Five months ago, an animal-welfare advocate in Tallahassee launched a blog called No-Kill Communities to track the progress that the No Kill movement is making in open-admission shelters across the country. This is a great idea, and I’m glad someone has stepped forward to provide a clearinghouse for the exchange of advice, encouragement, and data. Based on my first review of the site and my experience building ShelterWatch, I’d guess that managing the No-Kill Communities blog is practically a full-time effort. Its author deserves our thanks and support.
One of the prominent features on her blog is an alphabetical list of No-Kill communities on the right side of the home page. And listed right near the top is Arlington, VA. Yep, that would be our own Animal Welfare League of Arlington, which was highlighted as a recent addition to the No-Kill ranks in this recent post and this post from August.
A “live release rate” of 93% is great — if it reflects outcomes for all the homeless cats and dogs an open-admission shelter receives. But since most shelters use the Asilomar Accords statistics format to track and report their outcomes, there are two caveats to keep in mind. Ideally, these caveats should be adjusted for, to eliminate moral hazard and the undue influence that can be wielded by canine and feline escape artists.
If a shelter classifies more than 1-2% of its animals as unhealthy/untreatable, it’s likely that healthy pitbulls or mouthy puppies or orphaned newborn kittens or depressed adult cats are among them. So when I was collecting statistics for ShelterWatch, I included the euthanizations of unhealthy/untreatable animals in the live release rate calculations, assuming that the law of large numbers means that all shelters will receive roughly comparable proportions of truly unsaveable animals.
Consider two open-admission shelters that both receive 1,000 cats and dogs per year. Citania serves a high-density community with apartment buildings and fewer escape artists, and Slowburbia serves a suburban community with fenced yards, open space, and more escape artists.
|Cats and Dogs Received||1,000||1,000|
|Returned to Owner||100||400|
|Transferred to Rescue||100||100|
|Live Release Rate, Asilomar format||70%||70%|
|Live Release Rate, ShelterWatch format||67%||50%|
So in a community like Slowburbia, where fenced-in dogs and cats routinely escape and then are rounded up and returned, the open-admission shelter will have an artificially high live release rate. This collect-and-return service is important and beneficial, but at best it isn’t really relevant to the plight of homeless animals. At worst, it makes the shelter’s treatment of homeless animals look better than it really is. In this example, Slowburbia actually only received 600 homeless animals, and it killed half of them.
While I haven’t seen the actual numbers underlying AWLA’s 93% live release rate, I think we can assume that Arlington looks more like Citania than Slowburbia. But the issues posed by moral hazard and escape artists are significant enough that aggregate percentages and results should be considered skeptically. All open-admission shelters should post their outcomes statistics in the complete Asilomar format, which allows viewers to assess these issues and adjust the results appropriately.
AWLA Hits 90+
November 21, 2011 by shelterhawk