Expertise

Science and Advancement

The work we do in research and advancement reaches far beyond us. Through our work we discover and share best clinical practices with other animal welfare organizations both locally and internationally. This work helps find better treatment approaches, improves diagnostic testing, saves on resources, decreases the length of stay for shelter animals, and increases accessibility.

Our Mandate

Our Science and Advancement Division mandate encompasses many areas of animal welfare and sheltering and shelter medicine.

Our work serves to meet a few key criteria:

  • It must be of benefit to our organization and aligned with our mission and strategic plan.
  • It should be of benefit to other organizations.
  • It must have a significant impact on welfare, quality of life or life-saving capacity.

It is very important that our work not be inward-looking, but should consider the needs and deficits of the entire sector to be our problem too. For example, in 2012, euthanasia rates for cats in Canada were reported by PetHealth to be 41%. Only an outward-facing approach could allow us to help all our industry partners to reduce their euthanasia rates.

Our Work

Our Science and Advancement Division has 5 major areas of work:

Education and training within our organization is of utmost importance to us, continuing support for professional development, as well as on-going education and training for our staff, volunteers and foster parents. Examples of items covered within our internal education focus are:

  • COVID-19. Training of all staff on current COVID-19 science and our new COVID-19 protocols.
  • Don’t Kitnap Kittens. Training on our Don’t Kitnap Kittens initiative.
  • Ringworm. Presentations to prospective ringworm foster guardians, care and handling support.
  • Incremental care. A series of presentations about incremental and resource-efficient veterinary care, by a critical care and emergency medicine specialist.
  • Research results. Presentations about advancement projects and results

External education has three main purposes: to disseminate information we have generated (i.e. results of programs and research projects); to educate others about progressive sheltering and shelter medicine; and to increase our profile in the sheltering and veterinary community. This supports us in building our organization to be a trusted resource and an influencer in Canada and beyond. Recent examples of external education include: External education has three main purposes: to disseminate information we have generated (i.e. results of programs and research projects); to educate others about progressive sheltering and shelter medicine; and to increase our profile in the sheltering and veterinary community. This supports us in building our organization to be a trusted resource and an influencer in Canada and beyond. Recent examples of external education include:

  • FeLV and FIV. Presentations on FeLV and FIV, in several forums – Humane Canada conference, the first-ever CARMA conference in New Brunswick, as well as internally at our facility.
    • This has helped externally to prevent automatic euthanasia of test-positive cats.
      • Hoarding. Presented on animal hoarding at the World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress.
      • Community cats.
        • Dr. Jacobson, wrote a book chapter on infectious diseases in community cats for the veterinary infectious diseases “bible”, Greene’s Infectious Diseases in Dogs and Cats (in press).
        • Presented some of this information at the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association Conference.
      • COVID-19.
        • Presented a webinar about our COVID toolkit and strategies, for Maddie’s Fund.
      • Heartworm.
        • Presented our heartworm research at the American Heartworm Society Symposium in 2019.
  • Supporting and promoting an internal commitment to excellence in shelter medicine and animal welfare.
  • Developing and supporting the creation and review of internal medical and operational protocols.

The goal of this work is to maximize efficiency and use of resources, and ensure evidence-based practices and quality control.

Our protocols are recognized by shelter veterinarians across the world, and have been shared with students in the University of Florida’s online shelter medicine course.

We actively share these documents with veterinarians who request them, thereby helping to promote best practices across the sector.

We take particular pride in our advancement projects, because they further knowledge in areas where there are important gaps or new opportunities for development in the field of animal welfare.

Field knowledge from working shelters is rare, so these projects are particularly valuable for other shelters and the industry as a whole.

We work diligently to ensure our work is published within peer-reviewed journals to ensure that documented and strong data can help influence and improve animal welfare globally.
Our published studies include:

Examples of our publications and industry advancement work can be found below:

  • Ringworm:This study was the first to compare a new, rapid PCR test with the old test. In our shelter alone, it has reduced length of stay and improved welfare for hundreds of negative cats with areas of hair loss, that would previously have been isolated and treated for 2 weeks. The study provided critical information to help shelters decide which test to use.
  • Heartworm: We frequently import heartworm-positive dogs from the US and First Nations communities. Through analyzing our shelter data, we were able to objectively demonstrate, for the first time, that there are “hot-spots” of heartworm in under-resourced First Nations communities in Ontario.
  • Hoarding: We published the first detailed clinical study detailing medical conditions in cats from hoarding environments. We showed that outcomes can be excellent, given appropriate resources; that chronic upper respiratory infections are much more likely in institutional hoarding environments; and that a harm reduction approach is appropriate for less severe hoarding situations. We were the first to define institutional hoarding.

Animal sheltering is constantly evolving, with one major landmark being the 2010 Guidelines for Standards of Care and another being the Shelter Medicine Specialty several years later. It is important to remain connected and participate in positive trends in sheltering.

The impetus for change has been accelerated by COVID-19 in two important ways:

  1. The growing recognition that inequity in society at large also impacts, and is impacted by, animal sheltering.
  2. The increase in mediums for communication, via Zoom calls, between leaders in animal welfare and shelter medicine, who have come together as never before to work for animal and human welfare during the pandemic and beyond.

The scope and reach of our work in advancement is substantial. Despite the small size of this division, our work has been further helped by leveraging a spirit of networking and collaboration.

We work closely with the Ontario Shelter Medicine Association, currently recognized as the de facto English-speaking shelter medicine organization for Canada.

We are increasingly recognized as an animal welfare resource and educator in Canada. This is at least in part because of the work of our science and advancement initiatives, which gives us credibility and recognition.

We have been able to contain our costs while producing significant results. Our current approach fits neatly with the philosophy of “doing more with less” that underpins both incremental veterinary care and resource-effective, sustainable sheltering.