After giving a new leash on life to more than 300 animals, Penticton’s top dog (protector) is retiring.
After 28 years, Rose Gingras is leaving her role as animal control officer (ACO) from within Penticton and Summerland. A career change she didn’t see coming when she was working as a waitress in 1990 and a friend who won the city contract to manage the animal control office, approached her to run it.
“I would never have thought about doing it before,” said Gingras. “I thought why not, it was a little bit challenging though because things were pretty black and white then.”
“No dogs at large, no dog parks, no dogs on beaches, no dogs in any parks.”
She became a staunch advocate for dogs and their owners, eventually bringing in new rules to allow dog beach areas within city limits.
Although she has been able to help hundreds of dogs and owners, the job does have its downside admits Gingras.
“It’s a dangerous job, you deal with danger from the dogs and danger from the people,” said Gingras. “Very early in my career I had a guy corner me in the office with his fist in my face. I’ve been pushed, I’ve been threatened, I’ve had my van vandalized, I’ve been punched in the face because I told an owner to leash his dog.”
The stress of the position, can at times, be overwhelming too, as the position is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Gingras explained that she rarely was able to take time off from work, even as family matters arose in her personal life.
In addition, because the office is not fully-funded by the city, most of the supplies were purchased by Gingras. Contrary to the belief that “dog catchers are out to make a buck,” Gingras said it was never about the money, and most of what she had, she reinvested in the business.
“I don’t make a lot of money, but I’m sure that somebody else will be able to run that differently,” said Gingras. “My money went into the dogs — I never hesitated to buy stuff for the dogs. If we needed something in the office … it came out of my pocket.”
Unlike the SPCA, animal control deals with “all complaints around the bylaw” said Gingras. This would include incessant barking, dogs at large, restricted area enforcement. Because their values and goals are very similar, Gingras has done her best to work with the SPCA, rather than separately.
“Over the years, I’ve actually requested that the city put into our bylaw the care and kennelling of dogs. All of that stuff that’s in our bylaw, anything to do with exercise, having a shelter, not having dogs in a hot vehicle, I’ve requested the city put that into the bylaw so we can help the SPCA with enforcement,” said Gingras.
She explained her initial training simply involved feeding the dogs, cleaning the kennels and collecting money from people. Gingras says there was “no involvement with education” and unclaimed dogs were euthanized.
“It was awful … If I had not been able to change that, I would not still be here.”
Gingras said this was a sad fact she came to learn about the job early on. She was especially devastated about the “waste of life” and made up her mind to help the animals in her care.
Gingras was able to rebid on the contract with the city herself in 2000, at which point she started her dog adoption business. Any dog that was left after the holding period (72 hours) becomes hers and at that point she would make the decision if the dog was adoptable.
She estimates she’s helped families adopt 340 dogs from 2000 to 2017, when she decided to end her adoption business in preparation of her leave from animal control in 2018. A hard, but necessary, decision as the adoption contract stipulates she is responsible for the dog until its death and is still making home visits for the current adoptees.
But her support didn’t end with simply rehoming dogs. Gingras has helped many owners in stressful situations care for and shelter their pet.
“Anytime there is a woman who must enter a transition house but has a dog, if she’s comfortable with the dog staying (for free) at the pound, then that’s what we did,” said Gingras.
“I’ve had people who have been arrested by the RCMP who own dogs, so I started housing their dogs for free for 48 hours. Or if people were in a car accident and needed to go to the hospital, I’d take the dog.”
Whenever a dog was taken in by the pound in an extraordinary circumstance, the fee to feed and care for them was taken out of Gingras’ own wage.
“I didn’t care about any of that, I just wanted to help,” said Gingras. “I always said free for 48 hours, but if it was longer then for the most part I didn’t have an issue with that. We’ve tried to help with every situation we could.”
Even when wildfire evacuees flooded the City of Penticton in 2003, she cared for and accepted all dogs at the pound from people in need, free of charge. Again, simply taking the cost out of her own salary.
Another example of Gingras going above her position duties is if she had repeat offenders having their dog(s) impounded, she would sometimes waive the impound fee as part of an agreement if the owner would install a fence or take other preventive measures.
All things aside, Gingras is proud of the work she has accomplished and will be enjoying some much-needed time off before pursuing a new opportunity. But this does not mean she is done helping dogs when she can. While Gingras has no plans following her retirement on Sept. 27, she hopes to volunteer with rescue shelters and other organizations in her free time.
“I don’t think anybody could ever walk away from this completely. It becomes part of your life, you live and breathe it so long,” said Gingras.
Gingras would like to thank the community for its support over the years. She especially enjoyed working with the city’s bylaw officers, saying it’s “made her job a lot easier recently.” She also wishes her best to the new ACO, who will be taking over the contract once she leaves.
“Hopefully she can focus more on educating and helping people understand the importance about taking care of dogs,” said Gringas.
Penticton and Summerland residents are invited to say goodbye to Gingras and her team with Penticton/Summerland Animal Control on Sept. 26 at the Penticton Pound from 6 to 8 p.m.
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Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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