Shelter Pet Advocates: Math is Your Friend

How does this (fictional) blurb from a municipal shelter director grab you?

In July through September of this year, we killed 100 fewer pets than during the same quarter last year.  This represents tremendous progress for our shelter.  Yay team! 

Would you be inclined to donate money, services or supplies or offer other support for the shelter based on this announcement?

Many people are familiar with the phrase “comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges” and understand that a claim of killing 100 less pets must relate to something else in order to make sense.  In the statement above, the shelter director appears to be offering an appropriate “apples to apples” comparison by citing the same 3 month period from the previous year.  But what’s missing are the intake numbers for both periods – figures critical to determining the significance of the claim.

For example, let’s say the total number of pets killed for the quarter mentioned last year was 300 and this year was 200.  This represents 100 fewer total pets killed.  Let’s look at how different total intake numbers for the quarter impact the significance of the “tremendous progress” claim:

  • If the shelter took in 400 pets during last year’s summer quarter and 300 pets during the same quarter this year, that would work out to a kill rate of 75% for last year’s quarter vs. 67% for this year’s quarter.  Does this qualify as tremendous progress?
  • If the shelter took in 400 pets during last year’s summer quarter and 265 pets during the same quarter this year, that would work out to a kill rate of 75% for last year’s quarter and a 75% kill rate for this year’s quarter.  Does this qualify as tremendous progress when in fact it represents no change in the kill rate?  The shelter is still killing 3 out of 4 of its pets.
  • If the shelter took in 500 pets during last year’s summer quarter and 310 pets during the same quarter this year, that would work out to a kill rate of 60% for last year’s quarter and a 65% kill rate for this year’s quarter.  Does this qualify as tremendous progress when in fact it represents an increase in the kill rate?  The shelter is actually killing more of its pets relative to the total number coming in the front door.

This is why municipal shelters must be transparent with their statistics, preferably posting them online in detail or at least providing them upon request.  A single claim of killing fewer pets sounds good at first, but advocates must have full access to the detailed intake and outcome reports from the shelter in order to determine if they are being spun using a common PR ploy.

A shelter that is truly committed to lifesaving will always make its complete stats available to the public.  Any shelters that don’t are trying to hide something in my opinion.  And I don’t think they are attempting to cover up tremendous progress.

Leave a comment

6 Comments

  1. Math is only your friend if you are doing the right things. I agree that those who are reluctant to share their statistics probably do have something to hide.At the very least, they give that impression!
    Another powerful piece!

    Reply
  2. You’re absolutely right. The picture gets even clearer when you use the actual impound records, e.g., kennel cards, impound details, veterinary histories, behavioral notes, and other records, to tally the kill rates. I use those whenever I can get them because I can tell how many laws staff are violating, how long animals are actually being made available for adoption and to whom (e.g., “rescue only”), justification for killing, and a lot of other details.

    Getting the records is never that easy though. For all the talk about “improvements” and other bloated claims, it seems that directors of pet killing facilities, and other city/county officials, don’t want anyone to very their claims. They have as many excuses for not producing records as they do for killing animals.

    Reply
  3. alice in lala land

     /  December 13, 2012

    lies damn lies and statistics

    Reply
  4. I LOVE math!!!

    Reply
  5. Shirley… you just crack me up.. I just love you to pieces, I love the way you think and write. Question… what facility is this?

    Reply
  6. I will say that sometimes it presents a challenge — even if you’re doing things right. Most causal people don’t have a lot of interest in deep-diving into statistics and many don’t really even get that a 92% save rate is outstanding (WHY ARE YOU KILLING THE OTHER 8%!). It can be a challenge to have try to provide an accurate statistic in a soundbite (which is what most people have the tolerance level for).

    Reply

Speak!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 891 other followers

%d bloggers like this: