Dear WHS Friends,
Some of you may have heard that the WHS has implemented a “scoring system” for animals coming in. There has been some questions about what it is, so we feel it’s important to clarify what it is, and why we are doing it.
The name of this initiative (“scoring”) and the fact that pets are given a score have caused concerns about WHS using this as a way to euthanize more animals based on a cold, numbers-based system.
In fact, the opposite is true.
We are committed to save more animals than ever before.
I will try to explain, but if there are still concerns, anyone can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (204) 982-2037 and I will be happy to sit down with you personally to answer any questions you may have.
In 2016, the WHS joined “The Million Cat Challenge” with the objective of saving more cats than ever before. We also looked into our dog situation to make sure every single creature coming to our care is given a “fair chance” to find a new forever home, or what we call a “live release outcome” (leaving our shelter to pursue other opportunities as a shop or barn animal; or transfer to a rescue).
As part of our efforts to reduce euthanizations we came up with a lot of ideas, and we imported some procedures from other shelters in North America.
Most notably, the WHS has:
- Overhauled our Upper Respiratory Infection protocols for cats. No longer cats are euthanized if they catch a cold.
- Created an adoption program for cats with the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
- Created the care-to-adopt and accelerated care-to-adopt programs providing a simple exam and more importantly spay/neuter surgeries at a highly subsidized rate for finders of stray cats willing to adopt their newfound friend. A free City license also comes with it!
- Committed to provide a double-cage system for every cat coming in, so they have more space and they can reduce their stress and anxiety. This has helped to reduce bites, aggression and we have overall a much happier cat population.
- With the help of Winnipeg Lost Cat Alert, created the “Scaredy Cat” program to find specialized fosters to help us with cats that are not happy in the shelter, giving them time and love so they can come around and become adoptable.
- Modified our adoption fees to encourage people to adopt and not shop and compete with the “free” cats constantly being offered in places like Kijiji. We are still very much carefully looking at each adopter, but we found lots of one-cat families welcoming a second furry friend to their lives.
- Changed our Intake protocol to set up appointments, trying to match our outgoing animals with incoming ones.
All these changes came at a very significant financial and operational cost.
Financially, our budget jumped by almost 1 million dollars. I don’t need to say this but I like to say it anyway: money we receive from governments (City of Winnipeg and Province of Manitoba) are for services we provide to them and they DO NOT cover any operational expense as it relates to the shelter, including what I described above.
But the most important cost to the WHS and community was a very long waiting list and the fact that the last two items on the action list above (double-cage, appointments) have caused some very serious operational changes.
The story goes like this:
- If we give every cat double the space, we reduce our capacity by half.
- The number of cats needing rescue keeps going up.
- Adoptions have accelerated, but not nearly at the rate we need.
- We have a huge backlog in our back area (holding before a cat is deemed ready).
The challenge is called, in the shelter world, “Length of Stay” (LOS)
The higher the length of stay, the less animals you can take in, the less animals you can save.
So… What is the WHS to do? We looked into it and found that the Animal Humane Society of Minnesota has been able to reduce euthanasia rates, has a reasonable wait list, and provides sufficient room to all their animals.
How did they do it? Enter the “Scoring Sheet System”. Here is the deal:
- Until now, any animal coming to the WHS would go through the same process regardless of their background or situation. So if they came in as a stray with no identification, or with a tattoo, or if the cat was an owner surrender, or it was seized, or if it came because of sudden allergies, etc…
- What if we assess each animal at arrival, and if they are in good health, already altered, and in a very good mood we move the cat straight to adoptions? And if the animal needs medical help, or behaviour help, we take the time to help by allocating the right resources?
This is what the scoring system is about. Accelerating the process for those animals that can be adopted right away, and taking the time to help those who need more time. Of course, cats or dogs whose health is so poor or their aggression is so high that are not safe, will be euthanized. But the scoring system has absolutely nothing to do with euthanasia and everything to do with Length of Stay.
With the scoring system, we have “lanes”. Each lane has allocated a certain amount of space. The wait list to surrender moves based on that initial assessment. The super-easy to adopt cats will be taken in faster (probably), and the ones with health or other issues may need to wait a bit longer until we have room to treat them. And we will rely on the community to help us out.
Animals with a low score are labelled ‘Awaiting Triage’ but it does not mean they are going to be put down. It just means we need to pay attention to see what is wrong and what we need to do to fix it.
Status will change based on assessment.
So what happens if a cat has a low score? Well, it depends:
- Medical issues are assessed by our clinic. If the condition(s) are treatable we will treat, find a foster and try to save the animal. If the animal is in extreme pain and the prognosis is negative, it will be humanely euthanized.
- Behavioural issues will be assessed by our behaviour team. From there we can seek to transfer to a specialized rescue, make it a “Scaredy Cat” program candidate, make it a “Barn Buddy” candidate, or work with the cat in the shelter. Aggressive cats will be humanely euthanized.
It is important to note that so far most cats have not scored low. Any animal with a low score has been either severely injured, had an incurable disease, or had a combination of injury and extreme aggression.
I’d like to show you actual examples of how the scoring system is used at the shelter. Before you look at the table, click the link below to see the scoring sheet.
Here are some examples with actual dates. PTS means Humane Euthanasia. You will notice that the score has nothing to do with a decision to euthanize if the animal is suffering:
|DATE||# of Cats||Score||Notes|
Behaviour 3, age 2, health 2 overweight, air thinning, dental, 7 years – after talking to Clinic marking for PTS reason: compounded medical conditions
Behaviour 4, Age 1, health 2 – 10 years, FIV positive, Severe dental disease, multiple teeth need extraction requried, ear mites with oozy discharge, active Upper Respiratory Infection – will need extensive medical care with foster
Behaviour 4, age 2, health 2 will need foster care for ear infection and wounds, nice cat, move to surgery and then mark for 2 weeks of foster
|03/20||1||9||Behaviour 2, age 3, health 4 moving to adoptions|
Behaviour 1, age 3, health 5 clinic was able to do PE, shy cat, little bit fearful, Behaviour Modification protocol for 2 days, recheck and most likely adoption
Behaviour 1, age 3, health 5 cat is very fearful has not relaxed, Behaviour not able to work with at all despite numerous attempts– PTS
Behaviour 4, age 2, health 3 moving to adoptions
Behaviour 1, age 3, health 2 cruciate tear, behaviour issues, chronic infections. Animal is suffering – PTS
Behaviour 1, age 3, health 5 behaviour better now, moving to adoptions
Behaviour 2, age 1, health 3, 12 years unpredictable behaviour, severe tartar and gingivitis, needs extractions, not fair to the animal, PTS
Behaviour 1, age 3, health 4 behaviour now better, moving to adoptions
So in four days 30 cats were assessed. Of these, 26 moved on to adoptions and 4 were humanely euthanized: 4. Our euthanasia rate was 13%.
Now we understand that for some, 13% is a high number, but we need to be humane to animals in pain. And…just a friendly reminder that in 2015 approximately 30% of WHS cats were being euthanized.
With the new fast track scoring system, we have lowered the wait list from over 200 cats to 70 or so. Our euthanasia rates continue to decline. And we look forward to finding new and innovative ways to make our shelter more humane, to give each animal a fair chance, and to give the community a Humane Society they can be proud of.
Any questions, do not hesitate to reach out.
Javier on behalf of the entire WHS team.