How Lake County Animal Shelter Became an Elite No Kill Facility

In my last blog, I detailed how Lake County Animal Shelter performed exceptionally well in 2019. Despite meager funding, having an inadequate physical facility and receiving little rescue support, Lake County Animal Shelter attained sky high live release rates, adopted out many dogs and cats and placed its animals quickly. So how did Lake County Animal Shelter accomplish this?

No Kill Learning provided excellent analyses in an August 2017 blog and in a January 2019 documentary film. After a five year shelter reform effort led by advocate Steve Shank, voters elected certain Board of County Commissioners in 2016 that supported no kill. Around this time, Lake County decided to take over the shelter from Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Lake County Sheriff’s Office operated the facility as a traditional kill shelter. During this time and for a period after taking the shelter over, Lake County used Mike Fry from No Kill Learning to help the county make the facility no kill. On January 15, 2017, Lake County took over the shelter and began to operate it as a no kill facility.

While other no kill consultants do good work, No Kill Learning stands out due to his comprehensive approach. No Kill Learning focuses on shelters fully implementing the No Kill Equation. The No Kill Equation, which was created by Nathan Winograd, consists of 11 programs to responsibly reduce the number of animals coming into shelters and increase the number of pets leaving those facilities alive. Additionally, these programs improve animal care while the pets are in shelters. In other words, this approach makes sure shelters run as proper no kill facilities.

Lake County Animal Shelter hired Whitney Boylston as the shelter director in the middle of 2017. Whitney formerly was a teacher and a counselor for pregnant teens. Additionally, she worked in a high volume spay/neuter clinic and assisted in Hurricane Katrina animal rescue efforts during her college years. Also, Whitney previously volunteered with Lake County Animal Shelter when it was a kill shelter and co-founded LEASH Inc in 2015. LEASH Inc focuses on helping Lake County Animal Shelter and other local facilities save lives and provide quality care to their animals. Like many successful no kill shelter directors, Whitney did not work in an animal shelter prior to her hiring.

Whitney clearly fullfills the No Kill Equation’s “Hard-Working, Compassionate Shelter Director” program. As Nathan Winograd states, this “is the most important” No Kill Equation program since the shelter director implements the other ten programs. Based on my conversations with Whitney, I was struck by her commitment to not killing. Specifically, Whitney, who makes all euthanasia decisions and personally euthanizes almost every animal, will only make that call if she would do the same for her personal pet. Additionally, Whitney is very sharp and understands the importance of targeting programs for vulnerable animals, such as the “Wait-til-8” program that keeps vulnerable young kittens out of the shelter until they are older. Similarly, Whitney uses a very data driven approach to make decisions that I rarely see in animal sheltering. Finally, Whitney is very personable, which may be due to her background working with people, that clearly is beneficial to implementing the other No Kill Equation programs that require great people skills. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter has the right person at the top to operate as an elite no kill facility.

Data Reviewed

To understand how Lake County Animal Shelter became so successful, I obtained the shelter’s “Kennel Statistics Report” for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. These reports list the total numbers of animals coming into the shelter and their outcomes. Additionally, these reports break out not just major intake and outcome categories, such as owner surrenders and adoptions, but also list key subcategories. Therefore, its easy to understand a lot about the shelter from just looking at these reports.

In the tables below, I compared the shelter’s outcome results for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. I labeled 2015 and 2016 “Pre-No Kill” and 2017, 2018 and 2019 “No Kill” (technically the facility was a kill shelter for the first 14 days of 2017, but I labeled the year as “No Kill” since the shelter was no kill for the other 351 days). Over the years, the shelter refined and improved its subcategories of intakes and outcomes. Therefore, some changes over the years resulted from data categorization revisions rather than substantive events. As a result, I focused on the real movements in the data and also talked with Whitney Boylston to get a better understanding of the shelter’s performance during these years.

No Kill Culture Ceases Dog Killing

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog death rate data clearly shows the shelter’s no kill culture. While the shelter had modest decreases in the dog and nonreclaimed dog death rates from 2015 to 2016, these death rates dropped like a rock when the shelter went no kill in 2017 and significantly decreased in 2018 and 2019. Given dogs are far more challenging to save when a shelter has a very low death rate, the shelter’s improvements in 2018 and 2019 are extremely impressive.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s rationales for euthanizing animals over the years illustrate this culture change. Once the shelter went no kill in 2017, behavioral euthanasia dropped by 55%. In 2019, behavioral euthanasia dropped significantly more and was 93% lower than in 2016. Similarly, Lake County Animal Shelter’s medical related euthanasia (not counting owner requested euthanasia) significantly dropped after the shelter went no kill and continued to decrease in both 2018 and 2019. Most telling, the shelter euthanized 7.63% of all dogs for owner requested euthanasia in 2016, 0.45% in 2017, 0.00% in 2018 and 0.07% in 2019. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter stopped killing for convenience after the shelter went no kill and continued to raise the lifesaving bar afterwards.

The shelter uses a unique enrichment method to prevent dogs from developing behavior problems at the shelter. Whitney Boylston applied her teaching background to treat the shelter like “pre-school.” Dogs get “story time”, where they listen to an audio book, “music time”,  the “scent of the day”, where different scents are sprayed for the animals to sniff, “snack time”, where they get special treats, “nap time”, where no one enters the kennels during the lunch hour, and most importantly, “playtime.” Playtime consists of dog playgroups, which the shelter got around 75% of the dog population into each day during 2019. The dog playgroup program alleviates stress, particularly for large dogs like pit bulls, and also helps volunteers and shelter staff understand the animals to make good matches with adopters. Therefore, Lake County Animal Shelter put in place the No Kill Equation’s behavior prevention and rehabilitation programs.

The shelter’s no kill culture allows it to save dogs that many other facilities would quickly kill. Lake County Animal Shelter treats every dog as an individual and considers past problems in context. For example, a dog that had bitten once before before due to a specific trigger or an extraordinary circumstance that wouldn’t exist in a different home. The shelter fully discloses the animal’s past history both in a conversation and in writing and counsels the adopter to ensure the adopter can handle the animal. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter works with its community to save lives instead of just automatically killing animals with manageable issues.

Lake County Animal Shelter also made numerous improvements to its veterinary care after it went no kill. The shelter director reallocated her budget to increase veterinary spending by around 50%. Also, the shelter does as much veterinary work in-house as possible to save funds. The shelter also created a parvo ward in a barn on the grounds of the shelter that eliminated parvo deaths. In addition, the shelter’s managed intake program for owner surrenders requires such animals receive vaccinations 2 weeks prior to admission. Finally, the “Wait-til-8” program, which keeps young vulnerable kittens out of the shelter, reduces kitten deaths and the risk of more widespread disease outbreaks. As a result, the shelter fully implemented the No Kill Equation’s medical prevention and rehabilitation programs.

Despite the shelter ending the killing of healthy and treatable dogs, the shelter did not limit dog intake after it went no kill. In the pre-no kill years, Lake County Animal Shelter took in an average of 2,947 dogs each year compared to an average of 3,044 dogs in the no kill years.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s managed intake and pet retention programs ensure the shelter only takes in owned animals requiring re-homing. Under the shelter’s managed intake program, the shelter counsels adopters to help see if the owner can keep the animal or safely re-home the animal on their own. However, the program has proper guardrails around it where the shelter immediately takes in emergency cases and admits animals typically within two to three weeks (i.e. not an endless wait-list that some shelters have). The shelter also provides a list of low cost veterinarians, free food and dog training classes to owners wanting to surrender their animals (adopters also get free dog training classes). Finally, the shelter gives pet food to a human food pantry to ensure pet owners in need are able to feed their animals. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter implemented the No Kill Equation’s pet retention program.

Owner Reclaims and Adoptions Drive Dog Live Release Up

The following table details what outcomes increased Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog live release rate from 2016 to 2019 (note the “Transfer % number in the “Change” column does not compute exactly due to rounding). As the table shows, the shelter sent more dogs to their owners and to new adopters after the facility went no kill. In fact, these live outcomes increased so much they more than made up for rescues pulling significantly fewer dogs.

Innovative Programs Send More Lost Dogs Back to Their Families

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog return to owner improvement is among the best I’ve ever seen. Typically, I see socioeconomic factors drive differences in return to owner rates between shelters. In other words, wealthier people tend to microchip and/or license their dogs and also can afford steep reclaim fees. Since almost all shelters make little effort to find the owners of lost pets, the socioeconomic status of the people in a shelter’s service area generally explain differences in owner reclaim rates. In fact, I only know of two shelters that have had significant success in increasing the percentage of dogs returned to owners. The first, Sacramento, California’s Front Street Animal Shelter, had its dog return to owner percentage of outcomes increase 8% from 2016 to 2019. However, this was less than Lake County Animal Shelter’s 10% improvement over the same period. Additionally, much of Front Street Animal Shelter’s efforts, such as low cost microchips, free license tags and giving pet owners resources to find their pets after the owner text messages the shelter, puts the onus on the pet owner rather than the shelter. Finally, Front Street Animal Shelter’s return to owner rate increased significantly after it received $250,000 from the Petco Foundation in 2018 to fund its text message based lost pets program. While Dallas Animal Services has had an impressive increase in its dog return to owner rate, much of this was due to its animal control officers returning dogs to owners in the field (i.e. without going to the shelter). Since Lake County Animal Shelter does not do field services, returning dogs to owners in the field is not something it can do. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter’s performance with lost dogs is among the best I’ve ever seen.

Lake County Animal Shelter makes great efforts to return dogs to their owners rather than taking the passive approach most shelters use. First, the shelter does thorough investigations when there is any potential lead on an owner. For example, the shelter may 1) contact microchip companies to find an owner of an animal with an unregistered chip and 2) look on social media for the owner or their relatives when the shelter doesn’t have current owner contact information. Similarly, if someone thinks the dog might belong to someone they only know the first name of, the shelter will search property records in the neighborhood. Additionally, the shelter has volunteer “pet detectives” that look at the shelter’s dog intake records and stray dog photos and match those with lost dog reports in the community (such as on lost pet Facebook pages). Finally, the shelter waives/reduces reclaim fees when the owner has a financial hardship, drives pets to owners homes if needed and allows owners to reclaim their animal before or after normal operating hours. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter actively tries to find pet owners under its “proactive reunification” program.

The shelter also uses several technological solutions to help owners find their animals at the shelter. First, the shelter offers $10 microchips to owners who reclaim their pets. Second, the shelter lists all stray dogs, cats and other animals, including photos, on the stray animals section of its web site. This web site section also contains a link to Finding Rover, which takes a photo of the pet that the owner uploads and matches it against a photo of that animal if its on the shelter’s web site. Third, the stray animals section of the shelter’s web site has a link to pawboost.com, which allows owner of lost pets and finders of lost pets to have the animals automatically posted to the lost and found pet Facebook page in the area. Fourth, people can directly schedule an appointment to reclaim their pet on this part of the web site. Finally, this web site section has a link to the ASPCA’s guide for helping owners find their lost pets. As a result, the shelter gives owners of lost pets great resources to help find their animals.

The following tables show how these programs collectively increased the number of dogs returned to owners and the percentage of dogs returned to owners after the shelter went no kill.

The potential impact of specific return to owner programs are detailed in the following table. The “Microchip” category likely reflects aggressive efforts to find hard to locate owners of pets with microchips as well as the $10 microchips the shelter offers to owners of reclaimed pets. The “Web” category includes people reclaiming their pets through the shelter web site, social media and an app, such as Finding Rover. Therefore, the stray animals web site section as well as the pet detective program likely impact these numbers. The “Adoption” category has return to owners where the shelter reduces the reclaim fee to the shelter’s much lower adoption fee and vets the animal as if it were adopted (i.e. spay/neuter, vaccinations, microchip, ID tag). Finally, the “Field” category reflects dogs that Lake County Sheriff’s animal control officers drove back to their owners. While its difficult to pinpoint the precise impact of every return to owner initiative, its clear these programs collectively increase owner redemptions.

High Powered Dog Adoption Program Drives Lifesaving

Lake County Animal Shelter’s dog adoptions skyrocketed after the shelter went no kill. In the no kill initiative’s first year, dog adoptions increased by 46%. By 2018 and 2019, dog adoptions increased 77% and 61% from the 2016 levels. While total dog adoptions decreased from 2018 to 2019, this was primarily due to the shelter taking fewer dogs in during 2019. On a percentage of outcomes basis, dog adoptions increased the dog live release rate by 15%, 20% and 19% in 2017, 2018 and 2019 from the 2016 metric. Thus, dog adoptions played a huge role in making Lake County Animal Shelter no kill.

The shelter does several things to increase adoptions. First, the shelter became much more welcoming to the public and has a “much more positive atmosphere.” Second, the adoption fees are low ($20 for dogs, $10 for cats and those adopting a second cat pay no fee). Additionally, the shelter places great efforts in offering an excellent adoption counseling experience. As part of that experience, the shelter and its volunteers get to know the animals well and make great matches between pets and people. Even with the shelter adopting out far more challenging animals than most facilities, Lake County Animal Shelter had a normal dog adoption return rate of 9% and an extremely low cat adoption return rate of 3%. Additionally, the shelter takes very engaging photos of their pets, and shares them on active and creative Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages as well as Petfinder and Adopt a Pet. Finally, the shelter gives adopters a chance to adopt animals for 24 hours before a rescue can take the pet. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter aggressively markets their pets and offers great customer services to adopters when they visit the shelter.

Lake County Animal Shelter also does not include breed labels on its cage cards. A peer reviewed study, which you can find here, found breed labels, particularly for pit bull like dogs, prolonged length of stay and reduced the adoption chances of these animals. While the shelter does include breed labels in the adoption paperwork an adopter receives, leaving the breed label off the cage card allows an adopter to fall in love with a dog without being negatively biased by breed. Thus, removing breed labels from cage cards helps the shelter adopt out dogs, particularly its pit bulls.

No Kill Equation programs that get animals out of the facility also assist Lake County Animal Shelter’s adoption efforts. The shelter’s very large foster program, which I discussed in my last blog, 1) allows potential adopters too see if animals are a good fit (i.e. trial adoptions), 2) gives animals, particularly longer stay dogs, a break from shelter stress and 3) gets young kittens that are vulnerable to disease out of the shelter. Lake County Animal Shelter makes it easy to foster by allowing people to apply online and also notifying individuals when animals are available for fostering. The “Wait-til-8” program has a similar effect of keeping young vulnerable kittens out of the shelter until they are older and highly adoptable. Thus, the shelter is able to help many vulnerable animals, whether its due to behavioral issues or susceptibility to disease, get/stay out of the facility or become placeable until people can adopt these animals.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s volunteer, managed intake and medical and behavior rehabilitation programs also help the shelter adopt out animals many other facilities would kill. As described above, these programs make the animals healthier and more adoptable.

The shelter’s excellent public relations and community involvement engages the public to adopt and help save lives. The shelter routinely appears on media, such as radio shows. In one great example, Whitney Boylston did a short video for a local newspaper talking about the shelter’s success and asking the public to adopt after the facility received an influx of animals. Another example is where the shelter talked with a local newspaper to ask the public to watch movies and eat popcorn with shelter cats (i.e. reduces stress to make cats less susceptible to disease and helps the cats become more socialized to make the animals more adoptable). In another example, the shelter teamed up with local firefighters on a local news channel to promote an adoption event. Similarly, the shelter’s Facebook page used creative videos to engage the community to foster, adopt pets that get delivered on Christmas under the Santa Paws program and adopt dogs from play groups. Additionally, Whitney Boylston reached out to the fire department for them to help build cat portals, which reduce shelter stress and risk of illness and help shelters adopt cats out quicker. Thus, the shelter’s strong outreach to the community significantly aids its adoption efforts.

The following table details the dog adoption subcategories from 2015 to 2019. While some of the groupings changed over the years, we can glean some interesting information. Over the years, the Pend HW TX adoptions, which is where the shelter adopts out a heartworm positive dog and the adopter must schedule a heartworm visit (the shelter tracks to see if treated or not), increased. The Pre program, which is where up to three people sign up to adopt a dog during the stray/hold period if the owner does not reclaim the animal, resulted in many adoptions after the shelter started the initiative in the last couple of years. Also, dogs adopted out of foster homes increased a lot in recent years likely due to the shelter’s large foster program. Finally, offsite adoptions, which take place at a local PetSmart, increased after the the shelter started the initiative in 2017.

Rescue Efforts Focused on Most Vulnerable Animals

While “rescue partnerships” are a key No Kill Equation program, shelters need to put parameters around them. Certainly, high kill shelters should allow rescues to pull any animal. On the other hand, no kill shelters only need rescues to pull the most vulnerable animals that the shelters cannot save or would have great difficulty doing so. Therefore, no kill shelters should institute policies to encourage rescues to save the most vulnerable pets, whether those animals are at the facility or at other shelters.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s policies and performance encourage rescues to save the most vulnerable pets. As mentioned above, Lake County Animal Shelter gives adopters a chance to adopt animals for 24 hours before a rescue can take the pet and also lets adopters reserve animals during the stray/hold period. These policies ensure rescues only pull animals that wouldn’t otherwise be quickly adopted out. Finally, Lake County Animal Shelter’s high live release rates encourages rescues to pull from other shelters that kill many animals.

The tables below show rescues pulling fewer dogs in total and on a percentage of outcomes basis after the shelter went no kill. In other words, Lake County Animal Shelter significantly increased its dog live release rate despite receiving less rescue assistance.

The dog transfers subcategories show rescues primarily pull vulnerable animals. Specifically, rescues mostly pulled dogs for medical and behavior reasons and nursing puppies and their mothers.

No Kill Cat Culture 

As I mentioned in my last blog, one can calculate the cat live release by including or excluding cats brought to the shelter and returned to caregivers under the Operation Caturday program. Under the “Operation Caturday” program, Lake County Animal Shelter neuters and vaccinates “unowned” and “free-roaming” cats and frequently returns the animals to caregivers or the locations where the cats were found without identified caregivers. In order to make an apples to apples comparison to prior years and present conservative figures, I excluded 226 cats (211 adults and 15 kittens) in 2018 and 636 cats (587 adults and 49 kittens) in 2019 from the outcomes in the tables below.

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat death rates massively decreased after the shelter went no kill. As the tables below show, the shelter’s cat death rate dropped from 44% just before the facility went no kill to just 9% in 2019. When we look at just adult cats, 51% of cats lost their lives in 2016 and under 10% lost their lives in 2019. Similarly, the kitten death rate decreased from 35% to 9% from 2016 to 2019.

The shelter’s decision to stop killing cats for behavior, such as being feral, significantly helped cats. Just prior to the shelter going no kill in 2016, Lake County Animal Shelter killed 25% of cats, 37% of adult cats and even 10% of kittens for behavior. In both 2018 and 2019, the shelter did not kill a single cat for behavioral reasons.

Lake County Animal Shelter also significantly decreased its killing/euthanasia of cats for medical related reasons. Overall, the shelter killed/euthanized 10-12% of cats for health reasons before it went no kill and only euthanized 4% of cats for medical reasons in 2018 and 2019. While the shelter euthanized significantly fewer adult cats for medical reasons after it went no kill, the drop in kitten killing/euthanasia from 13%-14% before the shelter went no kill to just 3% in 2018 and 2019 is notable. Most impressively, the shelter stopped taking in healthy strays after it went no kill. Therefore, the shelter took in a greater percentage of more challenging cats after it implemented the no kill policies. Clearly, the shelter’s veterinary care improved and the shelter’s commitment to not killing treatable animals became strong. Additionally, the “Wait-til-8” program that keeps vulnerable young kittens out of the shelter until they are older also likely contributed to the decreased kitten euthanasia for medical reasons in 2018 and 2019.

The shelter’s data on cats who died or went missing also shows the no kill effort’s success. Often, shelters going no kill will have a somewhat high number of cats dying due to the shelter making efforts to save animals that traditional shelters kill. Despite Lake County Animal Shelter going no kill, cats who died or went missing did not increase. In fact, the percentage kittens that died or went missing substantially decreased from 2016 to 2019. The “Wait-til-8” program almost certainly contributed to this.

As with dogs, the shelter stopped killing cats under the guise of “owner requested euthanasia” after it went no kill.

Despite Lake County Animal Shelter saving so many more cats, it did not reduce the number of cats going through its doors. While actual cat intake (which excludes 226 cats in 2018 and 636 cats in 2019 brought to the shelter and returned to caregivers) slightly decreased after Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill, the total number of cats the shelter impounded or helped through Operation Caturday was similar before and after Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill.

When we look at the cat intake numbers more closely, we see Lake County Animal Shelter took in more cats that needed sheltering. As the table below shows, Lake County Animal Shelter impounded significantly more owner surrendered cats after the shelter went no kill. When the public views a shelter as a safe place, those individuals are more likely to be willing to surrender their animals when they can’t care for them. On the other hand, stray cat intake, and especially feral cat and over the counter cat intake, significantly decreased. Shelters should not take in healthy stray cats who are not in danger since such cats 1) clearly are receiving good care in the community, 2) are far more likely to find their way home and 3) often experience stress and disease risk in even the best shelters. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter took in more cats that needed sheltering after it went no kill.

The cat intake data also shows how the Operation Caturday program saves lives. Based on my discussions with Whitney Boylston, the shelter often is able to redirect stray cats brought to the shelter by the public (i.e. “Stray OTC”) to Operation Caturday where the shelter sterilizes, vaccinates and returns the cats to their outdoor homes. When we examine the stray OTC data over the years, the decrease is almost entirely offset by the increase in the number of cats neutered, vaccinated and returned under the Operation Caturday program. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter is redirecting its resources to save cats now and in the future by investing in its community cat sterilization program.

Adoption and Return to Field Programs Save Cats 

The following table details what outcomes increased Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat live release rate from 2016 to 2019 (note some numbers in the “Change” column do not compute exactly due to rounding). As the table shows, the shelter adopted out many more cats and also released more cats to outdoor homes after the facility went no kill. While cats returned to owners did not increase, adult cats, which are likely harder for owners to find, did get returned to owners more often possibly due to the shelter’s lost pet reunification efforts discussed above. As with dogs, these live outcomes increased so much they more than made up for rescues pulling significantly fewer cats.

Cat Sterilization Program Saves Cats at and Outside of the Shelter

Lake County Animal Shelter’s return to field data shows this program saved significant numbers of cats. After the shelter went no kill, it started sterilizing, vaccinating and returning cats to their outdoor homes. In 2018, Lake County Animal Shelter created Operation Caturday and significantly increased the scale of this program. Under Operation Caturday, the public pays just $10 for the spay/neuter and vaccination services. As the tables below show, Operation Caturday had a significant impact on the adult cat live release rate.

The shelter also sterilized many additional cats through the Operation Caturday program. As mentioned above, I excluded cats brought by the public to the shelter for spay/neuter and vaccination services under this program. While these cats do not impact the shelter’s live release rate, these services do the following:

  1. Help limit future cat intake by reducing kitten births
  2. Significantly reduce outdoor kitten deaths, due to large percentages of newborn kittens typically dying outdoors, as a major study showed

If we counted these cats in the shelter’s outcomes, 19% of all cats and 32% of adult cats served by the shelter went through this program. When we add the cats returned to field counted in the statistics above, 22% of all cats and 38% of adult cats served by the shelter went back to their outdoor home spayed/neutered and vaccinated. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter implemented the No Kill Equation’s “High Volume, Low Cost Sterilization” and “Community Cat/Dog Sterilization” programs to help control cat intake at the shelter and reduce kitten deaths on the streets.

Cat Adoptions Dramatically Increase After Shelter Goes No Kill

Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat adoption data shows the shelter’s transformation after it went no kill. After going no kill, the shelter doubled its cat adoptions in total and more than doubled them on a percentage of outcomes basis. In fact, Lake County Animal Shelter’s cat adoptions have steadily increased on a percentage of outcomes basis in the years after the facility went no kill. As described above in the dog adoptions section, many initiatives increased cat adoptions.

The shelter’s adoption subcategories reveal the success of certain No Kill Equation programs. After Lake County Animal Shelter went no kill, the shelter reported many cats adopted from foster homes. While the shelter previously didn’t have this subcategory, the significant growth in the foster program certain contributed to these numbers. Additionally, the Pre program, which is where up to three people sign up to adopt a cat during the stray/hold period if the owner does not reclaim the animal, resulted in many adoptions after the shelter started the initiative. Also, the shelter adopted out working or barn cats after it went no kill. While these adoptions did decrease after 2017, this may be due to the shelter returning more sterilized cats to the community through the Operation Caturday program. Finally, offsite adoptions, which take place at a local PetSmart, increased after the the shelter started the initiative in 2017.

Rescues Take Cats Most Needing Help

Lake County Animal Shelter’s transfers data in the following tables show the shelter relying far less on rescues after it went no kill. While the adult cats transferred decreased significantly, the number of kittens transferred decreased much more. This is due to Lake County Animal Shelter adopting out more kittens as well as the shelter’s “Wait-til-8” program keeping vulnerable kittens out of the shelter.

As the tables below show, rescues primarily pulled cats with medical issues, cats who stayed at the shelter a long time and kittens that are typically vulnerable to disease in a shelter. Thus, Lake County Animal Shelter allowed rescues to focus on the cats most needing help.

Comprehensive Implementation of the No Kill Equation Makes Lake County Animal Shelter an Elite Facility

At the end of the day, Lake County Animal Shelter succeeds since it comprehensively implements the No Kill Equation. As the following table shows, Lake County Animal Shelter fully implemented the No Kill Equation. These programs responsibly reduce animal intake, improve animal care, increase live animal outcomes and generate community support to do so in a fiscally responsible manner. Simply put, Lake County Animal Shelter does what it takes to save lives and is a role model for all shelters to follow.

2018 Dog Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

In a blog from earlier this year, 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 animal holding capacity. Without having enough physical space and foster homes, 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 and nearby states 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 plus the amount of foster homes it should use 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 the shelter must send to rescues. 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.

This year I expanded shelter capacity to include the number of foster homes shelters should use. Based on a target American Pets Alive and other progressive shelter directors communicated at this year’s American Pets Alive Conference, shelters should have 3% of their annual dog intake in foster homes at any one time. These estimates are based on what several no kill animal control shelters already accomplish. Given fostering increases capacity and provides more humane care to animals, it is critical shelters have large scale foster programs. Therefore, I added 3% of each shelter’s annual dog intake to the shelter’s physical capacity.

For shelters with animal control contracts, I place 10% of all dogs that are not reclaimed by owners into the targeted sent to rescue category. Austin Pets Alive used data from Austin Animal Center, which is the local municipal shelter, to determine large dogs with behavioral challenges are part of the last 10% of animals losing their lives. While shelters can save most of these dogs through behavioral rehabilitation and/or foster programs, I decided to put an estimate of these dogs into the sent to rescue category since that is another good outcome for these dogs.

My analysis puts a cap on the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I want to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita dog adoption rate of around 25% to 70% of the level found at some of the nation’s best animal control shelters. Similarly, the unmodified model yielded a statewide pit bull per capita adoption rate (2.3 pit bulls per 1,000 people) that is not much more than the pit bull per capita adoption rate at one of the best animal control shelters in the country. In my opinion, New Jersey shelters could more easily achieve that per capita pit bull adoption rate given my model includes far fewer dogs from competing breeds than those in this role model animal control shelter.

My modified analysis capped pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people within each New Jersey county. In other words, the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adopted below are the lesser of

  1. Number predicted by model
  2. Number determined by capping pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in the county

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities. Given my model assumes 80% of rescued dogs are pit bull like dogs, my targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted are quite low as detailed in the section below. For example, shelters in counties where dog adoptions are capped have extra space that they do not use to adopt out other dog breeds.

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 animal 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 21,614 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2018, 10,684 and 1,619 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 1,619 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 from a space perspective.

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 11,394 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% in 2018 as follows:

  • New York City – 1,288 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 856 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 9,250 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 figures 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 2.7 dogs per 1,000 people in the state (1.4 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:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 15.3 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 9.4 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Lake County Animal Shelter (Lake County, Florida) – 5.2 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas) – 5.0 dogs per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out around two to six 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 0.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out around 1.5 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 2.0 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on the number of pit bulls impounded in 2014 as a percentage of total dogs impounded in 2014 and multiplying that number by the 9.4 dogs per 1,000 people adoption rate in 2018. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 1/6 of the number of dogs from other breeds to compete with in the New Jersey adoption market compared to the Longmont, Colorado area.

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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 tables below detail how many dogs should lose their lives at each state animal shelter per my model and the actual numbers of dogs that did. All missing or lost dogs are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Based on my review of a number of shelters’ underlying documents, virtually all of the dogs in the “Other” outcome category died or went missing. Shelters having the number of dogs losing their lives at or below my targets and above my targets are highlighted in green and red in the tables below.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Overall, 1,108 dogs needlessly lost their lives at New Jersey animal shelters in 2018 (i.e. the sum of all shelters killing too many dogs). 13 out of 92 or 14% of the shelters accounted for 83% of the dogs unnecessarily losing their lives under the model’s assumptions. Associated Humane Societies’ three shelters needlessly killed 219 dogs per the model or 20% of the total dogs unnecessarily dying in the state’s shelters. Trenton Animal Shelter, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Bergen County Animal Shelter and Paterson Animal Control, which all broke state law in recent years, needlessly killed 335 dogs per the model or 30% of the total dogs unnecessarily dying in the state’s shelters. Shelters with the greatest number of unnecessary dog deaths (assuming all dogs killed were local animals) are as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (158)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (142)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (121)
  • St. Hubert’s – Madison (116)
  • Humane Society of Atlantic County (69)
  • South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter (58)
  • Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center (53)
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter (39)
  • Paterson Animal Control (38)
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter (34)

Thus, the bulk of the dogs unnecessarily dying at New Jersey animals shelters occurs at a small number of facilities.

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Require Little Rescue Assistance

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. In an ideal world, rescues would take all shelter animals. However, due to limited numbers of foster homes, lesser ability to find foster homes due to many rescue organizations’ small sizes, and most rescues’ restrictive adoption policies, all shelters cannot heavily rely on rescues. The tables below compare 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, most New Jersey animal shelters require little rescue support if space-constrained facilities fast-track their most highly adoptable dogs. Shelter medicine experts advocate prioritizing the processing of highly adoptable animals to make the best use of space and reduce disease. For example, making sure these animals are the first to get spayed/neutered and vaccinated and receive microchips to ensure they can leave as soon as the shelter finds a good home.

51 shelters received too much help, 17 facilities received just enough assistance and 24 shelters received too little help from other animal welfare organizations. However, the excess dogs rescued (1,940 dogs) at shelters receiving too much assistance was far higher than the rescue deficits at other shelters (237 dogs) resulting in the state’s shelters sending 1,703 more dogs than needed to rescues and other animal welfare organizations. Some shelters, such as Elizabeth Animal Shelter and Paterson Animal Control, report transfers to rescues and other shelters as adoptions. While I made adjustments for these facilities based on my reviews of these facilities underlying records in past years, its certainly possible other shelters incorrectly reported their data (i.e. counting animals sent to rescues as adoptions). Nonetheless, the New Jersey shelter system as a whole is receiving enough rescue assistance, but some shelters are hurt by rescues pulling animals from less needy facilities.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull dogs from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the tables 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. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program, implementing a proper managed intake policy (i.e. where animals are impounded when in danger and waiting periods for owner surrenders are relatively short) 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.

In certain circumstances, it may make sense for shelters with excess space to send dogs to rescues. For example, a unique breed or a dog needing very specialized behavioral or medical rehabilitation. However, these cases are accounted for in my targeted sent to rescue figures for animal control shelters.

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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 tables below compare 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.

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 rescue oriented shelters may look better than they actually are.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 4 out of 92 shelters met the adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

A number of other rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets, but this may at least partially be due to inaccurate records and the types of dogs they impounded. Common Sense for Animals operates more like a rescue oriented than an animal control shelter. While this organization exceeded its adoption targets, the shelter’s figures were off by 128 dogs using the methodology outlined in another blog. Beacon Animal Rescue also exceeded its adoption target, but this is likely due to this organization rescuing easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey shelters. Thus, I believe these rescue oriented shelters’ high local dog adoption numbers were due to inaccurate records or these organizations selecting easier to adopt local dogs.

Tri-Boro Animal Welfare’s and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark’s higher than targeted local dog adoption results are a bit misleading. These facilities benefited from the method I used to cap adoptions in the county and reduce the adoption targets for these two shelters. For example, Tri-Boro Animal Welfare only reached 52% of its adoption target using my unadjusted model only taking the shelter’s physical space and targeted number of foster homes into account. Similarly, St. Hubert’s Noah’s Ark’s actual adoptions percentage of its targeted adoptions figure dropped from 271% to 111% when I looked at the unadjusted model. Since Morris County has many shelters that collectively have a very large capacity (i.e. very high adoption potential), my model reduces all Morris County animal shelters’ target adoptions to my county adoption cap. Therefore, these two shelters have relatively low dog adoption targets. Additionally, St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark may rescue a number of dogs from other St. Hubert’s facilities and those dogs may come from out of state. Thus, these shelters really didn’t do an excellent job adopting out local dogs.

Shelters adopting out the fewest animals in total relative to their targets were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,222 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Monmouth SPCA – 775 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park – 579 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Plainfield Area Humane Society – 532 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Tyco Animal Control – Paramus – 442 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Burlington County Animal Shelter – 441 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 396 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 388 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Paterson Animal Control – 387 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 384 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • St. Hubert’s – Madison – 281 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Shake a Paw-Union – 281 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Greyhound Angels – 278 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Montclair Township Animal Shelter – 273 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • New Jersey Humane Society – 250 fewer dogs adopted than targeted

Several shelters’ poor performance is quite predictable. Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Trenton Animal Shelter, Paterson Animal Shelter, Shake a Paw-Union, New Jersey Humane Society, Gloucester County Animal Shelter, Monmouth SPCA and Bergen County Animal Shelter had troublesome stories involving the shelters and/or prominent people affiliated with these organizations over the last several years. Tyco Animal Control-Paramus performed poorly due to this for profit company having a regressive view of animal sheltering. Shake a Paw-Union’s low local adoption numbers are also not surprising since it also operates a for profit pet store and transports almost all of its dogs it rescues from out of state. Similarly, St. Hubert’s-Madison, Monmouth SPCA, Greyhound Angels (due to it being a greyhound rescue oriented shelter) and Montclair Township Animal Shelter all transported in many dogs from outside of New Jersey during 2018. Burlington County Animal Shelter had a 200 local dog adoption decrease in 2018 due primarily to the facility sending more dogs to rescues and other shelters. Finally, Plainfield Area Humane Society’s local dog adoption deficit is quite disturbing since this organization could easily take on Plainfield’s dogs who currently go to the horrific and high kill Associated Humane Societies-Newark.

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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 states or other far away places. 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 92 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 45 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 that should have rescued dogs, only four shelters met or exceeded their local dog rescue targets. However, three of those shelters, Beacon Animal Rescue, St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark and Tri-Boro Animal Welfare, may not have truly helped the number of medium to large size local dogs they should based on these shelters taking easier to adopt animals and possibly out of state animals (i.e. St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark may have rescued out of state transported dogs from other St. Hubert’s facilities that originally came from the south).

As mentioned above, many shelters local rescue numbers are inflated due to these organizations cherry picking highly adoptable animals to rescue. 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.

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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 benchmarks.

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

Shelters should examine the reasons why their adoption numbers fall far short of these benchmarks. In some cases, shelters 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, American Pets Alive Conference’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.

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 2018 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. Additionally, I added 3% of each shelter’s annual dog intake to account for foster capacity shelters should use based on American Pets Alive guidelines. Thus, total dog capacity equaled the shelter’s capacity plus foster capacity.

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 the average of the 2018 dog intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • 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 hold and owner surrender protection 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 (except for space-constrained shelters) 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 adoption length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average adoption lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used pit bull adoption length of stay data from Greenhill Humane Society from March 2013 through May 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted pit bulls in the Greenhill Humane Society data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average dog adoption length of stay determined in the previous bullet and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • 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. 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.
  • Animal control shelters have a minimum of 10% of unclaimed dogs go to rescues. To the extent shelters transfer 10% of unclaimed dogs to rescues despite having space (i.e. reclassifying dogs from adoptions with a longer length of stay to rescues with a shorter length of stay), I do not require these facilities to use that space to rescue additional dogs.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s total 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 the adoption length of stay figures 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.
  • The targeted number of dogs rescued and adopted were capped at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of dogs adopted were set to equal to this cap using the pit bull percentage assumptions above. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of adoptions in the county to yield the targeted numbers of dogs adopted in the modified model. If the shelter also rescued animals from other shelters, the rescued numbers were also reduced since I assume rescued animals are adopted.

2017 Dog Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

In a blog from earlier this year, 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 and nearby states 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 the shelter must send to rescues. 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.

For shelters with animal control contracts, I place 10% of all dogs that are not reclaimed by owners into the targeted sent to rescue category. Austin Pets Alive used data from Austin Animal Center, which is the local municipal shelter, to determine large dogs with behavioral challenges are part of the last 10% of animals losing their lives. While shelters can save most of these dogs through behavioral rehabilitation and/or foster programs, I decided to put an estimate of these dogs into the sent to rescue category since that is another good outcome for these dogs.

My analysis puts a cap on the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I want to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita dog adoption rate of around 30% to 70% of the level found at some of the nation’s best animal control shelters. Similarly, the unmodified model yielded a statewide pit bull per capita adoption rate (2.0 pit bulls per 1,000 people) that is less than the pit bull per capita adoption rate at one of the best animal control shelters in the country. In my opinion, New Jersey shelters could more easily achieve that per capita pit bull adoption rate given my model includes far fewer dogs from competing breeds than those in this role model animal control shelter.

My modified analysis capped pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people within each New Jersey county. In other words, the targeted numbers of dogs rescued from other shelters and adopted below are the lesser of

  1. Number predicted by model
  2. Number determined by capping pit bull adoptions at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in the county

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities. Given my model assumes 80% of rescued dogs are pit bull like dogs, my targeted numbers of dogs rescued and adopted are quite low as detailed in the section below. For example, shelters in counties where dog adoptions are capped have extra space that they do not use to adopt out other dog breeds.

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 animal 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 22,391 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2017, 10,928 and 1,590 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 1,590 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 from a space perspective.

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 10,070 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% in 2017 as follows:

  • New York City – 1,304 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 935 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 7,831 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 figures 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 2.5 dogs per 1,000 people in the state (1.4 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:

  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 10.7 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 10.5 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada areas) – 8.5 dogs per 1,000 people
  • KC Pet Project (Kansas City, Missouri) – 6.5 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Humane Society of Fremont County (Fremont County, Colorado) – 5.8 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas) – 5.5 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Lake County Animal Shelter (Lake County, Florida) – 4.6 dogs per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out around two to four 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 0.5 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out around 1.4 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 2.2 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on the number of pit bulls impounded in 2014 as a percentage of total dogs impounded in 2014 and multiplying that number by the 10.5 dogs per 1,000 people adoption rate in 2017. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 1/8 of the number of dogs from other breeds to compete with in the New Jersey adoption market compared to the Longmont, Colorado area.

2017 New Jersey Dog Targeted Outcomes

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 tables below detail the estimated dog death rates. All dogs missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. As discussed in a prior blog, the estimated death rate includes “Other” outcomes as animals who died or went missing along with dogs reported as killed. Based on my review of a number of shelters’ underlying documents, virtually all of the dogs in the “Other” outcome category died or went missing. Shelters having estimated dog death rates equal to or less than and greater than 5% are highlighted in green and red in the table below.

The Humane Society of Atlantic County and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark had unusually high estimated dog death rates of 11% and 8% (St. Hubert’s estimated death rates reflect an adjustment for the organization’s Sister Shelter Waystation program discussed in this blog). These facilities’ estimated death rates are very high for rescue oriented shelters with no animal control contracts and raise serious questions about how life and death decisions are made by these organizations. The estimated death rates at other rescue oriented shelters, such as Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge and Animal Welfare Association (both had estimated dog death rates of 1%) are much lower than the Humane Society of Atlantic County and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark. Thus, the Humane Society of Atlantic County’s and St. Hubert’s-Noah’s Ark’s estimated dog deaths rate are extremely high for rescue oriented shelters.

Certain shelters may kill a larger percentage of local animals. Since a number of both rescue oriented and shelters with animal control contracts transport large numbers of highly adoptable dogs from out of state, its helpful to look at their estimated death rates for just local animals. Unfortunately, shelters do not provide data to precisely compute this local dog death rate. If we assume these shelters only killed the generally less adoptable local dogs, we can estimate the local dog death rate as follows:

Total Dogs Killed and in Other Outcomes (died, missing)/(Total Dogs Impounded-Total Dogs Transported In from Other States)

When we calculate this estimated local death rate, a number of shelters stand out. The Humane Society of Atlantic County’s estimated dog death rate rises from 11% to 21% under this calculation. Additionally, St. Hubert’s-Madison’s estimated dog death rate increases from 10% to 48% under this calculation. While these facilities may not be only killing local dogs and therefore may have lower local dog death rates, I think its very possible these shelters’ local dog death rates are significantly higher than their total estimated dog death rates in the tables below.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Specifically, 12 out of 93 or 13% of the shelters accounted for 80% of the estimated 1,507 dogs unnecessarily losing their lives under the model’s assumptions. In fact, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, which broke state shelter law left and right in 2017 per New Jersey Department of Health inspection reports, and Trenton Animal Shelter, which also violated state shelter law last year per a state health department inspection report, accounted for 31% of the dogs needlessly losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the greatest number of unnecessary dog deaths (assuming all dogs killed were local animals) are as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (338)
  • St. Hubert’s – Madison (138)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (134)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (128)
  • Camden County Animal Shelter (83)
  • Hamilton Township Animal Shelter (76)
  • Associated Humane Societies – Tinton Falls (66)

Thus, the bulk of the dogs unnecessarily dying at New Jersey animals shelters occurs at a small number of facilities.

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Require Little Rescue Assistance

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. In an ideal world, rescues would take all shelter animals. However, due to limited numbers of foster homes, lesser ability to find foster homes due to many rescue organizations’ small sizes, and most rescues’ restrictive adoption policies, all shelters cannot heavily rely on rescues. The tables below compare 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, most New Jersey animal shelters require little rescue support if space-constrained facilities fast-track their most highly adoptable dogs. Shelter medicine experts advocate prioritizing the processing of highly adoptable animals to make the best use of space and reduce disease. For example, making sure these animals are the first to get spayed/neutered and vaccinated and receive microchips to ensure they can leave as soon as the shelter finds a good home.

54 shelters received too much help, 17 facilities received just enough assistance and 22 shelters received too little help from other animal welfare organizations. However, the excess dogs rescued (1,743 dogs) at shelters receiving too much assistance was far higher than the rescue deficits at other shelters (232 dogs) resulting in the state’s shelters sending 1,511 more dogs than needed to rescues and other animal welfare organizations. Northern Ocean Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility received less rescue support than needed. However, neither of the shelters reported rescues taking any animals, which raises questions as to whether these shelters correctly reported their data (i.e. counting animals sent to rescues as adoptions). Nonetheless, the New Jersey shelter system as a whole is receiving enough rescue assistance, but some shelters are hurt by rescues pulling animals from less needy facilities.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull dogs from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the tables 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, implementing a proper managed intake policy (i.e. where animals are impounded when in danger and waiting periods for owner surrenders are relatively short) 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.

In certain circumstances, it may make sense for shelters with excess space to send dogs to rescues. For example, a unique breed or a dog needing very specialized behavioral or medical rehabilitation. However, these cases are accounted for in my targeted sent to rescue figures for animal control shelters.

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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 tables below compare 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.

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 rescue oriented shelters may look better than they actually are.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 10 out of 93 shelters met the adoptions goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

A number of other rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets, but this may at least partially be due to the types of dogs they impounded.  Common Sense for Animals operates more like a rescue oriented than an animal control shelter. While this organization exceeded its adoption targets, the shelter’s figures were off by 128 dogs using the methodology outlined in another blog. This makes me wonder if their adoption numbers were accurate. Somerset Regional Animal Shelter, which also operates more like a rescue oriented shelter than an animal control facility, exceeded its adoption target. However, this shelter appears to mostly rescue easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey animal shelters. Other rescue oriented shelters, such as Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter and Animal Welfare Association also exceeded their adoption targets, but this is likely due to these organizations rescuing easier to adopt dogs from New Jersey shelters. Thus, I believe most of these rescue oriented shelters’ high local dog adoption numbers were due to these organizations selecting easier to adopt dogs.

Pequannock Animal Shelter’s higher than targeted local dog adoption result is a bit misleading. This facility benefited from the method I used to cap adoptions in the county and reduce the adoption targets for these two shelters. For example, the shelter only reached 61% of its adoption target using my unadjusted model only taking the shelter’s physical space into account. Since Morris County has many shelters that collectively have a very large capacity (i.e. very high adoption potential), my model reduces all Morris County animal shelters’ target adoptions to my county adoption cap. Therefore, Pequannock Animal Shelter has a relatively low dog adoption target. Thus, this shelter really didn’t do an excellent job adopting out dogs.

Three animal control shelters deserve mentioning. Camden County Animal Shelter exceeded its adoption target by 40 dogs. As a large county shelter that includes a poor urban area, this is an impressive result. Similarly, Burlington County Animal Shelter, which also takes in many dogs, exceeded its dog adoption target by 82 dogs. Ewing Animal Shelter, which is operated by EASEL Animal Rescue League, adopted out 19 more dogs than its adoption target. Unsurprisingly, all three shelters had dog live release rates exceeding 90% in 2017 (Camden County Animal Shelter: 92%, Burlington County Animal Shelter: 96%, EASEL Animal Rescue League: 98%) and all three facilities provide either condensed or full statistics on their web sites.

Shelters adopting out the fewest animals in total relative to their targets were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 1,412 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Monmouth SPCA – 629 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park – 593 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Plainfield Area Humane Society – 486 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Bergen County Animal Shelter – 458 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Tyco Animal Control – Paramus – 388 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 383 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • St. Hubert’s – Madison – 338 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Shake a Paw-Union – 334 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Paterson Animal Shelter – 313 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Jersey Shore Animal Center – 310 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Cumberland County SPCA – 302 fewer dogs adopted than targeted
  • Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls – 300 fewer dogs adopted than targeted

Unsurprisingly, Associated Humane Societies has archaic adoption policies that make it more difficult to adopt than the procedures recommended from national animal welfare organizations. Furthermore, Associated Humane Societies-Newark, Associated Humane Societies-Tinton Falls, Trenton Animal Shelter, Paterson Animal Shelter, Monmouth SPCA, Paterson Animal Shelter and Bergen County Animal Shelter had troublesome stories involving the shelters and/or prominent people affiliated with these organizations over the last several years. Shake a Paw-Union’s low local adoption numbers are not surprising since it also operates a for profit pet store and transports almost all of its dogs it rescues from out of state. Finally, Plainfield Area Humane Society’s local dog adoption deficit is quite disturbing since this organization could easily take on Plainfield’s dogs who currently go to the horrific and high kill Associated Humane Societies-Newark.

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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 (except for Animal Alliance due to the shelter stating it primarily pulls out of state dogs from Pennsylvania). 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. 90 of the 93 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 41 of the 90 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 90 shelters that should have rescued dogs, the following shelters were the only facilities that met or exceeded their local dog rescue targets:

  1. Animal Adoption Center – 179 more dogs rescued than targeted
  2. Animal Welfare Association – 77 more dogs rescued than targeted
  3. Burlington County Animal Shelter – 76 more dogs rescued than targeted
  4. Somerset Regional Animal Shelter – 73 more dogs rescued than targeted
  5. Humane Society of Atlantic County – 32 more dogs rescued than targeted
  6. Ewing Animal Shelter (EASEL) – 21 more dogs rescued than targeted
  7. Beacon Animal Rescue – 19 more dogs rescued than targeted
  8. Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter – 12 more dogs rescued than targeted
  9. Harmony Animal Hospital – 10 more dogs rescued than targeted
  10. Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 5 more dogs rescued than targeted
  11. Trenton Animal Shelter – 4 more dogs rescued than targeted

As mentioned above, many of these shelters local rescue numbers are inflated due to these organizations cherry picking highly adoptable animals to rescue. 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.

Camden County Animal Shelter also deserves mentioning. This facility rescued 380 dogs from other New Jersey shelters last year. While this is an obviously good thing, this may have artificially decreased this shelter’s estimated local death rate by as much as 2% if it only pulled highly adoptable 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.

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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 benchmarks.

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

Shelters should examine the reasons why their adoption numbers fall far short of these benchmarks. In some cases, shelters 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, American Pets Alive Conference’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.

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 2017 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health.

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 the average of the 2017 dog intake data on New York Animal Care & Control’s and ACCT Philly’s web sites.
  • 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 hold and owner surrender protection 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 (except for space-constrained shelters) 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 adoption length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average adoption lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used pit bull adoption length of stay data from Greenhill Humane Society from March 2013 through May 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted pit bulls in the Greenhill Humane Society data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average dog adoption length of stay determined in the previous bullet and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • 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. 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.
  • Animal control shelters have a minimum of 10% of unclaimed dogs go to rescues. To the extent shelters transfer 10% of unclaimed dogs to rescues despite having space (i.e. reclassifying dogs from adoptions with a longer length of stay to rescues with a shorter length of stay), I do not require these facilities to use that space to rescue additional dogs.
  • 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 the adoption length of stay figures 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.
  • The targeted number of dogs rescued and adopted were capped at 2 pit bulls per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of dogs adopted were set to equal to this cap using the pit bull percentage assumptions above. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted adoptions in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of adoptions in the county to yield the targeted numbers of dogs adopted in the modified model. If the shelter also rescued animals from other shelters, the rescued numbers were also reduced since I assume rescued animals are adopted.