While there was no cute burrowing owl to see during city council’s first 2024 budget meeting, a big, white fluffy shelter dog offered the most entertainment for those in attendance.
The Moose Jaw Humane Society and Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre (SBOIC) spoke on Nov. 29 during a 2024 budget meeting focused on third-party groups.
The humane society wants $254,915 for next year, which is $1,633 more than this year. It also wants $15,000 for its spay and neuter program. The owl centre is asking for $6,956, which is $202 more than this year.
Marshmallow, a two-year-old Great Pyrenees, accompanied his handler and was content to stand or lay down during the presentation.
The SBOIC normally brings a burrowing owl but kept the bird at home because of the ongoing avian influenza.
Dana Haukaas, executive director of the Moose Jaw Humane Society, spoke about the shelter’s activities and services.
The organization took in 266 stray dogs and 366 stray cats this year — last year’s numbers were 244 and 477, respectively — along with 16 stray rabbits and two caged rats from the courthouse, she said. The decrease in cats is due to the subsidized spay and neuter program, along with the venue pausing cat intakes because of space issues.
To neuter a cat is $127 and to spay is $230, while an initial animal vaccination is $66 and subsequent ones are $74.
The organization attempts to reconnect strays with their families regularly and scans the animals for microchips, which is the most effective way to prove identity and ownership, she noted.
The Humane Society works closely with the provincial animal protection services unit, while it also partners with the police service and health region when the latter removes an animal owner from the home and the pet must be relocated, Haukaas continued.
The situation at many shelters has changed recently, because most places couldn’t keep a dog or cat for long during the pandemic since house-bound people want companionship, she added. Now, many are giving up their animals — especially cats — and the animals are staying longer at shelters.
When asked about a new building, Haukaas said the organization has nailed down a design, a location — west of the current location — and a rough project cost. They also hope to hire a fundraising co-ordinator to acquire funds.
George Fowler, general manager of the exhibition association, spoke for bird handler Lori Johnson, who was absent due to the human flu.
The owl centre had a soft opening this year because of avian influenza and moved its birds outside in June, while visitor numbers returned to pre-pandemic levels, he said.
The centre’s Owls on Tour program continued to visit schools, although there were fewer tours because two ambassador birds died and it takes time to train a new bird.
The breeding season was quiet because most birds were too young to participate, although a bonded pair aged eight and nine laid two eggs that hatched, which shows it’s never too late to make babies, said Fowler.
The centre added two males and two females and hope their genetics will lead to a successful breeding system next year, he added. It also hopes to grow its in-house visitor numbers and touring program and continue educating people about “Canada’s most unique and endangered species.”
Coun. Crystal Froese recalled riding horses on the exhibition grounds years ago and seeing burrowing owls everywhere. However, that’s not the case anymore because of development there, while the birds’ only presence is through the centre’s sound stewardship of them.
“They are the coolest owls. So tiny, but so very important to our environment,” she added.
The centre is fortunate to have acquired birds from Manitoba this year because the organization there closed, said Fowler. It’s a shame that centre shuttered because Moose Jaw had a good relationship with the Assiniboine Zoo.
Fowler added that Johnson is speaking with similar groups in Western Canada to acquire more birds, while Moose Jaw is willing to fund a catch and release program but has failed to convince the province to support it.
The next budget meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 6.
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