Thursday, October 20, 2011

In search of a happier ending

from Wed's CBC news website
Sydney SPCA told to clean up to limit dog disease
CBC News Posted: Oct 19, 2011 1:41 PM AT Last Updated: Oct 19, 2011 3:34 PM

The Cape Breton SPCA is trying to combat an often-fatal disease in dogs.
The provincial SPCA has told the Sydney animal shelter to tighten up its procedures for cleaning to help manage a potentially fatal disease in dogs
The order follows an audit at the Cape Breton SPCA last week.
The organization said it's trying to limit a contagious and often fatal gastro-intestinal disease called parvovirus.
There are about 40 dogs in separate wire cages in one large room at the SPCA.
Kristin Williams, executive director of the Nova Scotia SPCA, said that's the kind of environment where the parvovirus can quickly take hold.
Parvo affects dogs' intestinal tracts and the virus can live on floors or in cages for months. The disease affects mainly older dogs and puppies and can be transferred through feces and saliva.
Common symptoms in dogs are severe diarrhea, fever, vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite and dehydration.
Treatment of the disease can cost thousands of dollars, depending on health of animal before contracting the disease, age of animal and vaccination among other factors.
"Vaccination is key," said Sandra Flemming, the director of provincial animal care for the Nova Scotia SPCA.
'It's heartbreaking'
"It's heartbreaking because sometimes we've put thousands of dollars into an animal and we haven't been able to save it," Flemming said Wednesday.
The provincial SPCA said parvo seems more common in Cape Breton than elsewhere in Nova Scotia.
"It's a particular issue in Cape Breton, we do actually intake a number of dogs that are at risk for having parvo, so it's something we need to be extra vigilant about, in a shelter environment," said Williams.
The SPCA recommends new steps for cleaning and managing the disease to avoid any outbreaks at the shelter.
A dog diagnosed with parvo must be quarantined for at least 14 to 21 days, said Flemming.
Local manager Patsy Rose said she used to see a lot more cases, but now she said only a handful of dogs at the shelter contract the virus each year.
However, she said she welcomes efforts to improve cleaning and monitoring.
"We're checking every animal now. If an animal looks like it's sick, we'll parvo test it," Rose told CBC News.
"We have parvo tests here to make sure that they don't have parvo, because we don't want animals going out to be adopted that have parvo."
Williams did say the Sydney staff is doing a remarkable job, given the number of dogs and cats that arrive at the shelter each year.
The shelter took in more than 2,700 last year alone — more than any other shelter in the province.
Hmmmm.   Just a couple of days ago, I decided to ask the Cape Breton SPCA where they were listing their adoptables, as it there were none to be found on Petfinder, Adopt a Pet, Pet Tango or even the shelter website.   Not to be mean, but in my opinion, Facebook is not an acceptable alternative. 
Why do I say that?   For the very simple reason that for every Facebook friend I had, like the proverbial mice, there are at least a dozen more that lead full and complete lives without ever signing up for facebook :)   Social networking saves a lot of lives, but is still an exclusive club whose charms escape the majority of middle aged Nova Scotians
After all, around here, social networking is something the boys do around the open hood of a truck, eh?
Forgive me ... once again ... for wandering afield.    Did I get a reply to my email?  You bet!  Somehow I suspect that someone finally clued in to the fact that if they answered my emails and/ or returned my messages that I would dial direct with my questions instead of going over their head :)
The short version is that, once again, their Petfinder volunteer has left and there is a new person who will soon have pics up because "we know that its important that they are there for potential adopters"
Now in the bad old days, when Unhappy Tails were the rule rather than the exception,  the branch was often reluctant to list dogs on Petfinder.  It was probably a bit awkward when the listings weren't updated and adopters would call about dogs that had not lived to tell the tail, eh?
These days, the branch is supposed to be No Kill, so there should be none of the previous difficulties with listing adoptables.
Sadly, parvo is not a new issue for the branch.   When I first started doing the site, rescue groups unwilling to take dogs from the Cape Breton SPCA for that very reason were the rule rather than the exception.
As recently as a couple of years ago, the first transfer of dogs organized by the old Pet Transfer facebook group was marred when they were discovered to have parvo when they got to Metro.
As recently as a couple of years ago, the Cape Breton SPCA had received detailed instruction on proper cleaning protocols which was supposed to have put paid to the parvo problem.
And of course, as recently as a couple of years ago, the shelter was still whining about how hard it was on staff not to be able to stuff animals in the gas chamber and leave the room while they died.  (Brought to you by the same brave soul who is confident that, unlike like a licensed veterinarian, she can tell by just looking if an animal has a disease with a 10- 14 day incubation period.)
To be perfectly fair, the Cape Breton SPCA does face a unique set of challenges.   It has become dependent on the Animal Control contract from CBRM.  A contract, I might add that is due for renewal at the end of this fiscal season .. in realspeak at the end of March 2012!  
In the bad old days, they used to take all the cats that were brought to the shelter.   Feral or stray, owner surrenders or owner requested Unhappy Tails ... even dead cats from the side of the road.
Two years ago, at the behest of provincial, they stopped doing that and some folks in CBRM still think the branch should be a Cat Disposal Service.    Once again, in the spirit of fair play, it must be noted that nowhere in the AC contract is there any provision for cats, eh?
Nonetheless, in some quarters, the branch is perceived as "not doing its job properly" now that it is no longer open admission / open season on the cats.  ( The subject of how the gas chamber that is rumoured to still be somewhere out in the woods behind the shelter should be destroyed while the branch still has the AC Contract is a separate issue one can only hope the audit picked up on . After all, at the end of the day it really doesn't matter who is using it if is still serviceable enough to be used by others not handcuffed by a new No Kill policy, eh?)
Yet there really hasn't been a lot of ground level education or media blitzes to explain why the branch has changed.   Nor has there been enough water under the bridge for all the well founded urban legends there to dissipate.
Has having the AC contract done the shelter irreparable harm?  Surveys of animal sheltering costs and save rates done by the No Kill Advocacy Center highlighted a distinct disadvantage to non profits partnering with government animal services:
Private SPCAs and humane societies have been subsidizing animal control for so long that it has become the unfair and unreasonable expectation of municipalities that these private non-profits should continue to do so. Assuming that the agencies will retain these contracts despite compensation levels that fail to cover the actual costs of running animal control, and regardless of whether they are No Kill or killing shelters, governments are, in effect, having shelters use private donations to subsidize a government mandate. As a result, these shelters are using money raised for adoptions, medical care, and other lifesaving work to pay the cost of sheltering and killing stray and seized animals under their animal control obligations. Donor funding may also be used to enforce often arcane and inhumane animal laws  (e.g., breed bans, cat leash laws, feeding bans, pet limit laws) which are inconsistent with lifesaving.
What happened when the Metro Shelter unexpectedly lost their long running contract for Animal Sheltering Services for HRM?  It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to the society!   The process of contending with their changed financial reality necessitated some of the most creative sheltering solutions that we have ever seen in this province.
Is the situation in Cape Breton different?  If the dog room at the shelter is so woefully inadequate, is that not proof of the pudding that the shelter has been subsidizing the region's AC costs?
The society's strategic shift to No Kill did not cause the problem .... it simply shone a spotlight on a situation created by the contract.   In other words, things kept ticking over merrily as long as the shelter could kill for space.  As soon as that changed, everything else changed too!
Residents were no longer always able to drop off unwanted pets.   Animal Control officers stopped picking up feral cats.   Shelter staff soon started getting negative feedback. 
And of course, the resources and the shelter protocols were still the same.  Coupled with the same level of customer service and AC obligations, it is scarce wonder the audit underscored the need for change.
While I am certainly not privy to the audit results,  I am afforded a bit of a birds eye view from both my work with the sites and my own research.  From that perspective, I should like to offer up the following observations:
  • while it is wonderful that some dogs are being transferred from Cape Breton to the Provincial Shelter, that does not minimize the need to advertise all the shelter adoptables on Petfinder.   E Harmony should be so lucky to inspire the devotion potential pet owners have for their new best friends.... or the distance they are willing to travel in pursuit of love!
  • a picture may be worth a thousand words, but Petfinder listings will be more effective if potential adopters are provided with the information they need to make a decision.   No one is going to travel to Sydney without knowing if a dog is altered, vaccinated, house trained, good with kids or other pets, etc.
  • No matter what happens with the AC contract in March, the municipality should have a petfinder featured pet widget on the front door to both advertise the pets and reinstate the Branch's actual mandate
  • Branch board monthly meetings should be open to the public.   Sustainable change is only going to come from the grassroots level and that involves engaging the public with a new spirit of transparency.
  • A term employee from Metro, funded by provincial, should be positioned at the branch to support and teach the proper protocols until such time as said protocols are SOP
  • and last but not least, now is the time for provincial to engage the municipality in dialogue to have protection for impounded pets embedded in the dog bylaw, such as has been done in Windsor.
What time is it?   It is always time to remember that cost cutting measures for our municipalites should never, ever come at the expense of non profit groups.
Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending   Maria Robinson

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