Pet overpopulation filling animal shelters

The backroom of the Calgary Humane Society–where dogs up for adoption are kept–is cold, depressing and smells of bleach. As I walk down the aisles, desperate dogs bark, howl and jump, hoping someone will take them home. For most of them, the shelter environment is extremely stressful, despite the most sincere efforts put forth by staff members.

While shelter workers and volunteers treat these pets properly and lovingly, at the end of the day, this is no home for them. They say dogs are man’s best friends, but to a shelter dog, there are only shelter workers until somebody wants to adopt them as his or her new best friend.

Last year, the Calgary Humane Society took in over 2,000 dogs, 6,000 cats, 300 rabbits, and 400 other animals. Most of these are stray, abandoned, abused, injured or surrendered animals. While some of these pets are seized from abusive or neglectful owners, the biggest problem in the city is overpopulation.

“There are still lots of unwanted animals,” says Dr. Mary Mackie, one of the veterinarians with the shelter. “But with our pediatric spay and neuter program, we are making a difference in controlling pet overpopulation in Calgary.”

Animal intake has declined by almost 25 percent since the organization kick-started the program.

Contrary to popular belief, pediatric neutering is proven to be safe and effective, and more and more veterinary schools are teaching this surgical procedure. All veterinarians at the Humane Society are trained to perform pediatric neutering and the shelter’s mandate states no cats, dogs, rabbits or ferrets may leave the facility without being altered.

“We spay and neuter puppies [that are] eight weeks or older and kittens [that are] over two pounds,” Dr. Mackie explains. “That makes a big difference, especially with cats.”

The shelter receives three times more cats than dogs, which creates difficulty in finding homes for them. As a result, more cats are unnecessarily euthanasized than dogs.

“Physically, there are more cats than dogs in the city,” Dr. Mackie comments. “Cats can reproduce [faster], they can have two litters per season whereas dogs usually just have one.

“The city also licenses dogs, so there is more of a handle on dog population,” she adds. “Cats are also let outside [even though] there is a by-law [against it]. I’m not sure if cat licensing would solve the problem, maybe it would cause more people to abandon their cats.”

The City of Calgary has a bylaw against owners allowing their cats to roam outside their property. According to many sources, indoor cats have longer and healthier lives as they are protected from street injury and disease. Also, unfixed female cats wandering outside often come home pregnant, causing kitten placement dilemmas for many pet owners.

“It is the pet owner’s responsibility to have their pet spayed or neutered,” explains Leah Spafford, who works in Animal Admissions at the shelter. “The animal can’t make that decision, and if they could, I’m sure most cats would take birth control.”

All animals entering the shelter must undergo a physical examination and be quarantined before they are approved for adoption. Those that fail the tests are euthanized, but sometimes euthanasia is performed on perfectly healthy pets. With new animals continuously coming in, there is just no room for all of them.

“[The number of euthanasias] varies from seasons, but generally it is five to ten cats per day. With dogs, it just depends,” says Dr. Mackie. “The worst season is usually the summer, but we have one of the lowest shelter euthanasia rates in North America.”

Both staff and volunteers work very hard to re-home shelter pets. The Calgary Humane Society has been remarkably successful in this area as more than 70 percent of their animals end up being adopted. This is an achievement many shelters are unable to come close to.

“For many animals coming in, we are their last hope,” Dr. Mackie explains. “There are many animals that have been neglected and they are in terrible shape. I like the fact that we can take those animals, fix them up, and give them even better homes than they started out with.”

One principle all workers at the shelter follow is doing their best to place shelter animals in suitable homes. All potential adoptive owners must complete a lifestyle survey and undergo an interview with one of the adoption counsellors before being approved. The adoption counsellors are very careful in adopting shelter pets out and they do everything they can to help adoptive owners understand certain major pet issues such as responsibility and training.

Pet overpopulation in the city means overpopulation in the shelter. The Calgary Humane Society is currently in the process of acquiring a new building in a different location. The existing shelter was constructed in 1975. Since then, there has been one major expansion, completed in 1996. Animal intake peaked in the early 1990s, but there has been a 30 percent increase overall.

Furthermore, methods of animal treatment have evolved over the years, and the new building will offer many services and operations that are currently unavailable. Staff members are very excited and hopeful about this location as there is a desperate need for more space.

Although ideas and plans for the new construction are being drawn up, one major problem all non-profit organizations struggle with at one point or another is financing. The Calgary Humane Society estimates the new facility will cost $10 million.

The organization is currently asking the City of Calgary for $3 million, but Society members are not sure whether it will be approved. Starting in 2004, the Humane Society will also initiate a number of fundraising campaigns because public contributions play a huge role.

The Calgary Humane Society has undoubtedly provided numerous important services to the city for many years. The organization is deeply involved in many campaigns and educational programs for promoting awareness on animal issues. However, their continued existence depends on public support. Therefore, any type of donation or participation in Society membership is deeply appreciated.

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