Counting Shelter Animals: Will This New Project Help More Animals Get Adopted?

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Shelter Animals Count: The National Database Project is a new online resource that provides comprehensive numbers on shelter animals. Created by shelter workers, the goal is to collect, analyze, and use hard data to improve the shelter system and get more animals adopted.  

Prior to the introduction of the Shelter Animals Count, individual agencies tasked with tracking shelter animals and adoption rates were forced (for the most part) to use estimates. This is because each county, city and state use different reporting methods, criteria and tracking technologies.

The goal of the Shelter Animals Count is to tighten the framework and ultimately use reliable empirical data to assess success rates at shelters and rescues nationwide.

With this data, shelters and rescues can accurately compare themselves to other organizations, understand their successes (and shortfalls) and amend their practices accordingly.
Jodi Lyle Buckman, Chairman of the Board for the Shelter Animals Count, says, “We should have a sense of how dogs and cats move in and out of these rescues and shelters that are dedicated to their care…Data organization is modeled on the U.S. Census, so comparisons will be possible at the county level.”

Without a doubt there is tremendous potential for this project! The shelter and rescue world is extremely fragmented – and consequently not as efficient as it otherwise could be. By tightening up reporting methods, and accumulating accurate (and analyzable) data, there is the potential to see real change. That being said, we think there are a couple of issues that could get in the way of the project being successful and we feel compelled to call attention to them.

Please note our intention is not to be negative – it’s the complete opposite. By drawing attention to the potential setbacks – our hope is to start a conversation and help put Shelter Animals Count in a position to attack the issues head on. 

1. In order for the database to generate accurate statistics, all shelters and rescues need to be on board. 

If they aren’t, how can we consider the Shelter Animals Count to be any more accurate than the current (and very limited) reporting methods? In our opinion, receiving comprehensive reporting will be an issue simply because the majority of organizations don’t have the resources (i.e. volunteers or the money to hire a data entry person) to maintain their end of the database. Furthermore, some groups may already use a intake/outtake program for their adoptions and simply may not want to double their workload (especially if they aren’t convinced that the effort to input the data will yield greater results than the programs they currently have in place).

2. Varying state laws have the potential to impact the reliability of the statistics that are reported. 

Some states do not require certain forms of euthanasia to be reported. For instance, if an animal is sick or aggressive the state may not require the shelter to include the animal in its euthanasia total.
This raises a number of questions: at what point is the animal too sick or too aggressive for rehabilitation? When is euthanasia warranted as an outcome that doesn’t need to be reported? Is there an objective set of criteria assigned across the shelter world? The answer to this question is no. Each individual shelter is responsible for making this determination and one might argue that there is incentive (whether it be to appease donors, supporters, or local governments) for shelters to make their euthanasia statistics look as good as possible. The result? A layer of subjectivity that compromises the integrity of the project. Unless all shelters get on board and are willing to change their reporting methods to fit the requirements of the database, the statistics risk being significantly skewed.

In order for the Shelter Animals Count project to be successful and adopted by the shelter and rescue world – there are a few things that we think are necessary.

1. Participating organizations need to agree to report data in a uniform and consistent manner (independent of what is required on a state and municipal level if it differs from that of the project).

This will not only maintain the integrity of the statistics from an empirical point of view, but it will also give the participating shelters and rescues a sense of reliability when it comes to the results and comparisons that are being generated.

2. There must be clear and defined benefits for the participating shelters and rescues that outweigh the time and money saved by not participating.

This means that the technology must be user friendly, assume no knowledge of statistical programs, and provide meaningful insights that rescues and shelters can use on a local level to help their organization facilitate more adoptions.
If the Shelter Animals Count project can achieve these two goals – they will be successful and the animal welfare community will be one step closer to building a no kill nation.

By Bailey Schroeder and Colleen Ofeldt

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