WOLFVILLE - Dr. Peter Bligh doesn’t lose sleep over the thousands of dollars he’s dedicated to saving the lives of feral cats.
He can sit with the fact that the no-kill shelter he started nearly 30 years ago has partially been funded out of his own pocket since its inception. In his mind, it’s money well spent.
“It’s just part of being in the community that you give back in some way,” the retiring veterinarian said in a recent interview.
“If we have the ability to do it, we should do it. It’s the right thing to do.”
Bligh, originally from Ontario, launched the Valley Animal Shelter while predominantly working in the Middleton area in 1988.
“We got tired of euthanizing nice animals,” he said, noting that he started working as a vet in 1976.
“It’s just something that is a necessary service in most communities. You have to have someone to look after animals that aren’t wanted otherwise.”
He relocated in the late 1990s, and has been operating the shelter out of the Wolfville Animal Hospital for a number of years.
Kings South MLA Keith Irving read a resolution in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly in May 2015 to recognize Bligh’s unwavering commitment to saving feral cats.
“Dr. Bligh has rescued and helped thousands of cats find their forever homes. In 2013, Dr. Bligh created the Valley WAAG Animal Shelter with full charitable status. While the shelter is 50 per cent self sustaining, Dr. Bligh’s business supports the remaining 50 per cent,” Irving’s statement reads.
WAAG stands for “we’re all animal guardians,” a motto that will be associated with Bligh’s legacy long after he retires at the end of the month. The non-profit shelter he started decades ago will continue to run with support from Dr. Natasha Cairns, the new owner of the Wolfville Animal Hospital.
Bligh admits that running the shelter is no easy task. On average, he estimates the annual operating costs to be in the ballpark of $70,000.
“The prime goal is to care for animals that are abandoned, or stray or don’t have a home… and get them into a state where they are adoptable,” he said, noting that volunteers and partnerships with fellow non-profit organizations are crucial to the shelter’s continued success.
“It’s a service that’s necessary in every community but there are very precious few of them, unfortunately.”
He believes many communities would benefit from having local elected officials study how the City of Calgary manages wild animal and stray cat populations, and consider how similar approaches can be undertaken closer to home.
“What’s seriously lacking is legislation or laws that control animals in communities and allow the governments to get involved and provide infrastructure for looking after animals,” said Bligh.
“If they’re going to be a part of the community, you might as well acknowledge it and put some controls in place.”
Valley WAAG ensures all cats available for adoption are spayed or neutered and up to date on vaccinations. Bligh strongly feels it is essential that all prospective pet owners become educated about the animals they’d like to have – and the potential costs associated with properly caring for those animals – before bringing them home.
“Everybody would be a lot better off and a lot happier,” he said, reflecting on his experiences as a veterinarian.
“The most disappointing thing that happens is when there is a serious problem and people cannot afford to have it dealt with properly. It’s miserable.”
Bligh is preparing for retirement with the comfort of knowing that his life’s work has been about far more than the bottom line.
“Working with people in the community and helping them achieve their goals is a far more satisfying way to practice than simply setting the price and ‘take it or leave it,’” he said.
“It’s a way of life. It’s not just a job.”