their value.
Key learnings included how to modify cat behavior. There were some tips of how to deal with fearful cats. He then asked the question: why is the most popular domestic animal the one we know the least? Finally, he focused on how to raise knowledge about cats’ needs and behaviors and therefore raise their "value."
EduCATor is recognized as the most important feline behavior company in Canada and in Europe. For the past 12 years, Filion (pictured here) has been seen as an author and TV and radio commentator, but it's through his famous conferences, combining humor and popularization, that he has built his reputation. His firm does more than 350 private consultations per year and holds the most important Facebook page on feline behavior throughout all French speaking countries where they answer, free of charge, more than 5,000 messages per year to help cat owners. Cat EduCATor is referred by more than 100 veterinary clinics and, through its shelter aid program, also volunteers to help shelters. Cat EduCATor's mission is to decrease the number of cats abandoned and euthanized because of something lile simple urine on the carpet problem.
Filion told us how he trained his cat Wookie to go for a walk with a leash. He asked questions like whether cats are territorial (he said no) and if the colour of a cat changes their behavior (only for Garfield). He told us that cats are the most popular house pet the world. And he gave us a trick of how to teach your cat to give a high five.
No Place Like Home: Intake Diversion Works
Karen Reichheld, Manager, Animal Care and Adoptions, Hamilton/Burlington SPCA, gave one of the lightning sessions (15 minutes long). All too often, cats are surrendered to shelters because their owners are no longer able to care for them for a variety of reasons. However, there are instances where cats in safe and loving homes have very treatable conditions and yet for whom treatment by a community veterinarian is not affordable for the pet family. The No Place like Home program at the Hamilton/Burlington SPCA treats cats at risk of surrender on an ambulatory basis where the best option for the cats is to live out their lives with their owners – healthy, safe and wanted – in their own homes. The Forever Home Fund was generously seeded by a donor family who continue to fund the program directly. Reichheld listed a range of ambulatory conditions treated to date in the program. She provided three case scenarios and outcomes. Their program is not advertised. She shared stories of cats which were going to get euthanized and because of the anonymous donor their lives were saved.
Planning an Easy and Effective Event with Limited Resources
Leah Johnson and Maja Krol from the Calgary Humane Society asked the question: Have you ever wanted to plan a simple yet effective fundraising event, but you lack the time and resources? The Calgary Humane Society has developed a simple, effective and donor-centric fundraising event that is sure to leave you with money in your pocket and time on your hands. During this presentation everyone received a blueprint to build an event with the potential to grow exponentially year after year while engaging your supporters. We were told how to host a fundraiser with little to no resources, engage your donors in a new and innovative way and provided with keys to successful fundraising. This one should have been much longer.
Raising Super Cats: The Importance of Kitten Socialization
Bravo to Rebecca Lohnes, MS CDBC, ACCBC, Behaviour and Training Manager, Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Greater Rochester. She was a fantastic speaker, with great slides and videos. By providing proper socialization to the kittens in your care, you will create well-adjusted feline citizens who are less likely to be rehomed later in life. She discussed the science behind socialization, different types of socialization and how to accomplish them in your shelter or foster home, how to engage in low-stress handling and cooperative care, and even some basic manners training! She also talked about the special needs of fearful or unsocialized kittens, singletons and bottle babies. Our CSL Cats Committee is very big on socialization. Lohnes has been the Behaviour and Training Manager at Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Greater Rochester, since 2011. She believes in using positive reinforcement and force-free methods to enhance the human-animal bond. She has degrees from Yale University (BSc 2005) and Cornell University (MSc 2010) and she is certified through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
Youth, Animals, Action! The Power of Kids and Teens Today
Colleen Ovenden and Emelie Luciani are the co-directors of, ENGAGE: Animal Welfare Education. I am proud to be working with them at the English Montreal School Board. Running an animal welfare education program for youth in a shelter is often thought of as an investment in the future of animal welfare. It is perhaps because of this focus on youth programming’s distant benefits that animal welfare education is not treated as a priority in many shelters, as other priorities are often more pressing.
Colleen Ovenden and Emelie Luciani
This presentation demonstrated how kids and teens in fact have the power to affect real change – today, in the present. The two speakers argued that youth can play a part in advancing animal welfare not only in the future, but right now. The effects and possibilities of kids and teens getting involved in animal shelters was demonstrated through an exploration of the Montreal SPCA’s youth program; the only shelter in Quebec to offer animal welfare education. Three youth who are using their experiences at the Montreal SPCA as a springboard for further action shared what they are doing to improve not only the welfare of animals, but the community as a whole.
The speakers emphasized the importance of youth programming in animal shelters both in the short-term and long-term, how youth are a necessity to advancing animal welfare – not just for the next generation but for right now and the power of youth to affect change.
Ovenden was previously the Director of Education and Community Outreach at the Montreal SPCA. She holds an MA in Cultural Studies and a PhD (ABD) in Communication Studies. Luciani worked as the Animal Welfare Educator at the Montreal SPCA. She was also the organization’s Adoption and Foster Program Coordinator with more than seven years of experience. Her involvement in animal welfare education integrates her two passions: animals and working with youth. She holds a BA in Sociology.
I am happy I attended this conference. The 2020 edition will be in Victoria, BC.