A dog impounded by the City of Winnipeg now has a 94 per cent chance of avoiding a lethal injection, thanks to animal-control practices that have drastically reduced the city's canine euthanasia numbers over the past decade.
In 2002, Winnipeg's Animal Services special operating agency euthanized 486 of the 1,408 dogs it impounded, a survival rate of 65 per cent.
In 2012, Animal Services killed only 91 of the 1,553 dogs it impounded. The dramatic reduction in the euthanasia rate can be attributed to the return of more impounded dogs to their owners and the adoption of more stray and unclaimed dogs.
The increase in returned dogs can be attributed in part to a massive spike in dog licences in 2010 and 2011, when the city coupled a public-awareness campaign on the benefits of dog-licensing with a zero-tolerance policy for dog owners caught with unlicensed dogs.
Impounded dogs that are licensed are returned to their owners for free -- provided they are not turned in to Animal Services more than once a year. Licence tags, microchips and tattoos all aid in the return of canines to their owners.
So does the city's 311 call centre, which helped co-ordinate the return of 927 dogs to their owners in 2012, said Leland Gordon, Animal Services' chief operating officer.
"If this dog had a $29 licence on it, it'd be home right now with its owner," said Gordon, kneeling next to a frightened-looking shepherd cross staring from one of 69 holding cells at his agency's Logan Avenue facility.
"This is clearly somebody's pet. You'd be frightened, too, if you were in here."
Over the past decade, the number of dogs licensed by the city has tripled to 63,689 from 21,007. The number of adoptions of city-impounded dogs has also nearly tripled in the same period, to 497 from 168.
Gordon attributes the latter increase to the proliferation of social media -- the city uses Petfinder, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get dogs adopted -- and the promotional efforts of volunteer staff.
Animal Services holds unlicensed dogs for three days before they're put up for adoption. Licensed dogs are held 10 days.
Only terminally ill, seriously injured or aggressive dogs are euthanized, done through an injection of pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate used to euthanize animals and people.
Dogs calm enough to be adopted are not euthanized, no matter how long they remain at Animal Services, Gordon said.
"Some people think there's a doggie death row. There is no doggie death row," he said, noting some dogs are housed for months before getting adopted.
Animal Services is required to accept any dog, no matter how aggressive. The most violent animals are housed in a "biter room," where they are quarantined for rabies.
Animal shelters such as the Winnipeg Humane Society are not required to accept dangerous dogs.
Given the mandate for Animal Services -- protecting people from dogs, not dogs from people -- the city agency's recent success is excellent, said humane society CEO Bill McDonald.
"Leland should be congratulated for what it's done. I attribute it to Leland personally. He brings a shelter mentality to an animal-control facility. That's been the sea change," McDonald said.
"He's way more diligent about adoption and a return to owners."
Gordon, a former commercial pilot, ran a no-kill shelter and worked as an Animal Services volunteer before he was hired to run the agency, which has 26 full-time employees and a $3.5-million annual budget.
Animal Services generates a small surplus every year. In 2014, it is expected to be $215,000, according to city budget documents.
McDonald, whose shelter takes in cats on the city's behalf, said he would like to see revenue from the agency devoted to spaying and neutering cats in 2015, when the city plans to begin licensing cats.
"It should not go into general city revenues," said McDonald, who is optimistic cat licensing will reduce feline euthanasia much as the increase in dog licensing reduced canine euthanasia -- by returning more animals to their owners.
More information can be found at the city's website.
As the city has been able to reduce the number of dog euthanizations, do you think cat licensing — slated to start in 2015 — will yield a similar result? Join the conversation in the comments below.