The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies’ Shelter Statistics Report 2015 (1) undoubtedly contains good news. The survey covers only humane societies and SPCAs, i.e. many other groups are not included, but it still provides the best data we have for Canada. From the fluctuations in the data tables over the years, we also need to take these data as a rough estimate and have to assume they are not very accurate. That’s a reflection of the raw data and the number of shelters that respond in a given year. Kudos to CFHS for compiling data on this and other crucial topics! After all, if we don’t know where we are, how can we possibly get to where we’re going?
Over the past 20 years, according to the 2015 report, canine euthanasia rates dropped from 30% to 13%, adoptions increased from 39% to 50%, and reclaims increased from 24% to 31%. The total number of dogs relinquished has dropped steadily, from around 100,000 in 1993 to 35,000 in 2015.
For cats, euthanasia has decreased from 60% to 21% and adoptions have increased from 28% to 61%. Total feline admissions for the shelters that responded were about 82,000, down about half from 176,000 in 1993.
While the numbers are clearly moving in the right direction, the cold fact is that 1 in 8 dogs and 1 in 5 cats that enter a shelter do not leave alive. Only a third of stray dogs are reunited with their owners, while feline reclaim rates have barely shifted, from a dismal 3.8% to only 5.3% – 19 cats in 20 will not be claimed.
What if we put as much effort into reuniting as we did into adoption? What if we understood that we can’t adopt our way out of shelter euthanasia? There’s a highly significant correlation between intake and euthanasia rates (96.4%), while the correlation between adoption and euthanasia rates is not significant, at 21.5% (2). What if we put more of our limited resources into efforts that would make more of a difference?
We also need to face, head-on, the fact that reducing euthanasia numbers without regard to capacity for care will lead to excessive length of stay, physical and emotional suffering, warehousing and institutional hoarding. Shelters are a temporary way station, and the less time animals spend in them, the better.
To ensure that the euthanasia numbers continue to fall, and fast, shelters need to:
- Reduce total intakes through public spay/neuter programs, TNR, working to help owners keep their pets, fostering a Pets-For-Life culture (3) and switching to managed intakes.
- Work to increase reclaim rates, including microchipping, identification tags, and educating animal control workers and the public to leave healthy street cats where they are.
- Keep feral cats out of shelters (4).
- Work for positive outcomes for animals that can be helped, e.g. educating staff and adopters about FIV and house-soiling, removing barriers to adoption, expediting flow through the shelter and expanding foster-based care.
Resources and sources:
- CFHS Shelter Statistics 2015 (published Dec 2016)
- Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff 2013 (2nd edition), Miller and Zawistowski (eds); Population Management chapter by Drs. Hurley and Newbury
- HSUS Pets For Life Program
- Making the case for community cats: A paradigm shift