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Don't let Vancouver go to the dogs

You won’t just be voting for a new mayor in Vancouver on Saturday. You’ll be asked to approve a project…

By Jodie Martinson , in Spending , on November 13, 2008 Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Vancouver is a city of dog-lovers
Vancouver is a city of dog-lovers

You won’t just be voting for a new mayor in Vancouver on Saturday. You’ll be asked to approve a project that might just give the city a $31 million dog pound instead of a library in one of its poorer neighbourhoods.

It won’t be obvious at the voting booth. The dog pound is buried inside the details of a proposal to approve $220 million in borrowing to finance the city’s infrastructure plans. Most people don’t even know it’s there.

It’s a choice about what kind of city Vancouver should be –  building libraries and upgrading community centres in our have-not neighborhoods or financing a multi-million dollar lavish lost-and-found for stray dogs.

The new dog pound is the pet project of Councillor Kim Capri, former Operating Officer at the SPCA. It’s competing with plans for a library in the Downtown Eastside-Strathcona area, currently the only neighbourhood in Vancouver that does not have its own full-service public library.

A decision between these two projects may look like a no-brainer. Building the library is another step toward addressing inequalities across communities and the needs of Vancouver’s poorest. Building a new dog pound is, well, a new dog pound.

Spending controversy

The financial machinations behind this dog pound plan are another in a string of murky money management decisions at city council. There’s just not enough transparency in how taxpayers’ money is spent.

The dog pound, an idea city councilors haven’t talked much about, comes on the heels of a secret $100 million bailout of the Olympic Village that you weren’t supposed to hear about either.

The dog
The dog pound is the pet project of Kim Capri (centre)

It may just be city council’s next multi-million dollar controversy.

The $220 million the city wants to borrow will ostensibly be used to finance approximately 40 per cent of the city’s infrastructure financing from 2009 to 2011. Hidden in the details, which you won’t see at the voting station, is a budget line that offers the first step to creating the $31 million dog pound.

For Councillor Capri, it’s a race between the pound and the library. The first project to present Council with a good proposal will receive the $13.6 million in seed funding sitting in the Capital Plan pot, to get either project started.

It begs the question of why should how quickly an interest group presents their project to city council determine funding. Certainly there is a better way to decide between libraries for our poorest people and a pound for Vancouver’s pampered pooches.

Capri’s plan for a multi-million dollar pound has already squeezed out other projects that Vancouverites  care about.

Take the Britannia Community Centre.

In September, city councillors were met by a riled-up roomful of Britannia Community Centre supporters at the public consultation meeting to review the Capital Plan. They waved little yellow signs and delivered eloquent messages to the councillors about the importance of the centre.

Ray Gallagher, Britannia Centre President captured the mood best: “If you don’t support hospitals, people die. If you don’t support community centres, communities die.”

In the days that followed, the draft proposal was rewritten into its current version. Britannia was shut out. But the dogs are still in line to get their new pound.

You’ve got to wonder at the logic. Vancouver has less than 20 stray dogs per day in our city and that number has been on a steady decline for the past decade. This is a $31 million problem?

The potential outcome is that a runaway dog will have a much better chance for shelter than the homeless on Vancouver’s streets.

Vancouverites need to ask council, in these days of unstable financial markets and in the lead up to Olympic spending splurge, whether millions spent on 20 stray dogs a day is the best bang for our buck.

When voters go to the polls on November 15, the are likely to green-light the city the $220 million financing needed for some badly-needed infrastructure projects.

But in the months ahead, don’t forget to let the next mayor know this idea is, well, a dog.

(Photo of dogs by thelastminute. Photo of Kim Capri courtesy Shazron)

Comments


  • Haha Josh I’m pretty sure dogs are categorically not people…

    Jodie, thanks for this article. I live in Strathcona and I had no clue about this issue before reading your piece. Personally, I like libraries.

  • Has anyone in this city ever considered not spending money? Perhaps when we are in the midst of a world economic crisis we should question whether or not the city needs a dog pound or a library at this point in time.

  • Not spending money would grind the economy to a halt, Jesse. I wish I had read this before casting my vote, but like you said, Jodie, this info wasn’t actually included on the ballot. But what, if anything, can people do to fight this? Also, how crowded are Vancouver’s dog pounds right now, and are they filled with pampered pooches like you said, or is it mostly strays?

  • Thanks for the comment, Katie. The most important thing we can do is watch what happens with this dog pound. Perhaps, with the new Council, this dog pound issue will fade away. If it doesn’t we need to keep asking if a new dog pound is really the best allocation of the city’s funds.

  • I find your article quite interesting, as it seems to have completely missed the boat. If I am not mistaken, the Pound is part of a complete animal control project that is designed to be self-funding (as occurs in Calgary). This is achieved by increasing the percentage of animals that have licences (this rate is pathetic in Vancouver). The physical structure is part of the way the rest of the service is delivered. The library, although important to any community, is not self-funding. When you consider Capital Planning, the ongoing costs are an important consideration of the project. How much will a new library cost to fund each year? Oddly, your article is short on these details. If I’m not mistaken, research is part of that whole journalism thing.
    Have you been to the pound in Vancouver? It is an abomination. The rats are not actually being housed there are purpose, they are “freebies”. It doesn’t have 24 coverage/staffing, so we may see animals burning to death as occurred elsewhere in Canada earlier this year.
    But hey, maybe “this dog pound issue will fade away”

  • Hi Erin,

    Some really good points, my research uncovered those as well.

    My “bone” of contention, however, is that while we may need to look at alternative models for the pound at some point (and as you point out, perhaps sooner than we would hope), to tie the library project and the pound in a competition that is to be decided by speediness is bad planning. Especially when we consider, as documents show, that the pound services somewhere on the order of 20 strays per day. Do we really need that scale of reinvestment? Or could we plan differently, allocate a smaller sum, build a smaller building, and address the dog licensing not at the expense of libraries.

    Thanks for your comment.

  • Wow.

    I am not a journalist, but to omit information (“my research uncover those as well”) that goes again your predetermined bias is somewhat unethical. I guess I’m out of touch with modern journalism. We can debate about where libraries and animal shetlers / pounds fit within a societies hierarchy of needs, but to exclude information is to prevent the debate. The difference relates to the desire to sell something versus the desire to inform.

    Best of luck

  • Nice article. My only contention is your callous description of “pampered pooches” in dog pounds. It makes no sense because stray and abandoned dogs are the ones in dog pounds; the pampered pooches are the ones with homes.

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