Opinion

Doggone lucky Winnipeggers: Animal Services adoption process reveals a system that actually works

Winnipeggers love to point out what’s wrong about our government services. However, there’s much to be said for an agency that does something right, as Joanne Seiff says she discovered when her family recently adopted a dog through the city's Animal Services Agency.

'Winnipeggers are the lucky people who have access to a well-run shelter,' says Joanne Seiff

Joanne Seiff says she and her family found 'a team of wise, thoughtful city employees and volunteers out there, helping animals find their 'forever homes'' when they adopted a dog through Winnipeg's Animal Services Agency. (SasaStock/Shutterstock)

Winnipeggers love to point out what's wrong about our government services. However, there's much to be said for an agency that does something right.

We recently adopted a new dog from Winnipeg's Animal Services Agency — and we were impressed. Animals here, we found, are treated very well compared to other places where I've lived and adopted dogs.

I lived in a Kentucky college town, which had most of the usual animal welfare laws in place. It also served as a newly "urban" environment for a lot of people who came from rural places. When it came to dogs, it was "anything goes."

We saw a lot there that horrified us — dogs kept in small pens and never taken out of their enclosures, or chained permanently to an area of the yard with a doghouse and (sometimes) shade, food and water.

We always brought loose dogs back to their owners if we could identify them. We took the rest to the humane society; I lost count after I'd brought more than 20 dogs to the animal shelter.

Once or twice, I'd felt so attached to the puppies or dogs I brought to the shelter that I'd visit them afterwards. The shelter's veterinarian would see me coming with yet another dog and give me a hug.

A dog waits for treatment at a volunteer-run mobile vet clinic in Treherne Man., in February 2017, where dogs picked up from First Nations communities were fixed and received vaccinations. Joanne Seiff says she's found animals in Manitoba are treated well compared to other places she's lived. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

When we moved to Winnipeg, we were thrilled to see how well dogs were treated here. While it may be true that animal welfare complaints have increased in 2017, one has to wonder if that's because people are now more aware of animals' well-being. Perhaps the systems to protect animals here work more effectively than other places I've lived.

While the remote reserves here suffer from pet overpopulation, it's understandable when compared to what I saw when living in Kentucky and North Carolina. On the reserves, there isn't easy access to spay or neuter clinics, or sometimes even passable roads to try to access veterinary care.

By comparison, there are good roads and accessible, low-cost spay/neuter programs and veterinarians in many parts of the U.S. Unfortunately, some people just can't be persuaded to care for their pets enough to bring them in for medical care.

Finding a new furry family member

Last fall, our 13-year-old setter mix dog, Harry, became very sick and died. It was traumatic for us. We needed a period of mourning to cope. Sally, our 13-year-old pointer mix, provided us with much comfort.

However, as the mom of twin six year olds, it became clear to me that while transitioning from two dogs to one was strange for all of us, it was much quieter. Maybe it was easier to manage. Then, I realized that if Sally died, as all elderly pets do, we would go from two to zero dogs.

I've been a dog owner for over 20 years. I didn't think that would work out well. Losing our pets entirely might be devastating, a loss both of "family members" and an important part of our household and family identity.

Dogs are great for us in many ways. We get playtime, exercise and companionship from our animals. These are key to good mental and physical health.

However, as every pet owner knows, helping integrate a new animal "family member" can be complicated and take time.

I combed the Petfinder pages and the family went to a rescue organization foster/adoption fair — but it just didn't seem to be the right time yet.

Abbey, an ambassador for the Winnipeg Humane Society, smiles for the camera at the Winnipeg Goldeyes' Bark in the Park event in July 2016. Adopting a pet can be a big decision, but Joanne Seiff says her family had a great experience with Winnipeg's Animal Services Agency. (Marjorie Dowhos/CBC)

I went so far as to take the family to meet some puppies at Winnipeg's Animal Services Agency. The puppies were great. The city agency was efficient and the employees were kind and friendly — but it was winter, I was recovering from pneumonia, and my husband offered me a reality check.

I'm usually the primary dog caretaker — and he thought it would be crazy for me, still recovering from pneumonia, to commit to going out every two to four hours in winter time to housetrain a puppy.

He was right, that seemed unwise. I left the search for the new dog alone for a while — until bing!  One day, a setter mix female dog named Spring popped up on Petfinder. The photos alone reminded us of our goofy, loving, energetic dog that had died. He'd been an ideal family dog.

We decided to try to meet Spring.

An agency that works

Visits with my other dog, my children and my husband all went well. Spring quieted down and leaned into my leg each time — she just needed to find and be with "her people" again. She'd found us.

We adopted Spring and renamed her. It's early days yet. We have work to do. I've got a gentle, loving and enthusiastic 18-month-old bird dog who pulls on her leash, barks like crazy and forgets her manners sometimes. She has some separation anxiety issues to work out, and was never crate trained.

However, what became clear to me during this process at the Winnipeg Animal Services Agency was how much the employees loved and cared for those dogs. They celebrated every adoption and honestly want to know how things are going.

Compared to the places I'd seen in the past — underfunded, sometimes dirty and always overcrowded shelters run by volunteers — Winnipeg has this part of their animal welfare system worked out. I couldn't have been more impressed.

We're often hearing about how our government services aren't top-notch. In this case though, the opposite is true. There's a team of wise, thoughtful city employees and volunteers out there, helping animals find their "forever homes." Winnipeggers are the lucky people who have access to a well-run shelter.

We can thank Animal Services for our new furry family member. 


Joanne Seiff is a Winnipeg freelance writer, the author of three books, and the mom of twins and and owner of two bird dogs.

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About the Author

Joanne Seiff

Joanne Seiff is the author of three books. She works in Winnipeg as a freelance writer.