Animal Rescue – Transparency of Statistics

Caveat: I know animal rescue saves lives but…

I am always shocked that in the USA even the experts have to guess the number of cats and dogs that are “euthanised” each year. The figure is somewhere between 2 and 5 million cats a year as far as I can tell. But I don’t know and no one knows the exact figure. Also no one knows the percentage of healthy, adoptable cats killed to the total taken in by shelters.

The very use of the much used word “euthanasia” is strongly indicative of the desire of animal rescue organisations to shy away from transparency of data. I am sure people realise by now that the verb “to euthanise” (euthanize in American English) refers to the humane killing of a sick animal suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition. In other words it is killing when it is better to kill. But it appears that the vast majority of animals killed at shelters are healthy and adoptable. Shelters should refer to these deaths as killings. It is a hard word to digest which is good because if it can’t be digested the killing might stop.

Sammy a rescue cat

Sammy looks healthy. What happened to him? Photo by Mendocino County Animal Care Services

In the animal rescue world (business) the word ‘euthanise” is a euphemism and “euphemisms are misnomers used to disguise or cloak the identity of ugly facts”. (note: even the words, “shelter” and “rescue” are misleading. You can’t kill 70% of the cats in your care and call it rescue).

The trouble is that the lack of transparency of animal shelter statistics goes well beyond the misuse of the verb “to euthanise”. The Asilomar Accords of 2004 are an attempt to get animal rescue organisations working together to improve animal welfare and one aspect is to improve transparency of statistics. The participating organisations do publish statistics. However the Accords “allow shelters to report numbers that do not include entire categories of animals…”1 It also appears that requests by cat owners that their cat be killed or euthanised at a shelter go unreported. They don’t form part of the statistics. Another aspect is the assessment of cats and dogs that are deemed fit to be adopted.

A cat shelter might deem that a cat with ringworm is unadoptable and put the cat down. That form of behavior would seem to mask the true state of animal rescue success because ringworm is treatable and should not be a bar to adoption. There will be similar example with respect to dog behavior characteristics that are deemed to make a dog unadoptable.

Accordingly, even animal rescue organizations who are committed to providing statistics don’t provide totally transparent figures. That is probably worse than not providing figures at all.

There is a requirement to provide raw unadulterated figures that hurt! Only then can improvements be made.

Of course shelters are reluctant to provide raw transparent data because they are fearful that it will hurt their operation. Perhaps funding will dry up etc. This is entirely understandable. This attitude points to one of the root problems. Animal rescue is a form of business. There is competition between organisations. If all parties cooperated and disclosed accurate data in a total transparent and raw way none would suffer loss by the disclosure unless they were badly out of step with the others. The Accords tried to create greater cooperation but more needs to be done. Is there a need for legislation to enforce rescue organisations to act?

I can remember a study that was carried out by some loyal visitors to PoC that was organised by a veterinarian (forgive me but I have forgotten her name and I can’t find it). The idea behind the study was to see how many cats at shelters were declawed – i.e. relinquished to shelters as declawed cats. The purpose was to provide a counter argument to the vets who declaw, who say that declawing prevents relinquishment and death. I innocently said we should ask the cat shelters for the figures. I was advised that they would not provide them. In the end people like Ruth (AKA Kattaddorra) went to the Petfinder website and got the information there. Perhaps Ruth can clarify and add to this example.

The point I am making is that the shelters didn’t want to be transparent or assist even when it benefited cat welfare – shocking isn’t it?

There is an unhealthy stability in the yearly killing rate of cats in the USA at shelters. Transparency of information from shelters would disrupt this stability and begin to bring it down because the public are being deceived and tranquillized into accepting the situation. It is akin to the tranquillisation of the public in respect of declawing. The very word “declawing” is another “pet euphemism” that completely cloaks the truth of the ghastly operation, the removal of the last phalange (length of bone from last joint) of the cat’s toe.

This lack of accuracy and transparency which appears to be endemic in the pet world, which is overly commercialized, extends beyond burying information. It includes exaggerations. I am referring (again!) to Caboodle Ranch (CR). The website refers to and links to a webpage on Psychology Today: The title is “Nearly 1000 Sick Cats Seized at the Caboodle Ranch Cat Sanctuary“.

Isn’t this title an exaggeration and distortion of the facts? I am not defending CR. This article is not about CR. It is about accurate information concerning animal rescue. Psychology Today are saying that all of the cats at CR were sick. Wrong! This has to be incorrect unless your definition of the word “sick” has been judiciously extended. Also at no time have I seen the figure of 1000 cats at CR. The reports are of ‘nearly 700’. As I recall 692 were recovered. “Many” were suffering from severe upper respiratory infections and other illnesses.

We are not told of the percentage of sick to apparently healthy cats (unless I have missed that figure somewhere). Psychology Today seem to have exaggerated the information from Huff Post (Green) who write of, “Caboodle Ranch’s 700 Sick Cats..” ASPCA refers to “600 Cats from Caboodle Ranch Receiving Medical Care”. Receiving medical care is not the same as a cat being ill. A cat going in for a check up receives medical care.

I just think there is far too much internet hype and antagonism between various groups surrounding CR and not enough calm analysis, cooperation and transparency of accurate statistics. In the animal rescue business – and it is a business, make no mistake – transparency of statistics would improve the welfare of cats. There is no doubt about that. Do the animal welfare organisations want to improve the welfare of cats?

Link to photo on Flickr.

Reference: 1. page 149 of Redemption by Nathan J Winograd. ISBN: 978-0-9790743-1-8

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Animal Rescue – Transparency of Statistics — 2 Comments

  1. The studies 3 UK volunteers did on declawed cats in Shelters, was for Dr Jean Hofve DVM.
    She asked for volunteers and there were 3 of us here in the UK, Barbara, Michele and me, not one American volunteered.
    It was tedious and heartbreaking work, daily at first then twice weekly,around 2 years in total I think we did it. We saw the same poor cats stuck in cages without hope, we saw cats on our lists disappear, not much hope they were adopted, they were probably killed.
    But we did the work for our love of cats!
    I don’t know what Jean has done with the data as we heard no more after she thanked us and told us we could stop.
    We also did a weekly study on why cats were relinquished to Shelters, that was an eye opener and how I know that many people use the most flimsy excuses and give unbelievable reasons.
    Education is desperately needed in that a cat isn’t just a passing fancy to be dumped if it gets inconvenient to have him around.
    Until every one starts taking responsibility for the innocent lives they have in their power, people will go on dumping their cats, the Shelters will overflow and the poor creatures will continue to be KILLED through no fault of their own.
    TRUE cat lovers need to stop bickering and aportioning blame and help get it known what is happening and help get it stopped because until then healthy cats will continue to be killed to make room for more dumped the same way.

    • Ruth, Babara and Michele, you deserve a big pat on the back for the work you did in that study for Jean Hofve. But why don’t we know what Jean did with the data you collected? I think you should see it. In fact I know you deserve to see it.

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