Best Friends Blog

No More Homeless Pets Conference Spotlight on Bill Bruce

Bill Bruce will be presenting at the Best Friends National No More Homeless Pets Conference in Las Vegas, October 15 – 17. Click here to register while you still can! We are nearing 1,000 attendees and are almost sold out!

Canada is that big country to our north with a small population, funny football rules and a disproportionate number of expatriates living it up as Hollywood stars. They don’t get a lot of respect or attention from us southerners because well, because they are so darned nice. They don’t complain much about the loud music from next door and they’re not streaming across the longest un-militarized border in the world because they are quite happy where they are, and things work quite well thank you very much! Besides they are just too polite to go anywhere uninvited.

Americans tend to think that Canada doesn’t have much to teach us except maybe hockey and that crazy winter Olympics sport from Scotland (lots of Scots in Canada, FYI) called Curling where they chase a big round stone down the ice with brooms…kind of team shuffleboard for cold people, but with a twist.

Turns out they do have something to teach us about animal welfare, or more precisely, Bill Bruce, Director of Animal Services and Bylaws in Calgary has a lot to teach us about municipal animal services.

Take cats for instance. The return-to-owner rate for cats in the US is a miserable 2%. In Calgary 49% of cats are returned to their owners and 29% are adopted. That’s a 78% save rate. In this country, the save rate for cats by all methods…return to owner, adoption, transfer to rescue, is around 30%.

What about dogs? Sure, we got dogs…an amazing 89% of dogs are returned to their owners in Calgary, 9% of impounded dogs are adopted and only 5% euthanized. That’s impressive and in case you’re thinking that Calgary only has about two dozen people living there, think again. It is a major metropolitan area a bit larger than San Jose, California and bit smaller than Dallas, Texas. Yup, a real city!

But wait! There’s more! Bill Bruce accomplishes this with no tax payer dollars at all. Zero. The department is funded entirely by pet licensing fees and animal regulation enforcement fines

How does he do it? Bill Bruce is no magician and he’s certainly not a firebrand.  Of course, he’s a polite and unassuming Canadian.  He has a tight knit plan and he’s executed it to perfection, creating an animal services department that is not only the envy of the continent, but it can be handed over to the next person in line, just like any well run city services department because there is no secret personality sauce required and no Herculean effort of will. Strangely, it’s just good municipal administration. Sound boring?  Not to all those animals whose lives have been saved.

Bill Bruce believes in getting out in front of the problem, and unlike the complaint driven, shelter centric model of most US animal control agencies, Calgary favors a proactive community relations / enforcement model. The mission statement reads: “To encourage a safe, healthy, vibrant community for people and their pets, through the development, education and compliance of bylaws that reflect community values.” Calgary’s animal control officers are trained in community relations. They focus on public education about responsible pet ownership, pet licensing compliance and addressing as many animal issues as possible out in the community before they become shelter problems. Bill has turned the dog catcher into a community animal care resource. Consequently, even though the population of the Calgary service area is comparable to that of a fairly large American city, the number of animals coming into the custody of animal services is low…about 5,000 animals impounded in Calgary in 2009 compared to over 30,000 in Dallas and over 17,000 in San Jose.* Keeping animals out of the shelter and in homes in the first place seems to me to be a better way to invest resources than trying to solve the puzzle after the animals have landed in already crowded shelters.

Bill Bruce’s model is not without it’s detractors, however. What’s not to like? The main issues that some in the no-kill movement have is that they believe licensing compliance is a deterrent to multiple pet households and one of the strategies of no-kill is to encourage people to adopt as many pets as possible. Bill’s licensing program for cats is even more of an issue since community cat advocates fear that any cat licensing requirement could threaten to penalize community cat care givers who look after dozens or even hundreds of cats. Cat licensing is generally a taboo subject in No More Homeless Pets circles because in US cities and states anyway, putting that power in the hands of unsympathetic politicians and bureaucrats is a scary proposition.

Is it possible to come up with a licensing model that doesn’t deter ownership and community cat care? Probably, but without a Calgary style makeover in the operational focus of animal services, simply ramping up licensing enforcement won’t help the animals or the shelters.

Personally, I’d like for us in the US to identify a couple of zip codes, and implement a pilot project involving a few animal control officers who have done some understudy work in Calgary and compare before and after stats.

Bill Bruce will be presenting at the Best Friends National No More Homeless Pets Conference in Las Vegas,  October 15 – 17. He makes a lot of sense and we have a lot to learn from our Canadian neighbor. Who knows, you may even come to appreciate Curling!

* Note: Each of these cities also has at least one other private sheltering agency that takes in significant numbers of animals, but the proportional differences are unchanged.

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  • Windysrandr

    Just had the extreme pleasure of spending time with Bill Bruce at the NMHP conference at the Rio in Vegas. He is without a doubt what EVERY city in America needs to restart their Animal Services; my girlfriend Tracy and I considered kidnapping him, seriously. What’s most amazing? It’s all common sense, and he’ll be the first to tell you so. Buy any CD you can get from his seminar, and LISTEN to what he has done in Calgary.

  • Bill Bruce

    Thanks for the blog Francis. I just want to add one clarification on licensing. I believe it is only fair when we have no breed bans, no pet limits and no mandatory spay /neuter policies which we have none of in CAlgary. As you know my position has always been that when someone has companion animals and they are licensed, have parmanent ID, spayed and nuetered (unless you are an ethical breeder), are well socialized and cared for and don’t create a threat or a nuisance in the community then it is none of the goverment’s business what or how many you have. Licensing is supposed to help animals by getting them home quickly when they get lost and should not be used against good people who are trying to help animals in their community.

  • Animals Alone

    Thank you so much for putting this together! Bill is a wonderful man – he has created a system that is the most reasonable anyone could expect from a Government body. When he brought in Cat Licensing in Calgary, we were contacted by several with concerns over a cat wearing a dangling collar and we suggested that S/N Ear Tattoo numbers be recognized as a license and he complied. As a Government Official, he is a blessing to all animals in any city, county, town, where Bill has influence… His program is one we as Albertans, are proud of….

  • Nick Mastronardi

    I recently had the privilege of meeting Bill, and I can’t say enough about how well he articulates the critical components of an effective working relationship between animal control personnel, animal shelter facilities, and the communities they serve. He has implemented this model in Calgary with astounding success. If you compare his organizations per capita numbers to those of any other organization, you will find extremely low impounded animal numbers, very high return to owner and adopt numbers, and very low euthanized animal numbers. As this is essentially the goal of the sheltering community, I strongly second the comments made by Francis in this article……..It would be great to see a major municipality make the commitment to learn and apply the methods that Bill has been so kind to share with the industry. There is no doubt that Bill would assist and advice throughout this process, and I’m certain the results will be positive.

  • Wisner_mary

    We need more spay/neuter programs out there…licenses to breed too..

  • Cssanmls

    Vancouver was the first City to have the first no-kill animal shelter anywhere. I believe that was about 40 years ago. At that time only 1 dog was euthanized, due to severe injuries.
    28 years ago I attended an HSUS meeting in Houston. I met many interrested people that were fired up on the subject of making the USA a no kill Nation. Unfortunately that has yet to become a reality. In the meantime, many people have given their lives to save unwanted animals, but the pet overpopulation continues to grow. No matter what we do. Breeding must be regulated in order to make a difference. We must remember that all animals deserve a chance to live.
    Besides that, there are different needs in different parts of the country. It depends on the
    population and also on the environment. Before we judge those that are doing their best with what is available,we owe it to those that are afflicted by the many problems of rescueing animals to personally familiarize ourselves with their situations and help them to continue to be of service to animals in need. For example: Mother Teresa was not crucified or judged by others for not being able to provide feather blankets or steaks, or special medication for all the many individual lives that she helped and saved.

  • Patty

    Mr. Bruce’s program and inspiring story are what fired me up to work as hard as I can, with the local AC here in Lafayette, LA. I was so inspired when I attended his presentation at the 2008 NMHP conference! The AC here has made some progress and positive changes, but they still have a long way to go. If I could only get them to hear Mr. Bruce’s story! I keep trying!
    Thank you, Bill, for all you have done and all you do!

  • Mxipp

    I’ve heard Mr. Bruce speak and think attendance at his talk should be required of every animal control officer in the US. I am SO tired of local animal control saying “can’t do that” “can’t do that” WHATEVER the suggestion — longer shelter hours, more volunteers, a foster program, spay/neuter assistance, etc etc. — yet, Mr. Bruce does it all with astounding results. The man is truly a hero.