By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The Humane Society of Durham Region has walked away from a potential partnership with the City of Oshawa.
The proposed agreement was in a closed report presented at the April 1 community services meeting.
The report wasn’t public because it addressed labour relations matters.
But soon rumours began swirling the city may close its Animal Services department.
A Facebook page, “Help Save Oshawa Animal Services” has gained traction, and a resulting petition has received more than 5,000 signatures.
Linda Power, a local animal advocate, told The Oshawa Express while she has been critical of Oshawa Animal Services in the past, it has seen a great turnaround in the past few years.
She believes transferring services to the Humane Society would have a negative effect on the wellbeing of animals.
At the latest meeting of city council, they received a letter from the Humane Society.
The letter states the Humane Society had provided the city with a proposal for shelter, rescue organization registration, owned pet licensing and low-cost spay neuter services.
However, board chair Doug Edwards wrote: “during the municipal process, it became clear that there were significant misunderstandings among councillors and the public.”
In light of the “misunderstandings,” Edwards informed council the Humane Society was withdrawing its proposal but welcomes the opportunity for more discussion with council.
Ward 5 regional councillor Brian Nicholson requested the release of the entire closed report but his motion failed.
Oshawa city manager Paul Ralph said portions of the report will potentially be available at the April 23 community services committee meeting.
Commissioner of works Ron Diskey told the Oshawa Express the April 1 report resulted out of a previous council motion to investigate a low-cost spay and neuter clinic in Oshawa.
In January, council received a letter from the Humane Society asking for negotiations to continue with the city.
But Nicholson says he thought those negotiations surrounded a spay and neuter clinic only, and the staff recommendation was drastically different from the purpose of the original resolution.
“You can’t simply go off and go on your own investigation and your own process,” Nicholson told the Express earlier this month. “They actually went and negotiated a contract with an outside company. Council is not even aware of it, and was not asked their opinion on it.”
However, Diskey says the Humane Society first approached the city in 2016, and meetings have been ongoing.
“It’s something that has been tossed around for a while,” Diskey noted.
The commissioner said staff followed “the direction of council” in regards to the January letter.
In response to Nicholson’s comments on council assuming the letter was strictly about a spay and neuter clinic, Diskey said that is up to “interpretation and subjectivity.”
Nicholson raised concerns about how the proposed agreement had come together.
He alleges there have been private meetings between members of council and staff and the board of directors of the Humane Society.
“It’s all been in the backroom…it’s all being done without council’s knowledge,” he said.
“That’s not fair…that’s not the way you do business.”
Diskey reiterated the meetings were based on the previous direction of council.
Under the two previous councils, Nicholson believes it seemed like “staff could do whatever they want.”
He said the current council has a mandate of “being more hands-on” and perceives this is causing some conflict.
“There seems to be a bit of a tug of war of the old ways of doing things and the new ways of doing things,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson and Diskey hold broadly different views on how the proposed agreement would have affected the future of Animal Services.
“If the motion that was brought forward had passed unchallenged, Animal Services would have closed down,” Nicholson said bluntly.
But Diskey maintains this is not the case, and the department would have stayed open in some form.
“The services would have been transferred is the best way to say it. The intent was the services would be provided at the same level or higher,” he said, adding what happens moving forward is up to the will of council.
Nicholson said he will be looking for a commitment from council that Oshawa Animal Services will continue to operate at its current service levels through the rest of the 2018-2022 term.
He said he hasn’t heard from any members of the public that they want the department closed.
However, he says that doesn’t mean improvements aren’t needed, and if so, a public meeting should take place.
“I don’t see anything onerous in any of these particular steps,” he said.