2014 New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Show Little Improvement

East Orange Animal Shelter Dog

Most New Jersey animal shelters voluntarily report detailed data to state authorities. Last September, I shared the 2014 summary statistics for New Jersey animal shelters on my Facebook page. Each year, the New Jersey Department of Health requests each licensed animal shelter in the state to submit animal shelter data for the previous year. Animal shelters voluntarily submit this data in the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” The New Jersey Department of Health takes these Shelter/Pound Annual Reports and compiles the number of dogs, cats and other animals impounded, redeemed, adopted and euthanized to prepare its Animal Intake and Disposition report. However, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include additional information on how animals were impounded (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, rescued from in-state facilities, rescued from out of state shelters, and cruelty/bite cases) and disposed of (i.e. returned to owner, adopted, sent to rescue/another shelter, and died/missing). Additionally, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include the number of animals in shelters at the beginning and end of the year as well as the maximum number of animals facilities can hold. Thus, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include very important data not found in the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report.

I compiled the data from these reports and analyze the results in this blog. 2014 statistics for each New Jersey animal shelter are listed at this link.

Garbage Data Raises Serious Questions About New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Statistics

Several animal shelters, which reported statistics in prior years, failed to submit data in 2014. Specifically, Livingston Animal Shelter, Hunterdon Hills Animal Hospital, All Pets Veterinary Hospital and Warren Animal Hospital disclosed this data in 2013, but did not do so in 2014. These shelters failure to disclose data raises serious questions. For example, are they trying to hide embarrassing statistics from the public?

Most New Jersey animal shelters do not properly account for their animals. Simple math dictates the number of animals at a facility at the beginning of the year, plus all animals coming in during the year, less all animals leaving for the period, should equal the number of animals a shelter has at the end of the year. Stunningly, 67 out of 96 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 68 out of 95 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. This raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. Even worse, 42 of the 67 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 43 of the 68 facilities with incorrect cat statistics should have had more animals at the end of the year then reported. While these errors could have been due to incorrect counts of the number of animals at facilities, the more likely answer is many outcomes, such as animals killed, dying, or gone missing, were not recorded. Given 63% of the errors were due to shelters having less rather than more animals on hand at the end of the year than they should have had lends credence to the theory that errors were mostly due to shelters failing to account for various outcomes. To put it another way, 2,699 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 2,699 additional dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters than were reported in the last year.

Shelters may have failed to classify animals adopted out and sent to rescue properly. Both Paterson Animal Control and Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported no animals were sent to rescues and all dogs and cats leaving their facilities alive were owner reclaims or adoptions. However, rescues I know who work closely with these two facilities told me both shelters rarely adopt animals directly to the public. This makes sense as neither shelter advertized animals for adoption (i.e. no adoption web site or social medial pages run by the two shelters) in 2014. One has to wonder how many other facilities failed to properly classify adoptions and rescues properly. This data is very important as it provides details on the burden rescues and other shelters are taking from these facilities.

We need better oversight of New Jersey animal shelters’ data reporting. Currently, these statistics are voluntarily reported and most shelters are not taking this seriously. For example, I noticed a large number of reports were submitted many months after the end of the year. This data should be easy to compile since facilities can utilize animal shelter software programs, some of which are free, to do this task. Furthermore, New Jersey animal shelter laws mandate facilities maintain much of the raw data found in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Unfortunately, New Jersey Department of Health inspections routinely find shelters do not properly keep records on animals. We need to make the Shelter/Pound Annual Report mandatory for animal shelters along with serious penalties for significant errors (especially if deliberate). In order for animal shelters to take data reporting seriously, we may also need to require audits of these reports. Thus, these results show we need stronger laws and the New Jersey Department of Health to play a greater role in ensuring reported animal shelter statistics are in fact accurate.

Despite the errors in these reports, the data provided still reveals important information.

More Animals Losing Their Lives in New Jersey Animal Shelters Than Disclosed in Summary Report

The more detailed data in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports allows one to more critically examine the percentage of locally impounded animals dying in New Jersey’s animal shelters. The following table summarizes my analysis of the kill/death rate calculated from the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report and the data reported in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.

2014 Summary Stats (1) (1) (2)The Animal Intake and Disposition report prepared by the New Jersey Department of Health only allows one to calculate the number of animals killed as a percentage of total animals impounded or intake. I prefer calculating the kill rate as a percentage of outcomes rather than intake as this metric directly compares positive and negative outcomes. Using intake depresses the kill rate since shelters can simply hold animals for a long time to the point of overcrowding. Calculating kill rate based on outcomes rather than intake increases the cat kill rate from 34.6% to 35.2% and the dog kill rate remains the same.

To calculate the statewide kill rate, we must also back out transfers from one New Jersey animal shelter to another state facility to avoid counting animals still in the state’s shelter system or registering two outcomes for the same animal (i.e. one New Jersey animal shelter transfers a dog or cat to another state facility who then adopts out the animal). This adjustment increases the dog kill rate from 13.5% to 14.2% and the cat kill rate from 35.2% to 37.4%.

In addition, we should increase the kill rate for animals who died or went missing in shelters. I label this metric the death rate as these animals are likely dead or in a very bad situation. After making this adjustment, the dog death rate increases from 14.2% to 14.8% and the cat death rate rises from 37.4% to 43.4%.

Also, many shelters transport easy to adopt animals from out of state which artificially increases live release rates. To properly calculate the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives, we need to adjust for transports. Unfortunately, shelters don’t break out their save rates by local and out of state animals. However, most likely nearly all of the out of state animals (primarily puppies and easy to adopt dogs) make it out of shelters alive. Therefore, I back out the number of out of state transports to estimate the local death rate except for St. Hubert’s. Since St. Hubert’s subsequently transfers many of these animals to other shelters, I only subtract out the number of dogs St. Hubert’s rescues from out of state less the dogs it transfers to other shelters. This adjustment increases the New Jersey dog death rate from 14.8% to 17.7% and the state cat death rate from 43.4% to 43.8%.

Also, I estimate a maximum local death rate by including the number of unaccounted for animals described in the section above. Making this adjustment increases the maximum potential New Jersey dog death rate from 17.7% to 20.6% and the maximum potential state cat death rate from 43.8% to 47.3%.

Some animal shelters quickly return large percentages of their animals to owners. At these shelters, the populations served are typically well-off and animals are licensed and have microchips. To account for the animals facilities actually have to shelter, I calculated a death rate for non-reclaimed animals and a maximum potential death rate for non-reclaimed local animals. The non-reclaimed death rate and maximum potential death rate for dogs is 20.9% and 31.7%. Non-reclaimed cats had a 44.8% death rate and a 48.9% maximum potential death rate. Thus, the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives in our state’s animal shelters may be much higher than previously thought.

Overall, the statewide statistics showed little improvement from 2013. The dog death rate in 2014 only was three tenths of one percent lower than 2013. While the maximum potential dog death rate was 3.4 percentage points lower in 2014, we don’t know whether that is due to better record keeping or actually improved life saving. The cat death rate and maximum potential death rate decreased by 3.4% and 4.2%. The growing acceptance of TNR likely slightly decreased the percentage of cats losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters this year. That being said, the improvements were very small and the percentage of dogs and cats losing their lives in the state’s animal shelters is still way too high.

Death Rates Extremely High at a Number of New Jersey Animal Shelters

Dogs and cats are likely to lose their lives or go missing at a number of New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the highest death rates for dogs and cats (excluding very low intake facilities) are listed in the following tables:

Dog Death rate 2014

Cat Death Rate 2014

Thus, both dogs and cats have a very good chance of leaving many New Jersey animal shelters dead rather than alive.

In terms of raw numbers, the following shelters had the most animals lose their lives or go missing:

Total Killed Died 2014 Dogs

Total Killed Died 2014 Cats

Many shelters fail to account for large numbers of their animals. As discussed above, a shelter’s number of animals at the end of the year should be calculated as follows:

Beginning number of animals + animals impounded – animals leaving the shelter

Unfortunately, a large number of shelters take in far more animals than they can explain where they went. Shelters having the highest numbers of unaccounted for dogs and cats are listed in the following tables:

Unacct dogs

Unacct cats 2014

Dog and cat death rates at many shelters may be even higher if these unaccounted for animals are counted as dead or missing. If we only consider animal shelters which reported transporting few or no animals in 2014, facilities with the highest dog and cat death rates considering the unaccounted for animals described above are as follows:

Max Pot Dr 2014 Dogs

Max Pot cats 2014

Thus, the plight of dogs and cats may be far worse in New Jersey animal shelters when we consider the unaccounted for animals.

Shelters Turn Their Backs on New Jersey’s Animals

New Jersey animal shelters rescue far more animals from out of state than other New Jersey animal shelters. Specifically, 5,090 dogs were transferred from out of state animal shelters compared to only 1,692 dogs taken in from other New Jersey animal shelters. The number of out of state dogs transported into New Jersey decreased in 2014, but that is due to problems at Jersey Animal Coalition and Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter during the year. These problems likely resulted in fewer transported dogs. However, Jersey Animal Coalition, which is now closed, did not report any statistics for 2014. Furthermore, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter erroneously reported it transported no dogs during 2014 as the facility imported many dogs from the south before the shelter’s problems received media attention in the summer of 2014. Thus, the decrease in transports is likely due to a combination of  incorrect reporting and increased regulatory pressure on these two shelters that transported many dogs into New Jersey.

While perhaps some shelters, such as Animal Alliance in Lambertville, take animals from nearby New York or Pennsylvania animal control shelters, the overwhelming majority of these dogs most certainly came from down south. In fact, New Jersey animal shelters transported more dogs from out of state than dogs who were killed in, died in and went missing from New Jersey animal shelters. This number does not include additional dogs transported in from out of state by rescues operating without a physical facility. Shelters transporting the most dogs from out of state were as follows:

Dogs Transported 2014

Return to Owner Rates Better Than Average at Most Shelters

Return to owners (“RTO”) rates are one of the positive results from this analysis. Overall, the dog and cat RTO rates of 55% and 5% are approximately twice the national average. As I noted in my blog on reuniting lost pets with owners, return to owner rates are highly correlated with socioeconomic status. Wealthier people likely have more resources/knowledge to license and microchip their dogs. Similarly, people with greater incomes are more likely to afford reclaim fees or ransom payments to animal shelters. New Jersey’s RTO rates for dogs clearly fit this pattern with shelters serving wealthy towns returning most stray dogs to owners while many urban shelters are only returning about around a quarter of lost dogs to owners. Clearly, we need to help people in urban areas get microchips and ID tags on their dogs. Additionally, we need to create pet help desks at shelters in these cities to help people pay the reclaim fees, which are often mandated by the cities themselves, when necessary. The statewide cat reclaim rate, like figures from across the nation, is still very low and suggests shelters need to figure out better ways to get lost cats back to their families. New Jersey should allow shelters to transfer stray cats to rescues during the mandatory 7 day hold period since few are returned to owners at shelters. This would open up space to save more cats and reduce the chance of disease (i.e. cats spending less time in shelters are not as likely to get sick).

To get a better idea how organizations are doing with animals they actually have to shelter, I also examined what percentage of non-reclaimed dogs lose their lives at each facility. Shelters with the highest non-reclaimed dogs death rates are as follows:

non-reclaimed dog death rate

Shelters with the highest maximum non-reclaimed local dogs death rates are as follows (excluding facilities that reported transporting many dogs and taking very few animals in):

Max non-reclaimed dog death rate

Shelters Leave Animal Enclosures Empty While Dogs and Cats Die

New Jersey animal shelters fail to use their space to save animals. Based on the average number of animals at all of New Jersey’s animal shelters at the beginning and the end of 2014, only 53% of dog and 65% of cat capacity was used. Given December is a low intake month, I also increased these populations to an average intake month. This adjustment only raised the dog and cat capacity utilization to 62% and 85%. These estimates likely overestimate the average capacity utilized as many facilities kill animals once they reach a certain population level. Many animal shelters with low kill rates failed to rescue animals with their excess space. Additionally, other shelters used little of their available space and still killed a large percentage of their animals. Some examples after increasing the population (and therefore capacity utilization) based on the adjustment discussed above are as follows:

Space usage dogs 2014

Space usage Cats 2014

Thus, many New Jersey animal shelters are killing dogs and cats despite having ample space to house these animals.

New Jersey’s animal shelters continue to fail the state’s animals. The state’s animal shelters only impound 9.0 dogs and cats per 1,000 New Jersey residents. If we just count animals originating from New Jersey, the state’s animal shelters only impound 7.9 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. As a comparison, the average community in the country impounds anywhere from 14-30 animals per 1,000 residents based on estimates from Animal People Newspaper and the Humane Society of the United States. Despite New Jersey shelters impounding a fraction of the animals other no kill communities take in on a per capita basis, the state’s animal control facilities continue to kill and allow animals to die under their care. Even worse, many of these shelters can’t even properly keep track of how many animals leave their facilities dead or alive. Our state’s animals deserve far better treatment than this. Contact your local city council members and mayor and demand better from the animal shelter serving your community. We can do so much better and it is time our shelters operate this way.

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New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Report Cards for Dogs

report-card

In my last blog, I disclosed New Jersey’s depressing animal shelter statistics. This blog explains why so many dogs are losing their lives in the state’s animal shelters and whether these facilities can end the killing.

Successful organizations set measurable goals and regularly monitor their performance. Examples include financial budgets, customer and employee satisfaction surveys, and product reliability metrics. Unfortunately, many animal shelters for far too long have failed to set lifesaving goals and standards. Municipalities, donors and volunteers need to know where their resources will be best utilized. Time and money are scarce resources and people should allocate these assets to organizations who will best utilize them. As a result, animal shelters need to set goals and hold their leadership and staff accountable for achieving these objectives.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

In order to assess how good of a job New Jersey animal shelters are doing, I’ve developed an analysis I call the “Life Saving Model.” While shelter performance is dependent on many variables, such as finances, facility design, local laws, etc., the most critical factor impacting potential life saving is physical space. Without having enough physical space, a shelter might not have enough time to find loving homes for its animals. Shelters can overcome financial limitations through creative fundraising or recruiting more volunteers. Similarly, organizations can save their dogs despite having run down facilities if these groups enthusiastically implement policies to get animals into loving homes quickly. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey dogs.

The Life Saving Model measures the number of local animals a shelter should adopt out, rescue from other facilities, send to rescues or other shelters, and euthanize. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity and the number and types of dogs the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty/bite cases). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of dogs actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community dogs a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many dogs must be sent to rescue. If the shelter has excess space after properly serving its local community, the facility uses that room to rescue and adopt out dogs from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual or estimated actual results from each shelter below.

To read specific details and assumptions used in the model, please see the Appendix at the end of this blog.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save All of New Jersey’s Dogs and Many More from Other States

New Jersey’s animals shelter system has enough space to save all of the state’s healthy and treatable dogs. The table below details the targeted numbers of dog outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 27,929 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2013, 13,714 and 3,317 dogs should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the dogs in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had more than enough capacity to rescue the 3,317 dogs from space constrained facilities. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters should be able to able to adopt out every single healthy and treatable dog taken in from the state and not require any support from rescue organizations without physical facilities.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many dogs from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out 12,352 dogs from out of state after achieving a 95% live release rate for New Jersey dogs. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters could make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for dogs and increase those cities’ dog live release rates to 95% as follows:

  • New York City – 1,771 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 2,937 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 7,644 dogs from other locations outside of the state. Of course, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some dogs from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. However, most of these dogs are likely easy to adopt and therefore have short lengths of stay. As a result, the additional number of dogs New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere is probably not much lower than the figure above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for dogs as well as many other places.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 3.30 dogs per 1,000 people in the state (1.91 dogs if no dogs rescued from out of state). As a comparison, recent per capita dog adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada area) – 8.5 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 9.0 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 9.1 dogs per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out nearly three times as many dogs as the goal set for New Jersey animal shelters.

Some naysayers may claim New Jersey would have a more difficult time due to the state’s shelters taking in many pit bulls. However, this is a myth. My model estimates New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out roughly 0.70 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out 1.81 pit bulls per 1,000 people if New Jersey shelters also rescued and adopted out the targeted number of pit bulls from other states. As a comparison, I estimate Longmont Humane Society adopts out 2.14 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on its per capita pit bull intake and the percentage dog adoptions are of total outcomes at the shelter. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 2/3 less dogs to compete with in the adoption market in New Jersey than these other locations.

NJ Shelter Model 2013 (Local Targets 2)

Animal Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

The goal of any properly managed animal shelter is to save all of its healthy and treatable animals. In some cases, such as selective admission rescue oriented shelters, it is pretty easy to not kill animals. In addition, other animal shelters with easy to service animal control contracts (i.e. few animals impounded, most strays quickly returned to owners) can avoid unnecessary killing due to having lots of extra space. As a result, some shelters may have an easier time than others in preventing killing at their shelters.

The table below compares the targeted number of community dogs (strays, owner surrenders, cruelty/bite cases) euthanized and the estimated actual local dogs euthanized/killed, and who died or went missing. Consistent with the Life Saving Model’s assumptions, the estimated actual dogs euthanized/killed/died/missing figure assumes these dogs came from the local community. All dogs missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Shelters having less and more than the targeted amount of dog deaths are highlighted in green and red in the table below.

Surprisingly, several rescue oriented shelters’ death totals exceeded the targeted numbers. While this number may be higher if some rescued dogs are euthanized/killed (i.e. targeted number assumes no rescued dogs are), this may possibly point to overly strict temperament testing at these facilities. In the case of St. Huberts – Madison, which has a total dog death rate of 4% (i.e. percentage of all dogs taken in and not just community dogs), the total death rate may be artificially depressed by easy to adopt transported dogs. For Humane Society of Atlantic County, which has no animal control contracts, the total dog death rate of 24% is shockingly high for a rescue oriented shelter and raises serious questions about how life and death decisions are made by this organization. Other rescue oriented shelters, such as Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge and Common Sense for Animals, have significantly fewer deaths than targeted. The aforementioned shelters take a similar percentage of their dog intake from other shelters:

  • Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge – 67%
  • Common Sense for Animals – 63%
  • Humane Society of Atlantic County – 67%
  • St. Huberts – Madison – 69%

Thus, I find it difficult to believe St. Huberts – Madison’s and Humane Society of Atlantic County’s larger than expected number of dogs dying or gone missing is due to them rescuing a large percentage of their dogs from other shelters.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Specifically, 12 out of 98 or 12% of the shelters accounted for 83% of the 3,603 unnecessary dog deaths. Shelters with the greatest number unnecessary dog deaths are as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (553)
  • Camden County Animal Shelter (386)
  • Cumberland County SPCA (346)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (310)
  • Paterson Animal Control (276)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (220)

Furthermore, if additional unaccounted for dogs discussed in my previous blog are counted in the death totals, the number of unnecessary dogs deaths rises from 3,603 to 4,731 statewide. Associated Humane Societies – Newark’s number of unnecessary deaths jumps from 553 to 805 dogs assuming these additional unaccounted for dogs died.

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (kill)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (kill) (2)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (kill) (3)

Space Constrained Facilities Not Receiving Enough Support from Rescues and Other Animal Shelters

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake, very limited space, and few stray dogs returned to owners, it will need more help than other shelters. The table below compares the number of dogs a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of dogs actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

Overall, New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While the overall number of dogs rescued was only about 11%-12% lower than needed, the actual number was higher since many dogs were rescued from facilities who did not need any rescue assistance. Only 16 out of the 102 facilities require any rescue support. In other words, 86 of the 102 animal shelters in the state should not need rescues or other shelters to pull any dogs. As a result, 1,756 dogs were not rescued from shelters who truly need that support and instead were pulled from shelters not requiring this help.

Shelters hogging up the most rescue resources were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark – 276 more dogs transferred than necessary
  • Burlington County Animal Shelter – 112 more dogs transferred than necessary
  • Humane Society of Atlantic County – 112 more dogs transferred than necessary
  • Cumberland County SPCA – 111 more dogs transferred than necessary

On the other hand, many space constrained shelters received far less rescue help than needed. Facilities who received the lowest amount of rescue support in relation to their needs were as follows:

  • Liberty Humane Society – 377 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 252 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
  • Camden County Animal Shelter – 220 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
  • Elizabeth Animal Shelter – 209 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 194 fewer dogs transferred than necessary

Unsurprisingly, these shelters had some of the highest dog death rates during the year.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull dogs from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the table below. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling dogs from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing dogs from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.

Shelters receiving less than needed rescue support should also examine their own policies and performance. Are the shelter’s operating processes allowing too many animals to get sick and therefore discouraging organizations to rescue their animals due to subsequent medical costs? Does the shelter actively reach out to rescues/other shelters and treat them with respect? Does the shelter make it convenient for other organizations to pull their animals?

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective dog capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house dogs on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians to house and adopt out some dogs. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of dogs cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program and making serious efforts to return lost dogs to owners could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of dogs they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (killed)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (killed) (2)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (killed) (3)

Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Local Dog Adoption Potential

We can assess each shelter’s contribution to making New Jersey and nearby areas no kill. While a shelter may be able to avoid killing healthy and treatable animals, it still may not live up to its potential for adopting out local dogs. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable dogs, but still do a good job adopting animals out.

The table below compares the number of dogs from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the estimated number of local dogs actually adopted out.

Shelters with very limited space and high kill rates as well as rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are. For example, the model assumes the mix of dogs facilities are adopting out are the same as the types of dogs these groups take in. However, if these shelters only adopt out a very small number of dogs due to limited physical capacity, the dogs adopted out may be highly adoptable ones with much shorter lengths of stay compared to the majority of dogs these facilities impound. Similarly, many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt dogs than the bulk of dogs needing to get rescued from local facilities. Thus, the results from shelters with very limited capacity and rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 7 out of 102 shelters met the adoptions goals computed by the Life Saving Model. 2 of the 7 facilities reaching the adoption targets (Denville Township Animal Shelter and Warren Animal Hospital) had very few animals to place. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Old Bridge Animal Shelter had the most impressive results by far. This facility adopted out nearly 4 times the number of dogs targeted by the Life Saving Model and only euthanized 1% of all their dogs who had outcomes. Surprisingly, Livingston Animal Shelter adopted out the targeted number of dogs despite having a run down facility with limited adoption hours. The facility may have accomplished this by having a caring animal control officer who could place a relatively small number of dogs. Beacon Animal Rescue also exceeded its adoption target. While this organization is a rescue oriented group, the shelter appears to help more than easy to adopt dogs as pit bull type dogs currently make up about half of their dogs up for adoption. Perth Amboy Animal Shelter also deserves credit for nearly reaching its adoption target while only 3% of its dogs were euthanized. Only a few years before, 25% of Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s dogs were killed by the prior shelter management.

Liberty Humane Society and Trenton Animal Shelter also exceeded their targeted number of local dog adoptions. These two facilities are space constrained shelters with high kill rates and the dogs they adopted out potentially may have been more adoptable than the bulk of their dogs. In the case of Liberty Humane Society, I’ve anecdotally observed them adopting out a large percentage of pit bulls and believe they are doing a good job on dog adoptions. Either way, both Liberty Humane Society and Trenton Animal Shelter are performing better than many other similar facilities and rescues/other shelters should support these organizations by pulling more dogs from Liberty Humane Society and Trenton Animal Shelter.

Many shelters with the ability to help other local shelters fail to do so. New Jersey animal shelters have the potential to rescue and adopt out nearly 5 times as many dogs as the number of dogs unnecessarily dying in the state’s animal shelters. Approximately 40% of the adoption shortfall is due to shelters not using their existing capacity to adopt out their own dogs or rescue dogs from space constrained nearby facilities. The other 60% of the adoption shortfall is due to shelters not adopting out animals as quickly as these organizations should. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters fail to even come close to their adoption potential.

Associated Humane Societies performance is particularly disappointing. Specifically, Associated Humane Societies has the physical capacity to end the killing of all healthy and treatable dogs in New Jersey. Associated Humane Societies adoption shortfall of 5,453 dogs significantly exceeds the 3,603 dogs unnecessarily losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters. Even if all three Associated Humane Societies’ shelters used just 50% of their reported dog capacity, the organization could reduce the number of dogs unnecessarily dying in New Jersey animal shelters by nearly half per my model. Furthermore, Associated Humane Societies may put an additional strain on New Jersey’s animal welfare system by sending dogs to other facilities and rescues in the state when Associated Humane Societies has more than enough capacity to handle its dogs. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in nearly $9 million of revenue last year. This works out to over $450 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. As a comparison, Nevada Humane Society, KC Pet Project, and Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Society, which are no kill open admission shelters, took in only $225-$415 of revenue per dog and cat. Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization.

Shelters transporting dogs from out of state also significantly failed to achieve their adoption targets for New Jersey dogs. In fact, shelters rescuing dogs from out of state facilities have a New Jersey dog adoption shortfall exceeding the number of New Jersey dogs unnecessarily dying in our state’s shelters. Not surprisingly many of these facilities’ total adoptions including transported dogs exceeded the local dog adoption targets as most transported dogs are easier to adopt. These transporting shelters’ local adoption performance is even worse considering most of these organizations likely take in much more adoptable local dogs than my model targets. In addition, the revenues these transporting shelters bring in from adoption fees and dramatic fundraising stories likely divert funding from New Jersey animal control shelters. Thus, it is quite clear most transporting shelters are not doing their part in helping New Jersey’s homeless dogs.

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (Loc adop)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (Loc adop) (2)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (Loc adop) (3)

Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Local Dogs

To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving the state’s homeless dogs, I compared the targeted number of dogs each shelter should pull from nearby shelters and compared it to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all reported out of state rescued dogs came from southern or other far away states. While some of the out of state rescued dogs may have comes from nearby areas, I believe this is a small number and does not significantly impact the results.

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of local dogs they should. 89 of the 102 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 55 of the 89 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 89 shelters with the space to rescue dogs from nearby shelters, only Beacon Animal Rescue met or exceeded its local dog rescue target. While Animal Alliance and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge appear to come close to their targeted local rescues, this is most likely due to these organizations pulling relatively few pit bulls. 80% of the targeted rescues are pit bulls while Animal Alliance and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge only appear to have pit bulls representing around 20% of their dogs currently up for adoption. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of local healthy and treatable dogs.

Shelters can overcome challenges in rescuing dogs from outside their service area. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue dogs from elsewhere. However, shelter directors at these facilities can encourage individuals to form a non-profit or raise money on their own to pay for these rescued dogs. Additionally, shelters with limited capacity or even some of the well-off private shelters could contribute funding for each dog rescued. For example, Maddie’s Fund paid an approximate $160 subsidy to rescues pulling dogs from New York Animal Care & Control. Similarly, private shelters with excess space, but limited financial resources, could expand their fundraising efforts to save more local dogs. Thus, perceived obstacles to rescuing local dogs can and should be overcome.

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (Rescued)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (Rescued) (2)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (Rescued) (3)

New Jersey Animal Shelters Need to Form Life-Saving Coalitions

The improper allocation of space within the state’s animal shelter system requires organizations to form coalitions. While putting a competent and compassionate director in every shelter would likely be even more effective, that will likely take time to do. No kill coalitions between animal control facilities and selective admission shelters have been used in places, such as Portland, Oregon, Reno, Nevada, Jacksonville, Florida and Austin, Texas to radically increase life saving. Maddie’s Fund, which has supported using coalitions for over a decade, has many resources for organizations seeking to collaborate with each other. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters need to formally work together, develop quantifiable and measurable goals (such as the targeted outcomes in this blog), and hold each organization accountable for meeting these goals.

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

New Jersey animal shelters’ dismal performance is even worse considering I used conservative assumptions. Organizations were not expected to return additional lost dogs to owners despite room for significant improvement. The targeted adoption lengths of stay ranged from 34-40 days for dogs taken in from the local community and 44 days for dogs rescued from other local shelters. However, some no kill open admission shelters adopt dogs out much more quickly. For example, I estimate dogs only take about 15 days to get adopted at Williamson County Animal Shelter in Texas based on their operating data and total average length of stay. Similarly, some no kill open admission shelters, such as Greenhill Humane Society and KC Pet Project, adopt out their pit bulls in much less time than the benchmark shelters used in this analysis. 50 days was used in my model, but Greenhill Humane Society’s and KC Pet Project’s (estimated) corresponding figures are around 40 days and 19 days. Additionally, creating successful pet retention and targeted spay/neuter programs could reduce local intake and allow shelters to rescue more dogs from elsewhere. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could save significantly more animals than the targeted numbers I computed.

Shelters should examine the reasons why their adoption numbers fall far short of these benchmarks. In some cases, shelters, such as Woodbridge Animal Shelter, need to expand the hours they are open for adoptions. Many shelters should switch from an overly judgmental adoption process based on black and white rules to a conversational one focused on educating the adopter. Organizations will need to radically increase their off-site events and do same day adoptions. Similarly, many shelters must reduce adoption fees and run frequent promotions. Executive Directors should monitor the latest life-saving programs on Maddie’s Fund’s, ASPCA Pro’s, and the Best Friends National Conference’s web sites and put some of these policies into place. Shelter management teams will need to ensure their facilities are clean and customers are treated with respect (this can be measured by encouraging the public to complete surveys). Thus, poorly performing shelters need to stop making excuses and do what it takes to reach their adoption potential.

Shelters truly wishing to save lives should be ecstatic with the results from this analysis. The organizations have the potential to save far more lives than they ever thought were possible. Will the leaders of these facilities take the initiative to improve their performance as anyone with a job outside of animal sheltering would do? Thousands of lives depend on the answer to this question.

We should support shelters financially and with our precious free time who answer this question correctly. Ralph Marston said:

Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality.

We can turn New Jersey, New York City and Philadelphia into no kill communities. It is time we give our money and volunteer efforts to organizations who raise their performance to help us reach that goal. To do otherwise, would betray all the animals whose lives are on the line.

Appendix – Life Saving Model Assumptions

The Life Saving Model utilizes the following basic animal shelter population equations to calculate the targeted dog outcomes for each facility:

Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay

Average length of stay = Daily capacity or population/daily intake

Each shelter’s community dog intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty bite cases), number of dogs returned to owners, and maximum dog capacity were taken from its 2013 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the Office of Animal Welfare. Unfortunately, 2014 data will not be available until Fall 2015.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community dog intake and dogs returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 dogs were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 dogs (240/12). In July, the dog intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 dogs by 1.2 to equal 24 dogs. If 120 dogs were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of dogs returned to owners in July would equal 12 dogs (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off 2013 dog intake data on the New York Animal Care & Control web site.
  • The estimated number of community dogs returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country. If anything, this estimate is conservative (i.e. average length of stay for dogs returned to owners may be less than 5 days and therefore frees up more shelter space for adoptions) based on some shelters returning the bulk of their dogs to owners within 3 days.
  • The number of community dogs euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 5% of intake. 5% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate for shelters in New Jersey to meet given few vulnerable stray puppies (i.e. who could die or require euthanasia) arrive in the state’s animal shelters. The average length of stay for euthanized dogs is assumed to equal 14.5 days. Half of dogs are assumed euthanized for untreatable aggression towards people and 21 days is the time estimated to make that determination. The other half of dogs are assumed euthanized for severe and untreatable health issues and I estimate these dogs are euthanized after 8 days (subsequent to the end of the stray and owner surrender hold periods).
  • Adopted dogs are assumed to stay at shelters for varying lengths of time. Adoption length of stay was based on data from a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare and the figures used are located in a prior blog on pit bull adoption. The data primarily comes from Tompkins County SPCA during a time it saved over 90% of its dogs. This was a fairly conservative data set to use as other no kill open admission shelters’ average length of stay are substantially shorter. Specifically, the following assumptions were made:
    1. 80% and 20% of each communities dogs (including pit bulls) were adults 1 year and older and under 1 year.
    2. Pit bulls were assumed to comprise 50%, 35% and 25% of community dog intake at poor, middle/upper middle class, and wealthy area animal control shelters. While some shelters may have pit bulls comprising more than 50% of their shelter dog population at a given time, this is due to pit bulls longer average length of stay. For example, a shelter with pit bulls making up 50% of their dog intake and pit bulls having an average length of stay three times longer than other dogs will have pit bulls constituting 75% of the dog population. Shelters without animal control contracts were assumed to only have pit bulls make up 10% of their community dogs (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) based on most of these shelters’ highly selective admission practices.
    3. Pit bull length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
  • Dogs transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community dogs not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month. However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, dogs are moved from adoption (i.e. with a longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter dogs are saved, I assume additional dogs are pulled from nearby states with similar types of dogs. I assume all rescued dogs will not be killed since the transferring and receiving shelters should evaluate these dogs’ behavior. Based on pit bull type dogs having longer lengths of stay at shelters, I assume 80% of dogs rescued from local animal shelters are pit bulls and 20% are non-pit bulls. 80% and 20% of pit bull and non-pit bull type dogs are considered 1 year and older and under 1 year. The average length of stay for rescued pit bulls and other dogs are the same as above.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many local dogs New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue, rescue from other nearby animal shelters and euthanize.