Mountain View County and the Town of Didsbury have an agreement that if the former needs to utilize the latter to take custody of an animal a peace officer from Didsbury can head out onto rural territory and take control of the creature.
This animal could be running wild. It could be making too much noise in a residential area. The animal may even be seriously injured on a roadway.
But this agreement only covers dogs. Cats are off limits. The Town of Didsbury's animal control officer has no jurisdiction to step onto county land to take custody of a cat, even if the poor creature is badly injured. According to Roy Brown, Didsbury's chief administrative officer, the specifics of this agreement were driven by the county. The rural municipality, which updated its Animal Control Bylaw in 2010, does not regulate cats.
And while there may be practical reasons for cats being unregulated in the region's rural lands the unsettling incident involving seven newborn kittens last week at the Didsbury landfill site shows there is a disturbing flaw with the rural municipality's bylaw and agreement with the town.
Melissa Trotter, the animal control officer in Didsbury, did all she could to help the kittens when she received the call on Sept. 4. She contacted the Calgary Humane Society but was told there was no mother cat at that time that could nurse the kittens back to health. Trotter then discovered the agreement between the town and county prohibited her from going two kilometres outside the town limit to help staff at the landfill deal with the problem. The kittens ultimately died, in part because there was no one available to provide expert assistance, particularly advice on where best to take the suffering creatures. It appears staff did not consider there are many cat rescue societies in Central Alberta that would have willingly stepped in. This is an issue now being addressed by the Mountain View Regional Waste Management Commission. It will be part of a list of protocols created for staff to help them deal with future similar issues.
In the meantime, the biggest challenge facing the county is old-school attitudes about cats. Unlike dogs, cats do present a challenge to control, especially in the wide-open expanses of the county. Yes, they roam, chase mice and flee from coyotes. But in this day and age cats, whether they are in a rural or urban setting, deserve the same level of protection and care as dogs or livestock.
The sad incident last week at Didsbury's landfill site proves this. The seven kittens deserved a better system of care. The county would do well to reconsider both its bylaw and separate agreement with the Town of Didsbury. It should at least consider an amendment to its agreement with the town that an animal control officer can go to the landfill site if a distressed cat is discovered, which has happened many times over the years.
Society, particularly the county, has moved great steps forward in its attitudes on the welfare of domestic animals, especially since the horror of Daisy Duke in the region a few years ago. There was a lesson then, and there is one now. Another step should be taken. This time on behalf of seven little kittens that never had a chance.