By Heather Abrey
Kitchener Post staff
One of the swans in Victoria Park died Friday afternoon, despite the efforts of several residents who repeatedly called both the City of Kitchener and the Humane Society for help.
Carol Esposti lives on Victoria Street South and was one of several people that attempted to help the struggling animal last Friday afternoon.
Esposti’s son Brad was visiting when, while standing on the balcony, he noticed the swan behaving strangely. Concerned, Brad called the City of Kitchener communications centre to get help.
“Some time went by and he decided he would take a walk down to the pond to see if he could coax it back down into the river system,” said Esposti.
“While we were down there . . . the swan’s neck went limp and its head went under water. So Brad instinctively jumped into the pond and hollered at me to call someone.”
The pond was deeper and the swan heavier than Brad thought, but he was able to move the animal to the rock wall while Esposti once again phoned the City of Kitchener.
In total, the Espostis say they placed four calls to the city in an attempt to save the swan’s life.
“They kept telling me the wheels were in motion,” she said.
Meanwhile, neighbours told the Espostis that they had phoned the Humane Society and that someone was on the way.
No one came.
Jack Kinch, executive director for the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society, acknowledges that they received a call about the swan in distress.
“We phoned the city and the city indicated that they were sending someone out and it was, from what I understand, a delay on their side. We were assured that someone was looking after it, otherwise we would have come out,” he said, adding that the swans are owned by the city.
The Humane Society and the city are reviewing their procedures, said Kinch.
After nearly two hours, with the swan still alive but struggling to breathe, Esposti called her veterinarian, who put her in touch with Joy Huggins.
Huggins lives in Waterloo and runs a wildlife rehabilitation centre called Wildlife Haven out of her home.
“I don’t normally come out and do rescues because I don’t have the time,” said Huggins, who is busy caring for a number of orphaned and injured animals — something she receives no funding for.
However, Huggins recognized Esposti’s frustration and dropped what she was doing.
Shortly before Huggins arrived at Victoria Park, she received a phone call from Esposti — the swan was dead.
Huggins considered returning to her animals at home, but was concerned that the swan would be left lying in the park.
“I just felt like it deserved more dignity than that,” she said.
She brought the body to the vet that treats the animals she rehabilitates.
It was frozen over the weekend, and on Monday Huggins brought the body to the University of Guelph for an autopsy.
While she is not a bird expert, Huggins said the sudden death sounded like poisoning, and is concerned that the second swan may also be affected.
She told those in the park to keep an eye on the remaining animal and said she would try and find out what killed the swan.
“People went through all this and it’s pretty disturbing and it’s pretty frustrating to watch an animal suffer like that,” she said.
In response to the incident, city council has directed Jim Witmer, interim deputy CAO of infrastructure services, to investigate and report back at Monday’s committee meetings.
“What I want to know is why all of this took place,” said Ward 9 Coun. Frank Etherington.
“Obviously the communication system faltered and broke down at city hall and the Humane Society, in my opinion. I think that’s unacceptable.”
Espositi was told the department supervisor was on vacation, and people at the communication centre didn’t know who else to call.
It’s important to determine the health of the second swan and ensure there is always someone on call to deal with such incidents, Etherington said.
“I would also suggest that as a council we make a donation to that wildlife haven as a token of our appreciation, since it appears as though that was the only response the people got,” he said.
“They need something better in place, whether it’s contacting Wildlife Haven or another such organization if something else happens,” said Esposti.
“Those two hours it was breathing, it got shallower and shallower, but when they took it out of the water, there was a chance that either it could have been saved or maybe it was so ill that it should have been euthanized and then it wouldn’t have suffered for the next two, two-and-a-half hours.
“The sad part is that nobody came. Nobody at all. Not even the Humane Society.”
Huggins criticized the city and the Humane Society for not responding to the calls. She is licenced by the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Ministry of Natural Resources, but receives no funding and runs Wildlife Haven as a volunteer.
“I pretty much work around the clock and I don’t get paid or anything. And yet the city and the Humane Society, they get paid and they’re not doing their job,” she said.
“And I find that a little frustrating.”
To contact Joy Huggins at Wildlife Haven, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 519-590-3676.