Winnebago County Animal Services improves adoption, euthanasia numbers

Staff Writer

ROCKFORD —  The numbers are in and things have been improving for the pets that found themselves at Winnebago County Animal Services over the past months.

Administrator of Winnebago County Animal Services Brett Frazier had previously worked closely with the team of veterinarians from the Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Wisconsin– Madison School of Veterinary Medicine in Madison as he led his previous shelter to major increases in adoptions and huge decreases in euthanasia.

Frazier saw an opportunity to partner with the UW Shelter Medicine team again at WCAS. The UW Shelter Medicine team, led by Dr. Sandra Newbury and comprised of veterinarians and veterinary students trained or training in the professional specialty of shelter veterinary medicine, had visited the shelter in August and reviewed policies, protocols and procedures. They identified areas where the shelter was doing well and suggested priority areas for improvements so the facility could become more efficient and more effective at serving the community, helping pets in need, and saving animals from euthanasia.

The UW Shelter Medicine team continues to monitor shelter statistics and recently sent these numbers comparing October 2017 to January 2018 with October 2018 to January 2019 after the major changes. The results are 26 percent increase increase in dog adoptions, 47 percent increase in cat adoptions. 58 percent decrease in dog euthanasia and 64 percent decrease decrease in cat euthanasia.

“We needed to make changes and, honestly, we couldn’t wait. The health and welfare of the pets and the people in the shelter needed to improve,” Frazier said. “He and the management team at the shelter made the decision to make big changes in many areas all at once.

“Over the first three days of October 2018, Winnebago County Animal Services was closed for major retraining with help from the UW Shelter Medicine team. The training focused on many areas including reducing length of stay, improving the intake process, improving daily shelter animal health and increasing live outcomes. When I started at Animal Services there were nearly 300 animals here, we were operating far beyond our capacity for care and it was leading to all sorts of problems.”

Frazier said capacity for care is a term used to describe the concept of the number of animals a shelter can house and adequately care for. This number isn’t as simple as counting the number of cages.

Staffing size and time available are also part of the equation. Those 300 animals were being cared for by just a few kennel staff each day and in a very inefficient way, according to Frazier. The shelter currently houses and cares for around half that number and the length of stay for those animals, in addition to a managed admission program and streamlined adoptions, is to thank for the decreased population. This has meant healthier animals who don’t get sick as much, quick movement through the shelter system and a significant decrease in euthanasia with accompanying increase in live release like adoption.

Frazier said the UW Shelter Medicine team agreed that length of stay was a major driver of the high population. A managed-admission program would also help to better plan resources to take in pets who were in need of help and to ensure proper housing and care.

While there have been some initial decreases in intake, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Pets are coming to the shelter only if they need to come to the shelter and they are spending only the time they need in the shelter to achieve their best outcome,” Frazier explained, “No pet belongs in a shelter. They belong at home. We’re not a storage facility for pets. We’re a conduit to help pets go home.”

The addition of a managed admission process, as recommended by the UW Shelter Medicine team, requires owners wishing to surrender a pet to make an appointment. This ensures that there is adequate space and staff to care for that pet upon surrender. It also provides an opportunity for WCAS staff to refer pet owners to the Pet Retention Resources page at wcasrock.org, to offer alternatives to surrender, and to suggest other community resources that may be able to help a pet stay at home. R.

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