Newmarket resident Dale Johnston received an unexpected call for help on his way home from work last week.
He said a baby squirrel approached him, raising its arms “like a child would”. He said the squirrel followed him, he was able to pick him up and it was clear he needed help.
But he said he felt like he had made a mistake contacting city animal services and handing over the squirrel the next day. He alleged animal services tricked him into saying the squirrel would be taken to the wildlife rescue, but was then later told the squirrel had been released – potentially to meet his end.
“I felt like I killed it myself. It reached out to everyone, and I was trying to do what was best for it,” he said, adding that just posting it wasn’t right.”It’s not something any decent human being would do, especially when someone is trying to do a good deed.”
The town of Newmarket opted to integrate its animal services after July 1, ending a previous partnership with Georgina and Aurora, citing about $67,000 in potential annual savings. But that has brought about changes, with Georgina-based Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge no longer taking wildlife directly from town without a new contract.
Johnston said after bringing the squirrel home, he first contacted Shades of Hope, which had a place for the squirrel, but he had no way of getting it there himself without vehicle. It was then that he contacted animal services to fill this role. He said he was assured he would go to Shades of Hope or the Toronto Wildlife Centre.
But he said he had doubts. He said he followed up with the city and was told the squirrel had been released and had not been rescued as he was told.
“We should have a little more respect for wildlife,” he said, adding that he felt the release was “unnecessary”.
Animal services manager Ben Worthington said the squirrel was brought in for a full assessment and was determined to be in good health and at an age where he no longer needed to be cared for. his mother. The squirrel was then immediately released where it was found. He said he then left the cage and ran into a tree.
“Wild animals are self-sufficient by nature and only depend on humans as a last resort if they are in a state of distress…The goal of our rehabilitation efforts is to return animals to the wild as soon as possible once that they are in healthy and stable condition,” Worthington said. “The animal services officer’s experience and knowledge of this matter allowed for the successful release of the squirrel to its natural environment.”
But Shades of Hope COO Cathy Stockman said a squirrel reaching out to a human usually means something is wrong.
She said they were in contact with Johnston and ready to receive the squirrel for care.
“Wildlife, if you can pick it up, there’s something wrong. Whether it’s too young, whether it’s too injured,” she said.
Stockman said they had a contract for years with the town of Newmarket and its neighboring municipalities for their combined animal services, acting as a place where injured wild animals could be taken for treatment. But she said the city did not put in place a new contract once it took over animal services and as a result did not take wild animals directly from the municipality.
“We take around 400 animals a year to Newmarket. We gave them monthly reports,” she said, adding that she thinks this could lead to more euthanasia or release decisions “because they have nowhere to send these animals.” .
Regulatory Services Manager Flynn Scott said the municipality considered a contract with Shades of Hope after it brought animal services on board, but the charity “changed the scope of services offered”, so the city agreed. looked elsewhere.
Scott said the city has partnered with a local veterinarian to provide better interim care and is relying on other formal and informal partners to provide options for the city.
“We continue to work with an extensive network of rehabilitation organizations and sanctuaries,” Scott said. “Ultimately, we make all decisions based on what will be best for the welfare of the animals in our community.”
Either way, Stockman said they’re willing to take the wildlife out of Newmarket audiences if they contact Shades of Hope directly.
“We will never say no to any discoverer,” she said. “We say no to animal services in Newmarket only because they are unwilling to wait their end by showing us that they are committed.
“What they did with that baby squirrel and what they did to that man is unconscionable,” she added.
Officials must not deceive, Johnston said.
“You represent a city and your citizens are reaching out. I would like to see a little more honesty,” he said.