"Unfounded" rabies scare will result in the
needless death of thousands of healthy animals,
and the loss of a valued public service in Ottawa
When: Wednesday, July 24, 2002 - 1 p.m.
Where: Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre, corner of Moodie Drive and Carling
Avenue (northwest corner of the Nortel Networks campus)
Tours of the facility will be provided to media.
Ottawa, July 24, 2002: The Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre is questioning
the motives behind a new provincial rule that will result in the needless
death of thousands of healthy wild animals, and the loss of a valuable
public service to Ottawa area residents.
The issue centers on a recent decision by the Ontario Ministry of Natural
Resources to expand the rabies-risk zone to include Ottawa and other
communities along the Ottawa River, despite the absence of any rabies cases
in this area.
As a result of the change, the Ministry is seeking to confiscate and likely
euthanize all raccoons and skunks being rehabilitated at the Centre and
those in the care of area foster families.
"The public will be outraged that the animals they brought in for us to care
for will be taken by the Ontario government and euthanized," says Centre
President Donna DuBreuil. "The government is claiming that this change is
designed to reduce the spread of rabies, yet there is no evidence to suggest
that rabies has arrived anywhere near Ottawa. There is no crisis, and no
rational reason for why the government is expanding the rabies zone."
The timing of the Ministry's decision couldn't be worse. Hundreds of
orphaned wildlife have come in over the spring birthing season and more are
coming in each day. Effective immediately, the new rule prohibits the Centre
from accepting any more raccoons, foxes and skunks.
Fighting on Two Fronts
The expansion of the rabies-risk area follows on the heels of another new
rule that threatens to eliminate responsible wildlife rehabiliation in the
province. The Ministry is demanding that animals rehabilitated at the Centre
be released within one kilometer of where they were found - even if that
area is the Byward Market or a housing development under construction. This
rule was intended for companies and individuals who trap and relocate adult
wildlife. It is now being forced upon rehabilitation centres that focus on
rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned baby animals who are often the victims
of urban development.
Without access to a responsible and humane service, residents will have no
option but to care for these animals on their own, dramatically increasing
the risk of disease to the public. "If the government's rationale for doing
this is to drive wildlife rehabilitation underground, they will succeed,"
says DuBreuil. "The Ministry clearly has no understanding or interest in
what responsible rehabilitation means," says DuBreuil. "You simply can't
take a baby squirrel or rabbit that has been found in the Glebe and after
raising it with others, return it alone and terrified to a busy area where
it is not wanted, and where there is no chance for its survival".
The OCWC is challenging these new rules, and the government's rationale for
imposing them. The Ministry claims the restrictions will reduce the spread
of diseases such as rabies. It's an argument that has little basis in
reality, as veterinarian Dr. Dan Rodgers explains.
"The vast majority of animals that come into the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife
Centre are not even rabies vector species. If they are, they are vaccinated
here. This results in more vaccinated animals being released which
safeguards against the spread of rabies," says Dr. Rodgers, who is the
Centre's Vice-President. "The Centre also keeps these young animals in
captive care for anywhere from between three to 11 months, which is an
acceptable incubation period for rabies."
Adds DuBreuil, "This is a case where the Ministry of Natural Resources is
attempting to fix a crisis where no crisis exists. Their 'fix', however,
will create a real crisis in a city which has been recognized as a North
American model for responsible wildlife rehabilitation."
The OCWC Service
The Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre's rehabilitation program and telephone
response hotline are considered essential public services. The Centre, which
receives funding from the City of Ottawa, corporate donors, foundations, and
private citizens, has assisted over 50,000 Eastern Ontario and West Quebec
residents with wildlife problems while caring for nearly 15,000 orphaned and
injured wild mammals during the past 15 years. Ironically, the Centre's
activities were recently supported by the Ontario government, through a
$75,000 award from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.