City council could decide Monday whether to hand the operation of one of Sarnia’s most cherished community assets to the Sarnia & District Humane Society.
The new partnership agreement would see Sarnia continue to own and maintain the Sarnia Children’s Animal Farm, but provide $157,000 annually for shelter staff to care for the farm’s animals and run its volunteer programs.
The Kiwanis Club of the Seaway, which has been with the farm since its inception, would continue to make capital improvements.
A staff report presented to council on Nov. 16 said inspectors from the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals raised concerns about “non-compliance issues” following inspections at the farm in the winter and spring of 2015.
Turning its operations over to trained Humane Society staff would help the city “achieve regulatory compliance” under animal welfare legislation, it states.
The Journal has confirmed no charges have been laid or orders issued by either the OSPCA or the local shelter.
But Parks and Recreation director Beth Gignac said inspectors did identify several concerns, including overcrowding in the bird pens and overweight animals.
“People like to feed the donkeys and donkeys love to eat, but they eat too many carrots and get fat,” said Gignac, adding the extra weight can lead to a hoof inflammation called laminitis.
Animal feed has also attracted Canada geese, which litter the farm with droppings, she said.
Humane Society executive director Donna Pyette said the livestock in the city’s care has been well looked after.
“There has not been a problem,” she said.
The Kiwanis club, city administration and Humane Society all support the new partnership.
But Mayor Mike Bradley isn’t certain relinquishing the farm operations is in the city’s best interests.
“What is the benefit to us if we’re giving them the same money we already spend?” he asked, adding the animal care issues could easily be resolved by city staff.
Gignac said the proposal would be cost-neutral for the city and the lone city worker running the farm now would be redeployed within the parks department.
The Children’s Animal Farm opened in Canatara Park in 1964 and has grown to include geese and rabbit pens, barns for ponies and sheep as well as information and education centres. It’s a popular attraction for families and tourists alike and is often described as a municipal treasure.
Pyette said the Humane Society plans to build on what’s already there by adding tours and day camps. Co-op placements for students from the University of Guelph and its Ridgetown agricultural campus are another possibility, she said.
The farm was originally envisioned as a place for people to experience life on a working farm, “and that’s what we’re hoping to bring back,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s a non-compliance issue,” she added. “I think it’s just a question of who has got more manpower to do the job better. The city is strapped. They don’t have the resources and they don’t have the outreach.”
If council approves the agreement Monday it would begin Jan. 1 and cover the next five years.