The much-anticipated arrival of spring is a particularly busy and important time for some Ontarians: our animal neighbours.
Carefully choosing nest locations and the right building materials. Feeding babies. Guarding nests, burrows, and dens. Teaching the young the skills they’ll need to survive on their own and, later, care for their own offspring. The chipmunks are already planning for next winter, furiously searching for nuts to store away in their underground homes.
Like us, animals must do work to survive, thrive, and ensure that there are future generations. They are at work all around us, and human actions can help — or hinder — them. Here are four ways you can help.
1. Keep cats inside
Cats kill at least 200 million birds each year in Canada. Young fledglings that are just learning about the world’s dangers are particularly at risk. It is far safer for birds, young mammals, and chipmunks if house cats are kept as just that: house cats. They can watch through windows, meet their predatory drives with toys, and go outside on leashes. But, for the safety of our animal neighbours, house cats should not be permitted to roam.
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A number of municipalities, including Middlesex Centre, Newmarket, Oakville, and Sarnia, have created bylaws that prohibit cats from roaming in order to help wildlife (not to mention protecting cats themselves from outdoor dangers). Hopefully, more communities will play a leadership role by creating and enforcing roaming-cat restrictions.
2. Use and support wildlife-care expertise and experts
Our animal neighbours face other dangers on a daily basis, including windows, vehicles, natural predators, and, at times, direct human cruelty. Since many of these hazards are human-made, it’s reasonable to argue that emergency health care is something we should provide in return.
But our good intentions and assumptions may be incorrect, so it’s best to enlist expert knowledge. Many reputable wildlife-care organizations have synthesized helpful information online. If more assistance is needed, local animal-care and control officers may be able to help. Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources has also certified around 50 wildlife rehabilitators who can provide guidance, and, when needed, appropriate care for wild animals.
A number of wildlife rehabilitators run or work for specialized wild-animal-care nonprofits that do not receive any public funding. Donations make this life-saving care work possible, so consider supporting them if you can. Plus, municipalities’ animal-care and -control budgets are normally very modest, and our animal neighbours would directly benefit from increased staffing and services.
3. Consider the role of laws and policies
We create laws and policies in order to protect and improve our communities and province. If we recognize animals not only as part of our families but also as part of our neighbourhoods, we are invited to think more about what rights and protections they might deserve.
Many conversations are already taking place about the well-being of exotic animals, farmed animals, horses, and, of course, companion animals in our homes. What could we do as a province for our animal neighbours? How can we not only respond to but also prevent harm?
This pandemic has made it unequivocally clear that we are all connected and that the health of animals directly affects our own. Investments in animal well-being and habitat protection are both ethically compelling and beneficial to people. That is powerful food for thought — and action.
There are lessons to learn from local examples, Indigenous communities, and other countries (the Netherlands, for example, has an animal ambulance).
4. Learn, educate, and empathize
If we take the time to notice how hard our animal neighbours are working, we gain a deeper appreciation for their families, cultures, and lives. We can empathize with their struggles to survive and navigate daily life. We can marvel at their uniqueness and what we have in common. The more we know, the more we will care.
And encouraging younger generations to respect animals is a powerful way to cultivate a more compassionate and healthy society: animalneighours.ca offers resources that help children explore and appreciate our web of life.
If children begin to see animals not as tools, objects, or pests but, instead, as friends, neighbours, and community members, they will think and act with empathy.
We can all play a role in creating a more humane Ontario.