CEO Blog: Shelter Euthanasia Rate Drops to 11% after Changing Our Approach | Winnipeg Humane Society
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We have a lot to celebrate this year, as we have saved more animals than ever before, effectively advocated on behalf of all animals, and we continue to build capacity to support our animal welfare community.

Five years ago, roughly 29% of the incoming animals to the Winnipeg Humane Society were euthanized because animals became too ill, or were deemed too aggressive, or we simply had no space for them. In previous years to that, prior to implementing the Capacity for Care model, we were commonly facing euthanasia rates of 28-37%.

Over the last two years, we’ve been able to drop that number down to 11% being euthanized, with the rest proceeding to adoptions, or finding another safe and happy placement.

Time for a quick quiz – which of the following do you think would lead to more adoptions?

1 – Accepting every animal that comes to the shelter and keeping the Adoptions area full to the brim.
2 – Reducing the number of incoming animals and increasing the shelter space allotted to many of the individual animals.

If you answered number one, I don’t blame you. Before the Capacity for Care model was implemented, our strategy included filling every single cage and kennel we had with animals, remaining full all the time.

We followed the policy of admitting all animals, take them immediately and ask questions later. Stray animals were the priority when it came to receiving pets, those pets in homes can wait. We also subscribed to the thought that first impressions are key to adopting an animal. That we should try to guess the breed and type of dog or cat, because that helps with adoptions.

Common sense would dictate that our previous method (number one) before Capacity for Care made sense, when in reality what was required was bold and drastic changes that would help us save even more animals.

As part of Capacity for Care, we have reduced our capacity in half and given many animals twice the space. We have implemented an appointment-based Intake process that asks a lot of questions before admitting an animal to understand the situation as best as possible. We try to see if the finder or caregiver can, with our help, find a new home or keep the pet using diversion programs like Care to Adopt, Care to Foster or receiving support from our Behaviour team. We’ve given priority to animals living in a home but with deteriorating behaviours, or with the caregiver unable to provide good care. We have also given people seeking to adopt a pet less choice and removed breed labels. By focusing on their behaviour and demeanour and not guessing a label, we are better able to match pets with the lifestyle and expectations of the adopter.

There is a common but outdated misconception still prevalent in our community – that animals that come to the WHS will be automatically ‘put down’. Our absolute last option is euthanasia and giving every animal possible a second chance is our ultimate goal.

If common sense is the barometer, it would seem counter-intuitive to accept less animals and result in even more adoptions, but that is what we’ve achieved. In 2019, we took in 6582 animals and completed 4438 adoptions (an increase over the previous year by 10.5%).

Common sense does not apply to modern animal shelter management. As we look back just 4 years, we are witnessing a sort of miracle I thought would be impossible to achieve. We are saving cats, we are treating dogs previously deemed untreatable in our care like those with parvovirus, and we are adopting more animals than ever before by turning common sense to its head. Helping more animals than ever is expected of our donors, it is reassuring to our staff and volunteers, and it is a cause for celebration.

What we have done, under the best practice of professionals working with shelters across North America is to reduce stress levels for the animals, so they will adjust to shelter life faster. If you work with pet caregivers offering real behaviour help and assisting them with their issues without asking for money, pets can safely and happily stay in their homes. Also, most cats we think are strays, are actually cared for and we can screen them. And these good Samaritans helping strays are true heroes. They are usually willing to keep the pet with them until we have space available for them using our diversion programs like Care to Adopt, Care to Foster and Care to Rehome.

We can confidently tell you we have listened to you, and we have implemented the changes needed to give every animal a fair shake. You, with your generosity through donations and your time as volunteers are enabling our WHS team to do more with less. And we will continue to innovate because if we can save even more sick animals, if we can expand our success to the most difficult cases, I know we will have your encouragement and support.

The road here was not easy. It was not simple to defy common sense. But we have done it, and we are not looking back. We are confidently looking forward.

Thank you for your support, and for the trust you place in our shelter.

In service,

Javier Schwersensky