Compassionate Care at the SPCA of Montreal: Solutions for At-Risk Animals

Room: St Laurent 8

Dr. Jessica Nichol, Volunteer, SPCA de Montréal
Francine Charron, Team Lead, Annexe, SPCA de Montréal
Tammie Benoit, Special Placements Coordinator, SPCA de Montréal

Up until 2018, the veterinary team of the Montreal SPCA had limited live outcome options at their disposal. Therefore, a group of employees and volunteers created the Compassionate Care Program, with the goal of providing alternatives for animals for whom the outcome in a shelter environment is uncertain at best. Specifically, this ambitious program encompasses neonatal kittens, senior animals, animals with medical or behavioural issues and animals in need of palliative care.   

The first stage of the program was a neonatal kitten pilot project that aimed to teach members of the public to foster neonatal kittens. As Montreal is home to an estimated 500,000 feral/stray cats, the creation of a trained foster network represents a true life-saving measure. The second stage of the program was the placement of animals with palliative conditions into hospice care. Both of these stages were done in conjunction with the creation of a volunteer team of "Foster Mentors", experienced volunteers available to support the foster families throughout the foster period and act as liaisons between the foster families and the various departments within the SPCA.  Both completed pilot projects (neonatal and palliative) will be expanded to include more animals in the coming year. The final stage of the program aims to increase awareness of the benefits of adopting these shelter animals through publicity campaigns and an effort to defray adoption fees.

We believe that the Compassionate Care Program embodies the advocacy and compassion for animals that the Montreal SPCA has been working towards for more than a century.


  1. How to improve outcomes for at-risk animals by providing more paths to exit the shelter.
  2. How to start new and challenging programs in a shelter.
  3. How to get employees, volunteers and the community to buy in to these programs.

Before working for the Montreal SPCA, Francine Charron spent 36 years working for Bell Canada as a union negotiator and as the employee responsible for health and safety. Upon retirement, Francine began volunteering at the SPCA as a dog walker. After they seized more than 550 birds, the SPCA coaxed Francine out of retirement to come and work at the Annexe (the SPCA's emergency shelter). Promoted to Team Leader at the Annexe in 2016, Francine specializes in the care and placement of animals with special needs, such as cats with behavioural or medical issues, or seized animals. When the Annexe closed in 2017, Francine called upon the skills learned in her previous career to negotiate for space at the SPCA's main shelter for the Annexe programs to continue. Francine is also a member of the newly formed Compassionate Care Committee. Francine has opened her home to a few Annexe animals, including a sassy little dog named Coco and a bird named Houdini.

Jessica Nichol has been a volunteer with the Montreal SPCA for four years, serving as a foster parent, cat volunteer, adoption counsellor and foster mentor. Her membership on the Compassionate Care Program Committee allows her to combine her research and science expertise with her passion for animal welfare and the work of the Montreal SPCA.

Tammie Benoit brings more than 25 years of management experience to her current role as Special Placements Coordinator at the Montreal SPCA. Starting first as a volunteer and then being hired as an employee, Tammie has had many roles at the shelter, including assistant technician, animal care manager and clinic coordinator. Using her networking skills, Tammie built the Special Placements Department to encompass an extensive network of more than 200 rescues, sanctuaries, government organizations and rehab centres across Canada and the United States. She has recently added Manager of the Foster Department to her portfolio, and she also sits on the Compassionate Care Program Committee. Tammie is originally from the Maritimes. She lives with her husband and her exuberant German Shepard, Kiwi.