As the weather warms up and spring creeps closer, Canadian rescues brace for the influx of newborn puppies and kittens that come with the peak breeding season. In fact, this comes on the heels of an urgent call to action recently submitted by 45 rescue organizations to the Manitoba Premier declaring a State of Emergency due to an animal overpopulation crisis.

So one may wonder – how did we get here? The Winnipeg Humane Society, along with Winnipeg Animal Services and the many rescues in the province, ensure that all of the animals they see get fixed. There was a time, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were staying home and adopting animals at unprecedented rates, that things weren’t quite so dire.

However, things have turned completely upside down since then. Rescues and shelters are consistently operating at, or above, capacity. Animals are staying in rescue longer, with puppies and kittens growing up before finding their homes. A larger proportion of previously adopted animals are coming back into care. Of major importance, many non-registered breeders and accidental litters have no follow-up regarding fixing, and intact strays can have multiple litters per year, thereby exponentially contributing to overpopulation.

Communities with little to no veterinary care particularly struggle, and the results are devastating—for both the communities and the animals. The “easy” answer is spaying and neutering. The more animals we fix, the less overpopulation, right? But on closer inspection, this concept certainly isn’t “easy”—if it was, we wouldn’t be where we are.

Regardless of one’s personal opinions on the matter, and this is a conversation for another day, there are certainly many pros to spaying and neutering - from avoiding behaviours brought on by hormones, which aren’t always desirable in an indoor family pet, to disease prevention. And there is also, of course, the resulting inability to reproduce, which avoids unwanted litters and helps control overpopulation and suffering.

Silver Heights Veterinary Hospital is proud to serve the Winnipeg region, and is located on Ness Avenue in St. James. Contact them at 204-504-5600 or visit their website at silverheightsvethospital.ca.

At their root, some of the major problems which have led us here are at least identifiable:

  • Lack of access to care - this is a major issue that has only been exacerbated in recent years. Veterinary care in the northern part of our province is scarce. Dozens of communities are either fly-in only or rely heavily on winter roads. There result? Limited clinics, limited staff and limited resources. Short-term clinics run by rescue organizations, including the Winnipeg Humane Society and hundreds of wonderful, dedicated veterinary staff work tirelessly to provide services to these communities, but even their heroic efforts are only enough for limited control. Longer term solutions of broader scope are needed.
  • Lack of funds - The lack of recognition of the importance of One Health - the idea that optimal health outcomes require a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to address the connection between people, animals, and their shared environment - has resulted in limited support for spay and neuter initiatives from all sector of government, resulting in the burden being placed on rescue and animal welfare groups who are already overstretched and rely heavily on donations.
  • Lack of veterinary staff - This, in and of itself, is a worldwide problem, one which has been exacerbated by the increase in patients since the pandemic. This is a field which is demanding, draining and thankless. There aren’t enough people entering the field, and far too many leave far too soon. Did you know that until recently, the province sent only 15 students yearly to the only veterinary school accepting Manitobans? Yes, the province has recently increased the number of students, but far too few return to Manitoba after their training and resources, and interest in working in isolated communities is low.

So, how can the community help? Get involved, advocate, foster, and support our province's amazing Animal Welfare Organizations and One Health initiatives in any way you can. If you bring a new animal into your life, consider where they came from… and please, unless otherwise indicated, consider spaying and neutering them!

Until next time, fellow paw-print-loving friends.

Silver Heights Veterinary Hospital is proud to serve the Winnipeg region, and is located on Ness Avenue in St. James. Contact them at 204-504-5600 or visit their website at silverheightsvethospital.ca.

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