Toronto Animal Services (TAS) is the largest municipal animal service in Canada, operating 3 animal shelters, 2 stationary neutering clinics, 1 mobile neutering clinic, a rescue and response unit and an animal adoption programme. It was formed in 1996 when the six smaller municipalities came together to form the City of Toronto. Since its foundation, TAS has adopted 60,777 animals and transformed, from a municipal animal service overwhelmed with stray animals and respiratory illnesses in its shelters, into an organisation strongly supported by the community. It has reduced the number of stray animals through neutering and microchip drives, community outreach and its adoption programme, to the point where it has been able to permanently close one of its shelters. Aware that the economic impact of the pandemic was affecting the most vulnerable individuals’ ability to cover their pet’s basic needs, TAS responded by launching the ‘Covid-19 Aid for Pets Program’. The programme provides an e-gift card to vulnerable individuals who have met the selection criteria to enable them to purchase pet food, cat litter and other essential supplies from local pet stores. To date, the programme has successfully assisted more than 1,100 individuals.
The high number of applicants meeting the selection criteria led to the rapid exhaustion of the funds that Toronto Animal Services had diverted from its core services and secured from external parties to launch this initiative. With the continuing restrictions being enforced to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic repercussions continue to impact heavily on the population of Toronto. Funding from the Scheinberg Relief Fund is ensuring the continuity of the ‘COVID-19 Aid for Pets Program’ through to July 21, 2021. The funds have enabled TAS to provide support in the form of over 2,000 e-gift cards to more than 650 pet owners who will have the peace of mind of knowing their pets will receive enough appropriate pet food and supplies to see them through the summer, thus significantly reducing the risk of animal abandonment as a direct result of economic hardship caused by COVID-19.