Michigan is one of the handful of states that (1) require shelters in the state to report their statistics and (2) make the reports available online. The Michigan Pet Fund Alliance has kept track of these statistics for years, and recently they’ve released a summary covering the nine years from 2007 to 2015.
The statistics show a big decline in shelter euthanasia, from 118,369 in 2007 to 27,250 in 2015. That’s a drop of 77%. A survey of most-improved shelters that the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance did recently showed that the shelters attributed their success to a change to a “compassionate director.” While a change to a new director may well have been a factor in some shelters in the state, the statistics show a quite different story for the state as a whole.
According to the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance report, about 88% of the drop in the number of animals killed from 2007 to 2015 was due to fewer animals coming into Michigan shelters. Only 12% of the drop in shelter killing was due to more animals going out the door alive. Thus, the reason that Michigan shelters improved so much since 2007 was largely because shelters had fewer animals to start with, not because of any big increases in adoptions and return-to-owner.
I reached out to Deborah Schutt, head of the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance, and asked her if she had any ideas about why shelter intake had dropped so much between 2007 and 2015. The first thing she mentioned in response was low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter programs. She pointed out that All About Animals Rescue (AAAR), which was founded in 2005, has been doing almost 25,000 surgeries per year, including TNR and return-to-field. Shelter intake in the county where AAAR is headquartered has dropped from 8,023 to 2,400 since 2009. Michigan’s shelter intake in 2015 was about 14 animals per 1000 people, which puts it on the low end of the average range of intake. In 2007, intake was about 23 animals per 1000 people, which is considered to be average.
Some people have the misconception (no pun intended) that spay/neuter programs were an invention of No Kill. That’s incorrect. Although No Kill embraces spay/neuter programs, the big campaign to get people to spay and neuter their pets was started by humane advocates and the traditional shelter industry circa 1970, before the No Kill movement existed. At about the same time, shelter intake in the United States began to plummet. Shelter intake is thought to have been static in the U.S. as a whole since around the year 2000, but Michigan demonstrates that there is still more to be gained, at least in some places, by low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter programs.
Pet retention programs can also reduce intake. Roughly half of shelter intake on average is owner surrenders, and some pet retention programs have claimed high rates of success. Managed admission can also reduce intake, as experience has shown that many owners are able to find a new home for their pets themselves, especially when the shelter helps them arrange a social media campaign or referral to a rescue. It is unclear whether such programs have been widespread enough in Michigan in the years from 2007 to 2015 to have contributed much to the fall in intake.
It’s interesting that shelter intake in Colorado increased a small amount — about 3% — from 2007 to 2015, during the same period when shelter intake in Michigan was dropping by 37%. Yet Colorado today has a higher average live release rate than Michigan. This reinforces the idea that No Kill progress can be made in a variety of different ways. It may be that one of the reasons that shelter consultants have such a good success rate in improving community live releases is that they know how to look at the whole picture and see what needs to be changed. For a small shelter run by a non-profit in a resort or college town, a director with good marketing and management skills may be all that’s needed, and the transition to No Kill may be quick. In a city like San Antonio or Dallas with a serious stray problem, low spay/neuter rates, and low return-to-owner rates, one or more large, non-profit partners and an aggressive spay/neuter program may be needed. No Kill may take years to achieve in those tougher circumstances.
The Michigan Pet Fund Alliance is having their annual conference next week. They deserve kudos not only for collating shelter statistics all these years, but also for telling Michigan shelters how they are doing and giving awards to high-performing shelters. Their work has no doubt been part of the progress in Michigan.