Staci Veitch, Assistant Editor,
American Humane Association
Show Your Impact:
Why Shelters Should Keep Statistics
To many busy agencies, recording animal entry data, euthanasia rates, return-to-owner ratios, and tracking spending can seem like a waste of time. But what these numbers can do for your shelter will make the time and effort spent collecting them well worthwhile.
The Oregon Humane Society in Portland, Oregon has been keeping statistics since its inception 132 years ago. Sharon Harmon is executive director and says, “It’s like balancing a checkbook. A lot of people don’t like to do it, think it’s a huge, arduous task, and other people can’t imagine living without their checkbook balanced to the cent. People put too much emphasis on counting money, why can’t they put that much emphasis on counting animals? Animal numbers are no different.”
Making the Numbers Work
A common misconception among animal welfare agencies is that these numbers could be used against them. Paranoia about the use of this data abounds – agencies fear it could be used to defame them, affect funding issues, or even lessen the importance of a shelter’s role in the community.
Nicholas Apostle, chairman for the Caribbean Recycling Fund in Puerto Rico, recently led an effort to collect statistics from animal welfare agencies on the island. He says the agencies were reluctant at first. They were fearful that their numbers would be used to criticize how their agency was run. He convinced them that the statistics would only strengthen their operation.
“In the process of collecting numbers, they found what they were doing wrong and what they were doing well,” says Apostle. “When you get to the end of the year and you put all those numbers together, you can see where you put your efforts and it gives you an idea of the big picture.”
Many agencies have limited resources, which discourages them from collecting data. They may feel that they can’t devote the staff or the hours required to keep accurate statistics. But the benefits of keeping accurate records should outweigh these objections. Numbers are necessary to build and maintain an agency’s profile. Not only in the community but in the government, in the media, and with donors. it’s an important part of building a reputable image and getting your agency positive attention.
Proving Your Agency’s Effectiveness
There are many ways your agency can use the data you collect. Some of the most effective include:
Developing and Focusing Programs. Statistics can reveal such information as: why animals are relinquished, what kind of animals are relinquished, return-to-owner ratios, euthanasia rates, etc. These numbers can help you focus programs and education and even heighten your profile in the community.
The Humane Society of Tacoma and Pierce Counties in Tacoma, Washington used their numbers to target one of their programs. Steve Pierce, executive director recalls, “We handled 11,000 cats in 1999. Only 150 of those were returned to owners. So that tells us we have a problem with cats. From those numbers we decided to go with mandatory microchipping in our adoption center. No animal will leave without a chip.”
Monitoring Operations. Data can reveal how much time is spent on each project, how much money is put into certain programs, and can track your workforce hours. AU of these are beneficial because in the end, they can help you run your agency more efficiently. Apostle uses the example that numbers can reveal details as seemingly trivial as how much soap your agency uses – and how much soap you use could turn out to be a big concern in your agency’s operations.
Budgeting and Funding. When data is collected and evaluated, money can be budgeted more effectively and funders are more likely to invest in your operation. Animal welfare is a legitimate and serious business – numbers prove your agency is operating on a professional level and providing a valuable service.
According to Bob Rohde, executive director for the Denver Dumb Friends League (DDFL) in Denver, Colorado, “if we want people to believe this is a professional field, that animal welfare is a legitimate cause, then we have to provide data to back up what we say. You need black and white numbers to demonstrate the reality.”
The DDFL was integral in convincing the State Department of Agriculture to require animal shelters to keep numbers. Starting this year, animal shelters in Colorado must keep records of the types of animals taken in as well as their disposition. According to Keith Roehr, DVM, “We are requiring this information to better understand at what level these shelters operate and what pressures they face.”
When Apostle set out to collect statistics from animal agencies in Puerto Rico, one of the things he wanted to find out was how much was being spent. Collectively, he found agencies were spending $3.5 million a year on animal services resulting in an average cost-per-adoption of $343. Apostle is going to use these numbers to help shelters budget more effectively and solicit funding from the government.
Strategizing. How can you go forward with operations if you don’t know where to concentrate your resources? “It’s difficult to decide where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been,” says Rohde. “Data gives you the ‘where you’ve been’ and the rationale of where you should be going.”
The Oregon Humane Society is a perfect example of using data to strategize. After evaluating their numbers, they concluded that they needed more room in their new shelter for cats. So, when they embarked on the design process for their new facility, they included increased space for cats.
Shaping Legislation and Policy. It’s much more impressive to bring solid figures to a discussion rather than speculation. Apostle is planning to use statistics to prove to the government in Puerto Rico that there is a pet overpopulation problem, and that they should be participating in the solution.
“You’re using statistics as a translating tool for people who may not share your love and devotion to animals, but who nevertheless must recognize that strays are a problem. It’s a language that bridges that emotional divide. Numbers replace the emotional aspects so many people in the animal business work with.”
So now you want to start collecting information or expanding on what you record. But there are things to consider before getting started. Data collection will require developing a procedure and training staff to follow it. Your staff will be responsible for the accuracy of the data, they have to be prompted to keep information on a regular basis, for every animal that comes in.
Most importantly, you need to consider what numbers you want to keep. The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) recommends that, at minimum, shelters should keep animal entry and disposition data. This can be done on paper, or for the more sophisticated, software programs are available that help conflict and report numbers.
One popular software program that the Oregon Humane Society and some of the Puerto Rico shelters use is PetWhere. This program is offered free of charge to registered nonprofit shelters and animal organizations. It provides detailed record keeping on things like animals received, care of animals, euthanasia, animal redemption, licensing, and field operations, along with numerous other shelter operations.
Kathy Savesky is the new executive director of The Bosack-Kruger Charitable Foundation which produces and distributes PetWhere. She acknowledges some past problems with PetWhere, and assures that they are working diligently to address them. Current users are being sent a “survival kit” to help each agency address its specific problems with the software. in addition, in 2001 the new, completely rewritten software will be sent to new and existing users.
The DDFL employs Chameleon/CMS software and was the first humane society in the country to use it. Rohde says, “The software gave us the opportunity to capture more data. We’ve always recorded our data, but this makes it much easier and we can get it in a more refined format than in the past.”
Overall, the shelters surveyed for this story say that collecting data doesn’t require much of their time, and the process has been beneficial. Harmon makes the case to keep accurate statistics by stating, “I think it’s frighteningly irresponsible for an agency not to keep track of its most important asset, [the animals]. it helps funders understand what you do. it helps you measure the success of your programs, and it also helps you keep track of what the problems are in your community. I think that when you work in an animal shelter you go because you care about animals, not numbers. You’re not an accountant or a bean counter but it’s part of the job … it’s responsible shelter management.”
Ms. Veitch is assistant editor for AHA.
Help and information on keeping statistics:
To order PetWhere software, visit their website at
63 Inverness Drive East
Englewood, CO 80112