Changes To Listing Criteria?

Dear Readers —

You may recall that I recently listed St. George, Utah, as a 90%+ shelter in the right sidebar. The listing was based on statistics for the St. George shelter for calendar year 2013 that were sent to me by Best Friends. A few days after I posted the listing I received an alert that referenced a recent article about the St. George shelter referring to problems in the past when the shelter was under previous management. I wasn’t too concerned about the article, because I thought the change in management must have happened before 2013 since the Best Friend’s statistics showed a 97% live release rate in 2013. I was curious about it, though, so I searched the author’s name to find the previous article.

Well, it turns out that new management did not take over until the summer of 2013, and the deficiencies described in the article under the old management included heartsticking, along with other serious and cruel practices. It sounds as though the St. George shelter was a nightmare for the first half of 2013, until new management took over and turned it around. Since my listing was for the entire year of 2013, I have deleted the listing.

I want to emphasize that St. George now has a new shelter manager and there is ample evidence that they have turned around and currently are saving over 90%. I cannot list them as a 90%+ shelter for 2013, though, because (a) I don’t trust the statistics for the first half of 2013 that were compiled under the old, bad management, and (b) the new management has not gone through a kitten season yet. I hope I’ll be able to re-list St. George next year based on their 2014 calendar-year statistics if their new management keeps up the good work.

I also want to emphasize that I think Best Friends provided me the statistics in good faith and that it was my failure to do adequate research that led to the listing being made in the first place. Lots of people provide me with statistics, and I appreciate that because sometimes it’s the only way I have of becoming aware of a good shelter. But it’s my responsibility to check out each situation thoroughly and I failed to do that with St. George.

This incident is as good a time as any to ask a question that I’ve been mulling over for a while. Should I restrict listings in the right sidebar to those shelters that have made their statistics available as public information, either by posting statistics online or by submitting them to a reputable database such as Maddie’s Fund or a state agency? I think that shelters are likely to be more careful and accurate with statistics that are made available to the general public than they are with statistics sent privately to a blogger. If I go the route of requiring a public listing of statistics, it will mean delisting quite a few communities who have been sending me their statistics privately. These are mostly small shelters whose websites do not allow for much flexibility.

What do you think? Should I get tougher with transparency requirements, or leave things as they are? You can leave a comment or e-mail me at the address listed on the “contact” page above.

9 Comments

  1. Honestly, I think the shelter statistic reporting system needs an overhaul. I’d suggest keeping shelters who send you data privately provided it gives details of intakes and outcomes by dogs and cats separately. However, I’d perhaps have a separate category for transparent no kill communities who provide publicly available detailed statistics.

  2. If they send you the stats on their official letterhead or email account, and give you permission to share them, and they are told you will upload their exact communication as a PDF, and then you do that and also link to it in the post, then I think you’ll weed out most or maybe all the fakers.

    • With most of the small shelters the problem isn’t so much that they’re trying to fake things, it’s just that they don’t keep stats in standard formats and don’t understand what I need for the blog. For example, I exchanged 17 e-mails with one person earlier this year to try to get clarification on stats for her small shelter. I have no doubt that she was doing the best she could, but there are so many things like how feral cats are handled, whether euths include ORE, whether returns in the field are counted, whether percentage of RTO is calculated from strays or from total intake, etc. etc. and sometimes I just don’t get answers to those questions. They don’t have fancy software and have never been trained in the intricacies of keeping shelter stats. One time when I asked a guy about a high “lost” number I was told it was a colony of feral cats that had taken up residence behind the shelter. Made perfect sense to him.

  3. I think you should keep it as is. Providing links to it when you have them is great and advising what has been reported and how (as people may look harder at those stats) is good as well. I personally think that enough people read this blog that if something doesn’t sound right, people in the community (particularly the rescue community) will personally point it out. Kind of like Wikipedia. That being said, I understand that it is a credibility issue and its good to get a bunch of ideas on how to maintain that. It is a valid concern with many shelters claiming “no-kill” with kill rates of 50% and upwards qualifying it with “healthy, adoptable pets”. Yeah right.

    While the general community may get snowed by fakers, communities that are No-Kill have plenty of volunteers, rescue people and others that they work with that things like that can’t be hidden for long.

    In a perfect world, there would be a standardized system and all shelters would be required to post them online to make them available to public. (Dare to dream, right?)

    Thanks for owning it once you found out and delisting appropriately. I think it speaks volume to the credibility of this blog.

  4. I like the idea of having a confidence/quality index for the 90% or better shelters, with 1 being publicly published data, with a link, and 2 being privately communicated data…

  5. I feel really conflicted about this. Here in north Texas, we’ve had to work very hard – often against the wishes of most of shelter staff – to put the shelters in the No Kill column. Thanks to a city council vote and overwhelming public support, the animals are happy and safe, but statistics are often an afterthought to these shelters. They freely give me their statistics, but I have to request the numbers each and every month. There is at least one shelter in our area that is a poseur, telling its citizens about its 90% save rate while still killing for space. They’ve never given me any stats to back up their claim. On the other hand, we now have several shelters which are trying very hard to become No Kill, but they are staffed with only one or two overworked employees. The shelter in Commerce, Texas, has one employee to handle an annual intake of over 3,000 pets. (Thanks to the efforts of No Kill Hunt County, the Commerce shelter went from a 10% save rate in February to 90%+ in March and April. The stats are slippery, because the one employee has never kept records on cats.) At this point, I’m happy these shelters are working to keep pets alive by organizing adoption events and marketing their pets. I know we need accurate statistics to measure where we stand, but I’m satisfied with saving lives at these small underfunded shelters for the time being. Even though stats are hard to come by, the No Kill bandwagon is gaining a lot of traction in our area.

    • Hi Michael – I could continue to list your communities in the right sidebar, but the stats they give you would need to be collated into annual form, put onto the basic matrix or another standard form, and accompanied by a statement from the shelter director that they were the statistics for the stated year and that I had permission to post the information on my blog. Otherwise, if that’s not possible, I could continue to list your shelters, but on the Worth Watching page instead of the right sidebar. The Worth Watching page seems to be as popular as the right sidebar, so your shelters could continue to get recognition that way if they don’t meet the standards for a full listing.

  6. Thanks Susan. I was attempting to express my inner conflict. I firmly believe that accurate shelter statistics are extremely important…that’s why I ask for reports from the shelters in our area every month. On the other hand, so many of the shelters we work with are so underfunded and understaffed that – for the time being – I’d prefer them to save lives instead of worrying about making certain every matrix is completely accurate. Thank you for your understanding!

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