December 13, 2012
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.
November 13, 2012
Where do you come down on the issue of characterizing people with pets – Owners? Guardians? Something else? Do you believe if animal laws include the word “owner” or “guardian”, pets will benefit? In addition to the legal ramifications, what does our word choice in this context say about our society’s relationship with pets?