Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Some More Thoughts and Information about the Desperate Situation at the Metro SPCA Shelter

I got an email today from the newly minted Executive Director of the Metro SPCA Shelter - Sandra Flemming - who is a familiar name in the local rescue community about my post last night. She is the lady who is a major reason behind the transformation at the shelter in the last many months - the renovations, the raise in morale, the vast decrease in euthanizations, and rise in adoptions, and the beginning of movement of animals between shelters in Nova Scotia when there's empty cages at one shelter but full cages at another - thus saving lives everywhere.

So having already done big things - we can expect bigger things with this really important position that has been created at the Dartmouth shelter. The position has existed for awhile, and has been filled at least twice - but as soon as people were hired and realized how huge the job was and how tough it was going to be to fulfill it's mandate - the people very quickly tendered their resignations. It was pretty funny actually how the guy who took the job shortly before the AGM in April stood up and waved his hand proudly at the AGM in front of the membership quit the following week! That's what you call dedication to the animals of Nova Scotia!

But I digress - today Sandra emailed me because last night I talked about the disparity in numbers between what was in a news article yesterday and the number of animals published on the shelter's Petfinder site - 53 in the article as opposed to 16 on the Petfinder site. And by the end of our email exchanges I think we both realized that there were lessons to be learned from our experiences today.

It turns out that there in fact 53 dogs on site at the Metro SPCA - but only 16 of them are currently available for adoption - and in a press release that the SPCA put out yesterday - they were trying to show the public how much work is going on at the shelter currently - that regardless if they are all on Petfinder, they all need to be cared for until their time for adoption comes and they wanted to have a sense of how many animals there are in the building. It didn't occur to them that it might seem disingenuous to not say that they weren't all currently available for adoption.

To me though - I think that it would show just HOW busy the workers are - to break down where the dogs are in the system - so Sandra said I could let people know the numbers she gave me to give some indication what's going on behind the doors there -

"Of the 53 dogs, 16 of those are puppies. Of the 16 puppies, none were able to be posted on Petfinder until their surgeries were complete. We spayed and neutered the first 8 just yesterday, 4 of which are going to Shaid, and the other 4 are being adopted by us. We already contacted a number of pre-approved applications for puppies first thing this morning with viewings being set up as we speak. We prefer phoning people who have pre-approved applications first. The second group of 8 will not be available for adoption for at least another 2-3 weeks, as they are only 6-7 weeks old at the present time and are not ready to be altered and therefore cannot be viewed by the public.

When you subtract the 15 dogs currently on Petfinder and the 16 puppies, that takes our dog number down to 22. Of the 22 remaining dogs at the shelter, 10 of those dogs are Animal Control dogs, another 4 are currently being held as cruelty and/or seizures. That now takes our dog number down to 8 "other" dogs at the shelter. Of those 3 are in foster for either medical reasons or for socialization and two are not presenting well in their kennels and we are giving them time to adjust to the shelter before evaluating. . As for the last 3, they just moved up from Animal Control in the last 48 hours and will be temperament tested and posted hopefully within the next 24 hours."

So when you look at it this way - it really shows the flow of the shelter, all the work involved - the process that needs to take place when evaluating dogs and this process takes time and a great deal of effort on the part of everyone at the shelter.

So that really gives you a nuts and bolts look at the shelter and the ebb and flow of the 53 dogs - and how it can come down to only 16 dogs being available - and that's really great - and it shows a few things - #1 - that puppies come into rescue, which is fabulous, #2 - that pre-approved applications DO get dogs, and #3 - that animals do get to move through the system

If you want to read the original press release - you can read it on the SPCA's website, it's quite long.

So now I want to go on to some other meaty stuff - that's included in the press release, and also about the fact that an Executive Director is now in place at the Metro Shelter - and that's the fact that the Metro shelter does not accept owner surrenders, and is still really reactionary in its adoption policies, and doesn't do things like off-site adoptions or anything really creative except for things like when things go completely ape-shit offer discounts on cats.

As anyone who reads this blog knows - I am an avowed lover of all things Nathan Winograd - and he is the king of all things No-Kill - and he has got some amazing ideas about ways to make shelters truly no-kill - and one of his things about considering a shelter to be truly no-kill is when you make your shelter an open admission shelter - when you start accepting everything that comes through your door. Until you start doing that - you are not really a no kill shelter, because if you refuse animals coming through your door - those animals are going somewhere else - and wherever that is - they are going to either be tortured, abused or killed.

So it behooves you as a no kill shelter to accept everything that is offered to you. No questions asked. And statistics prove that 90% of those animals will be adoptable.

So what do you do with those animals that are coming through your doors? You can't pile them to the ceiling and become a hoarder of animals - you become creative with your adoptions. You take your animals off-site - bring the animals to the people. You open an adoption centre in a mall, you work with pet stores to bring animals in once a week to feature animals, you have a weekly adoption special on every news show in the city - not just one show. You have a weekly or monthly cable news show on Eastlink. You have your newsletter - and it features the animals in the shelter.

There are TONS of ideas out there on the interweb - and they are GOOD ideas. To be an excellent no kill shelter - we would not be inventing the wheel. It's been done before - in many places with many more animals and populations much larger than us. We just have to have the will and the way.

Unfortunately though, I am just the person writing this post, not the person doing the work. So I wish the new Executive Director luck. It's hard when you're mired in the cleaning of the cages - that was the problem of the last administration - I hope that doesn't happen with the new one. But that's why I thought the position of Executive Director was created - so hopefully what I believed was the vision will meet the reality.

What makes me write all of this is stuff written in the press release like -

"The numbers of animals that we are seeing this year is incredibly high, with dozens of phone calls coming in each day at the shelter with people looking to bring in both owned and stray animals and unfortunately we can't even come close to meeting the demand," says Shelter Director Sandra Flemming. The Metro Shelter is also concerned with disease control and the stress that a full shelter has on the animals in their care. "With this many animals, it becomes more difficult to care for them and disease outbreaks become more common, which is what we are seeing now."

"Since we don't euthanize for kennel space or for length of time an animal spends at the shelter, we can only accept new animals in the building as other animals are adopted and a kennel is freed up. We are proud of the fact that we only euthanize in situations where an animal is too aggressive to be adopted or we are medically unable to treat the animal but this means that it limits how many animals we can help," says Flemming."

If the shelter actively worked at adopting animals out - there would be more cage space - and that's what the shelter needs to start working at, is looking at things like that - and they also (in people like mine's opinions) need to start looking at things like adoption coordinators who work with potential adopters to make sure that good fits are being made with animals and adopters - that actual home visits are made.

I have been in the shelter and have seen staff talk to potential adopters about dogs and heard them say "all the dogs have been temperament tested" - and it was like she was telling them that because the dogs were temperament tested they had no issues and were good to go behaviour wise - which we all know in some cases is not the case.

So successful adoptions is a many pronged event that needs to be taken seriously on all sides. And (I'll say it again) - now that the new Executive Director is in place - hopefully these issues can now be looked at.

And herein stops my sermon for tonight.


  1. Anonymous8:12 PM

    Have you seen this new Database for SPCA shelters?

    U.S and Canada
    Search by Shelter or by animal

  2. Great Sermon, Joan. I concur that not accepting surrenders could be an issue for the animals involved. Many people that want to get rid of their dogs will do exactly that. If they can't bring them anywhere, many dogs will be neglected, abused, passed on the next unsuitable home or dumped somewhere, maybe even intact and procreate, or get into trouble, or hit by a car.

    Another thing I was wondering is why, in a Municipality as large as the HRM, Animal Control doesn't have it's own building??? Maybe something tax paying animal lovers could lobby for.

    And something else that really bothers me from a behavior perspective is why puppies during their most impressionable learning period are stuck in a shelter waiting to be fixed. That's a personal peeve cause I am not a fan of sterilizing animals that young. In my experience, pups at a shelter learn to crap and pee in their living space and are exposed to shelter stress. I would love to see puppies go home to their families while the shelter retains ownership until the dogs are fixed at a later date. I understand that there always might be the one or other person that vanishes from the radar, but it would free up valuable space, give the pups a chance for a right start and, according to some veterinarians, might make for a healthier pet.

  3. petango looks great.
    I also like the website the Cochrane AB Humane Society has. Great info on the animals, personal and local and when I volunteered there we had many people compliment the site. In fact, many told us that they checked little Cochrane's website before they checked Calgary when they looked for a new companion. it was largely managed by a volunteer.

  4. Joan,

    Fantastic post. I believe this is the information people want and need to hear! This is real transparency and accountability.

    Getting this information out gives people the real view of what the shelter faces and why the needs are so great for volunteers and donations!

    Every single one of those animals has to be vaccinated and accessed,provided with food, water and a clean place to live. Even the average animal going through the shelter can easily cost over ¤100 just to get through the basic process.

    All the money to pay for each and everyone of the animals comes from public donation. It only makes sense to let the public know how this money is spent and how it helps the animals.

    Your post only helps clarify the need. GREAT JOB!!

    TOTALLY agree on the creative adoption process and that the door should always be open at the shelter for animals.

    Got to agree with Silvia too..especially on the puppy issue!


  5. Anonymous10:43 PM

    Janet Young has a nice story on her blog today from the Cape Breton Post showing a nice creative way to get dogs out to the people:

    Since the main problem seems to be cats, I remember how successful the "cat cuddlers" effort was after the Celtic Pets seizure, resulting in many adoptions. I wonder if there is a way to make this a permanent effort in some fashion? There needs to be a better way for people to get to know the cats, especially when there are so many.

    I think the new regime is doing a fantastic job, but there is room for improvement.

  6. Anonymous8:10 AM

    Being in rescue I’m all for spay / neuter, but with that being said I’m not sure pediatric surgery is the best option for the long term health of a companion animal, basing my experience on dogs only.
    The JAVMA has done several studies with the conclusions being varied, there is lack of sufficient scientific data regarding long-term consequences
    Some negatives that have been highlighted are … obesity, stunted growth, hip dysplasia, behavior problems, lower urinary tract disease, secondary sex characteristics, urinary incontinence, infectious disease, hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, neoplasia, cranial cruciate ligament rupture.
    In rescue we use the 6 month rule, but would personally recommend an x-ray (esp for large or sports dogs) to make sure their growth plates are closed. I believe a dogs hormones are necessary for the complete development of the dog.
    Personally had I been aware of all this with my wolf hound mix, I would have done the x-ray route, and maybe saved both of us 2 TPLO surgeries
    Wee bit off the topic, but many unhealthy (behavior or physical) animals end up in our rescue system

  7. I have a thing or two to say about the comments ..... great post Joan and very spot on.
    First, because of my big mouth i run a pretty tight firewall on everything and connection warnings keep popping up everytime i visit pet tango ... that doesn't necessarily mean its bad but its been my experience that bots and trackers slow down computer performance. Also ... its enough work for groups and shelters to keep petfinder up to date without having to duplicate that
    Second .... sorry Netta, but i believe that early age spay neuter is a big lifesaving tool and its a critical part of the tnr formula. For owned or rescued pets in fost it might not neccessarily need to be done at eight weeks but the data seems to be good for the four month envelope. IMHO, if a cat is old enough to get pregnant it should already be spayed. Kijiji is full of kittens because people do not realize how young a cat can get pregnant. My vet says that altering at four months is actually easier on the pet than at six and has the advantage of being more affordable .... which for some is a really big deal
    and last but not least .... its summertime and festivals are everywhere .... what a great time to take the animals to the streets, eh?

  8. Anonymous10:12 AM

    no worries Janet, i was speaking about dogs, i honestly know very little about cats

  9. Anonymous10:39 AM

    Just on the issue of getting the animals "on the streets," probably no group does it better than the greyhound folks, who as far as I can tell rarely miss an opportunity to set up in a mall or at every home/car/boat/seniors show, exhibition, etc., and always with dogs.

    If the SPCA is currently not taking advantage of these opportunities, they should be. I know, I know -- it's volunteer-driven and a lot of work. But it's well worth the effort if the animals get moved along a lot quicker.

  10. I also know little about cats, but regarding dogs, there is strong evidence that spay/castration is not without side effects. We all know how sexual hormones affect us. Dogs are anatomically different, but physiologically very similar to us. How could taking a complete set of hormones not have impact?
    The key to successful rescue is not only to prevent that too many puppies are born, but that the ones on the mat stay in their homes.
    Incontinence, expensive medical costs and behavioral issues drives people to surrender their pets.
    House training is a big issue as well, and pups once they learn to void in their living space, are more difficult to house train. By now, everyone knows how important those first few weeks are, and they should not be spent at a shelter, however good it is.

  11. Anonymous11:20 AM

    CVMA on their web site recommend altering at 8 weeks except for female dogs(3 months) saying the risks are much less than the benefits. Most of the problems suggested by your previous commenter are probably from interbreeding practiced by many CKC breeders.

  12. "Although spay/neuter is an important part of effective population control programs, and may benefit individual dogs and cats if performed at the appropriate time, whether and when to spay/neuter specific animals requires the application of science and professional judgment to ensure the best outcome for veterinary patients and their owners. Prevention of unexpected litters; reduced incidences of some cancers and reproductive diseases; and prevention and amelioration of certain undesirable behaviors have been documented as benefits to spaying/neutering dogs and cats. However, potential health problems associated with spaying and neutering have also been identified, including an increased risk of prostatic cancer in males; increased risks of bone cancer and hip dysplasia in large-breed dogs associated with sterilization before maturity; and increased incidences of obesity, diabetes, urinary tract infections, urinary incontinence, and hypothyroidism."

    According to AVMA -

  13. Anonymous9:10 PM

    Those are some great comments. The biggest issue that comes up when an animal is sent home without being spayed or neuter is that it doesnt get done. You would be surprised how many people just dont do it, or dont administer the proper care afterwards.

    While your points are great on how to increase adoptions, it is so hard to retain volunteers. Breed specific rescues, such as Greyhounds or Pugs tend to have a better time retaining the volunteers because their volunteers are owner's of that breed. With the SPCA people are passionate about animals, but will not commit or follow through with the commitments they have made.

    While you guys are dedicated volunteers, and all around amazing, there is just not enough of you to go around and lend the support needed that is needed.

    Its nice to say that volunteers should run the front desk, or that they should be open every day, but unfortunatly the reality is a lot of volunteers mean well, but it takes time and training for them to be able to interact with the public in a way that provides correct information, and keeps the message of the SPCA consistant. That is the hardest part, making sure that anything that is implamented is something that can stay consistant.

    Its great to suggest ideas, but unless you are able to personally help put them in place, they arent much help. Volunteers need to take initiative, because the staff have their hands full with increased seizures and young animals.
    Puppys take twice the amount of time to care for than normal dogs, and most are papertrained.

  14. Since the middle of April the Nova Scotia SPCA has been represented at over 13 events, some of them multi-day events. In the month of May alone they attended an event every weekend.

    Being able to attend these events is completely dependant on volunteer support. Volunteers also need to be trained, which takes time. This needs to happen to continue a consistant message, which is what everyone has been asking for!

    As for having animals from the Metro Shelter at events, the response depends on the event. Shelter animals are already stressed from the shelter environment, and taking them to busy, new places can just add to that stress level. It can be different for other rescue groups who reply on fosters for housing healthy, avaliable animals. Animals in foster are often less stressed, and you tend to be able to better judge their personaility.

    With cats alone, illness goes through them so easily, it is often not worth the risk to them, or any other cats that maybe present, to bring them. With dogs at the shelter, it all depends on the dogs that are in the building at the time. You have to be careful with animals because if they get stressed, it drives their immune system down, and makes them more suseptiable to illness. Its all about trying to find the right balance.

  15. So in regards to SPCA Volunteers and being at so many venues why not have a Volunteer recruitment event or gear a good deal of energy at the booths to Volunteer recruitment?

    I am sorry I know people who have OFFERED their time and never recieve a call..or email.

    I think some of it will improve once the database issue is sorted out and hopefully used properly but for now perhaps you need a Volunteer recruitment drive Kelly et al for the SPCA.

    There are also people in the community who support the SPCA in ways outside of the day to day grind. These people are key in media, blogs, sharing their own knowledge base and expertise on certain issues and areas that concern and support the SPCA. They may not necessarily have the time or means to participate in a more hands on way. Nevertheless their voices are heard and the fact that they are willing to comment and share their opinions shows they actually care.

    I, for one, do not join boards in general as I do not want to sign confidentiality waivers etc. even though I do understand their purpose and need when it comes to Investigations and outside contracts etc.

    For me my voice is mine and I prefer to retain my right to use it on all issues. Just sayin...


  16. Anonymous10:33 PM

    SPCA folk -- we're just talking here. Please don't be offended or think we're attacking your efforts. We're not (or at least I'm not).

    I never think it's a bad idea to bat around ideas, even if the majority of them never see the light of day. But, who knows, someone who's been thinking of volunteering may read some of these posts and be inspired to sign up. Or a great idea might float to the surface that could make a big difference in the lives of the animals in your care.

    I know the welfare of the animals is your first concern. Kudos.

    But don't close your minds to new ideas -- or even old ideas that were once thought unworkable. They just might be if approached in a new way.

    And like I said, we're just talking here. ;)

  17. Of course ..just talkin..

    this is dialogue and conversation.

    The current SPCA have done so much in the last year for positive change it is amazing!!

    I think everyone participating in this conversation is only hoping to be helpful and encouraging.

    Wouldn't it be great if people read this and decided to volunteer! Totally Awesome!


  18. "Its great to suggest ideas, but unless you are able to personally help put them in place, they arent much help." Not to be mean, but previous efforts to help have been either ignored or overtly welcomed while being sidestepped at the same time. That statement suggests a reversion to a we and them mentality that is not going to encourage volunteers.

  19. As well, volunteerism happens on many levels - and there's a lot more ways to volunteer than just volunteering at the shelter level. My thing has always been that when I volunteer I don't want it to compromise the time I spend with my own personal animals - so any meeting I go to has to be dog friendly, or it's got to be internet based - so I work on websites for rescues, do transports, and do research - I'm an idea person - and how does someone know id something isn't going to work if at least the concept isn't at least broached - and nothing new will ever be tried if the concept isn't learned about in the first place. Every shelter would still be killing with a gas machine if other methods weren't found out about. It's a big world - and we don't have to re-invent the wheel for things that have actually truly worked in other areas. I'm not bullshitting - but all I can do is provide the literature - it's the choice of the people doing the grunt work to read it. A lot of times I'd say that the dvd's with 100's of lifesaving ideas that have worked elsewhere that I provide to them get shoved in drawers or thrown in the garbage and that's really too bad.

  20. Anonymous1:55 PM

    I'm outside your province but I can attest to how difficult it is to retain volunteers. The dogs we get are big, mostly black & tan and have behavioural issues, a far cry from the cute pups and little dogs seen on the animal shelter shows on National Geographic. We get tons of people who fill out our forms and we follow up on every one. Most show up once after their training session and realize that unless you really love it, it is work. . You would not believe the amount of time we spend training volunteers who show up once or not at all. All time we could be spending with the animals, but what are you gonna do? Unfortunately you have to keep trying and 1 out of 40 people will last for at least a season, 1 out of 100 will be committed and last a year or more.

    We do early age spay neuter on our cats. We tried letting them go home and contacting the people after, but some had moved, some had let the kitten outside and didn't know where it was, and some just waited too long and had a pregnant cat, people who adopted male cats, sometimes balked at getting them neutered after they had signed an agreement to do so. In short, letting cats go before they are "fixed" is just a no, no for us.

    "Even though the majority of animal care and control facilities have a mandatory spay/neuter policy, typical compliance rates are from 50% to 60%, in spite of pre-adoption screening, spay/neuter contracts, and follow-up reminders (14)." By Theresa A. Fuess, PhD, VM-3

    Since we have less dogs, we do let the puppies go home before they are fixed. Most of the time that works out, but it is a lot of work and phone calls, we've ran into problems where people have given the pups away (some don't even know to who) when we call them to set up their surgery (we call adopters within 3 weeks of adopting to see how things are going, email often if they have email and encourage a dialogue). We do work with people's vets, as some vets want to castrate a bit later than 6 mos., but that has to be from the vet, not the owner. It's very frustrating, our contract states that adopters are to contact us first should they be unable to keep a pet, but some people ignore that.