Pet Project

Nanaimo SPCA's current facilityBy Sarah Torgerson

If it weren’t for all the signs hanging on the chain-link fence gracing the perimeter, one might mistake the building at 2200 Labieux Road in Nanaimo for just another time-worn house from the ‘70s (albeit one oddly located in a light industrial area). Inside, however, the crowded reception area is a bustling hub of friendly hellos, visiting pet-seekers, and a handful of roaming pups, searching out dangling hands for a pat on the head.

It’s a warm and welcoming place, especially for those pups. However, Leon Davis, manager of the Nanaimo SPCA, is counting down the days to the grand opening of a new facility.

Davis, a friendly, cheerful man who previously worked in the Canadian film industry as well as, at one point, an aquarium, joined the Nanaimo SPCA seven years ago. Though the job wasn’t his initial “life’s calling,” his love and respect for animals shines through, and he is proud of the advances made during his time at the branch. These include improvements to its live release rate — the measure of how many animals are adopted, returned to owners, or sent to other facilities where they are guaranteed a safe home. Its current home, though, 40-years old and aging poorly, isn’t up to modern-day animal-care standards, Davis says.

Indeed, the whole space is clearly past its due date, with limited room for the animals, and an overall cramped, “this-is-as-clean-as-it’s-going-to-get” feel. Staffers won’t miss the floor tiles that are impossible to properly sanitize and a cramped galley kitchen used for both staff and animal meals. And Davis says their chief tenants will be much better off as well. “First and foremost, we want to be able to provide a more stress-free, healthy environment for the animals.”

Leon Davis with dog

Leon Davis and friend

Nanaimo’s SPCA, like other BC branches, follows the Capacity for Care (C4C) management model, a procedure that “helps shelters better meet the needs of animals in their facility.” Its guidelines are based on “five essential freedoms” for animals: “freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom from distress; freedom from discomfort; and the freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being.” Davis credits C4C with improving live release rates not only at his branch but throughout the province. Currently in BC, 93% of dogs and 87% of cats taken in by the SPCA are successfully released, up from percentages in the 60s just a few years ago.

Davis believes that moving to the much larger, more suitable facility will only further improve their record. Located on a spacious 11.9 acre property at 154 Westwood Road, the building will feature a number of innovative designs and technologies aimed at maintaining a happy and healthy environment for the animals. He also hopes to make Nanaimoites feel welcome on the premises and encourage the growth of an animal-loving community.

A multi-purpose room, equipped with a state-of-the-art projector and opening onto an adjoining patio, will allow the SPCA to host class field trips, fundraiser after-parties, receptions, and meetings. The property will also have an enclosed, well-monitored off-leash dog park, trails for dog walking, and a grooming center, complete with a super-efficient K-9000 dog washing station that is sure to revolutionize the whole, usually messy experience.

“We want people to be able to come the SPCA and really make a day out of it,” says Davis. “We want to make a ‘trip to the SPCA’ a happy and interactive experience — a community destination.” He’s even hoping to host a Singles Night for dog owners, because “what’s a better ice breaker than ‘I love your dog?’”

Drawing of new Nanaimo SPCAConstruction on the new building began in September of last year, with the opening set for mid-June 2016. The $3.4 million needed to complete it has now been raised, thanks in part to private donors, $1.2 million from the provincial government, and $150,000 from the City of Nanaimo. Davis would still like to raise an additional $50,000-$100,000 to cover contingencies.

The Nanaimo SPCA currently has nine staff and a roster of approximately 508 volunteers. However, with a $2000 daily operating tab, a $5,700 monthly budget for medical care, and adoption fees kept affordable, money is tight and more help is always welcome. Money is not the only way to donate, Davis notes. Numerous volunteering opportunities are available, from dog walking to cat companionship, plus there are a lot of other important charities out there to get behind, such as Paws with a Cause.

Nanaimo’s new SPCA facility will provide yet more chances for the public to get involved, as well as longer operating hours in which to do so. Meantime, Davis invites everyone to just come down and spend an hour or so with an animal. If you’re planning to bring one into your care, he asks that you diligently plan ahead to ensure you can provide it a long-term home, and implores owners not to breed their animal just to experience “the beauty of birth,” as it simply adds to over-crowding.

“Please, spay and neuter your pets,” he says, echoing many other animal advocates. Prevention is the best medicine in the beastie world, too. Meantime, the Nanaimo SPCA will continue to provide its own brand of care, with dedication, love, and that new K-9000 dog washer.


Leon Davis and Hilary Eastmure (CatNap Society) discuss Nanaimo’s stray and feral cat problem.

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