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Ottawa city council seeks return to progressive wildlife service

Ottawa, June 23, 2004 – The City of Ottawa will ask the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) to restore wildlife rehabilitation services, while ending a controversial rabies program that has resulted in the killing of more than 9,700 animals across Eastern Ontario over the past four years. Brain tissue tests later revealed that 99.8% of these animals were healthy.

Today, Ottawa city council supported four motions that had been passed unanimously on June 3 by its Health, Recreation and Social Services Committee, asking that OMNR:

  1. Discontinue its controversial practice of “depopulation” (mass slaughtering of animals within five kilometres of a positive rabies case)
  2. Adopt a more “effective, cost-efficient and humane strategy” to raccoon rabies control
  3. Recognize the importance of allowing wildlife rehabilitation in rabies control
  4. Work cooperatively with municipalities and others to provide “effective wildlife response based on realistic and progressive public education, not alarmist fear-mongering and the denial of help for people seeking to assist wildlife in distress.”

“I congratulate Ottawa city council for its foresight in addressing an issue that has become Ontario’s shame,” says Donna DuBreuil, President, Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre. “OMNR’s raccoon rabies program has killed thousands of healthy adult animals while putting the Ottawa Humane Society and local veterinarians in the shocking position of having to euthanize healthy baby wild animals of all species.”

On June 10, Alta Vista Animal Hospital (AVAH) issued a press release saying it does not want to euthanize healthy wildlife, which is what the current provincial rules effectively require veterinarians and humane societies to do. An earlier announcement by the Ottawa Humane Society advising residents to not bring in wild animals, saying the Society is forced by provincial law to euthanize sick, injured and orphaned wild animals.

Dr. Dan Rodgers, a veterinarian at AVAH, stressed that:  “Animal care professionals work hard to save animals. Having to turn away compassionate people looking for help for an orphaned baby squirrel or rabbit or being expected to euthanize these healthy animals is having a devastating impact on our staff”.

The Ottawa council decision comes just two weeks after a landmark meeting between OMNR Minister David Ramsay and representatives of the Ontario Wildlife Coalition. Its members include over 80 wildlife rehabilitation, environmental and animal protection organizations, including the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre.

At the June 9 meeting at Queen’s Park, facilitated by Ottawa-Centre MPP Richard Patten, Ramsay agreed to follow up on an election promise from 11 Eastern Ontario Liberal MPPs, including Premier Dalton McGuinty, to review OMNR’s controversial raccoon rabies program as well as regulations governing wildlife rehabilitation. While in Opposition, the Ontario Liberals presented 9,000 signed petitions from over 260 communities in Ontario calling for such changes.

“This is an issue that has repercussions across Ontario,” adds Debbie Lawes, Board Member, Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre. “The City of Ottawa’s continued concern over this issue, combined with Mr. Ramsay’s commitment to review OMNR’s raccoon rabies program, are important steps that we hope will lead to progressive policies that allow responsible wildlife rehabilitation in the province.”

Raccoon rabies ranks near the bottom of human health risks. Yet the Ontario government continues to spend $6 million annually on a program that is both controversial and scientifically unproven. Ontario is the only jurisdiction in North America that kills all vector species (raccoons, skunks, fox) within five kilometres of a positive rabies case – a practice known as ”depopulation.”

New regulations imposed by the OMNR have resulted in the loss of dozens of wildlife rehabilitators across the province, including the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre in 2002. The Centre cared for upwards of 1,100 orphaned and injured wild mammals and assisted close to 6,000 area residents in resolving wildlife problems each year. A network of wildlife experts, veterinarians and highly trained volunteers worked as a team to provide medical care, rehabilitation and release services for these animals.

Material submitted to local councils:

Click here for letter & backgrounder sent to local councils

For more information, contact
Debbie Lawes, Board Member, Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre
(613) 729-5096

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