What Colorado’s Statistics Say About Transports

The great majority of the communities listed in the right sidebar of this blog have attained their high live release rates by placing animals within their own communities. There are some places, though, that rely heavily on sending animals out of the state to save them. For those of you who are not familiar with transports, they generally involve sending animals from shelters in the south to rescues and shelters in the north. Colorado is a major receiving state for transports, and it takes in thousands of animals per year from other states.

Transports are not easy – the trips often take 2 days (meaning that overnight accommodations must be found), a health certificate is usually required, and money must come from somewhere for gasoline, crates, etc. Transports used to be done by volunteers driving individual “legs” of 1-2 hours, which involved a lot of work in recruiting and coordinating the volunteers, but now they are often done with a large van and one driver who does the whole route. There are also private companies who will transport shelter animals for a fee. There is even a group called Pilots N Paws that uses volunteer pilots to fly animals.

In most cases, the animals who are transported are on the kill list of their sending shelter, so there is no doubt that transports are literally lifesaving for the great majority of the transported animals. Many people nevertheless object to transports because they fear that transported animals will take homes away from animals in the receiving communities and result in those animals being killed. What does the evidence say on this issue?

Fortunately, the state of Colorado collects detailed statistics for its animal care facilities, and since Colorado is also a state that receives many transferred animals, these statistics can tell us a lot about whether transferred animals take homes from animals in the receiving location. The Colorado reporting system has a “shelter” category that includes all shelters that receive impounded animals as well as some private organizations that have a centralized intake facility. (Rescues that do not have a centralized facility report in a separate category.) Thus, we have statistics available for public shelters in Colorado. If transports are resulting in local animals being euthanized, we should be able to see the effect in the numbers.

In 2012, impounding shelters in Colorado transported in 13,726 animals —  12,642 dogs and 1084 cats. (There were probably many thousands more who were transported in by non-impounding rescues, but those transports are not germane to our inquiry since rescues generally will not euthanize for time or space). As I discussed in an earlier post, Colorado had an overall 90% live release rate for dogs for 2012. With a live release rate that high, it is unlikely that very many, if any, local dogs were killed who could have been adopted but for the transports. We know from the experience of many shelters all over the United States that the difficulty in placing the last 10% of dogs is more a matter of finding resources than finding homes — the last 10% are generally animals who need medical care or training, or perhaps hospice or sanctuary.

In fact, the statistics definitively prove that, as least as far as impounding shelters are concerned, the transports of dogs into Colorado saved lives in 2012. As mentioned above, 12,642 dogs were received by impounding shelters. There were 8801 euthanasias of dogs in the entire state for 2012 by those shelters. Thus, even if we assume for the sake of argument that every single transported dog took away a home from a local dog, there were still 3841 net lives saved by the end of the year.

I think it’s safe to conclude, based on these numbers, that transports of dogs into Colorado took sales away from breeders rather than taking away homes from local shelter dogs. But what about cats? There were only 1084 cats transported into Colorado in 2012. Colorado is doing far better than most states with cats, in that it had a live release rate for cats of 79% in 2012. I think we would need to know more about the cats being transported into Colorado to make a judgment. If the cats are mostly purebred, it may be that they are taking sales away from breeders rather than homes from local cats. Still, the evidence in favor of the effectiveness of transports for cats is much less than for dogs.

Can we generalize from the experience in Colorado to make conclusions about transports nationwide? I think we can, because there does not appear to be anything that sets Colorado apart from the other transportation destination states that would make such a generalization invalid. There are a great many communities in the northeast that are at a 90% or more live release rate for dogs, and the northeast probably receives more transports than any other part of the country. So the same statistics that apply in Colorado probably apply to most destination communities.

I think this study shows statistical support for the conclusion that there is a shortage of adoptable dogs in certain areas of the country. I think the study also shows that transporters in general are being careful not to take homes away from adoptable animals. This is shown by the fact that in 2012, transporters brought only a few cats into Colorado, and did not bring in enough dogs to push the live release rate below 90%.

2 thoughts on “What Colorado’s Statistics Say About Transports

  1. Friends of Newark NJ Animal Shelter

    Thank you for the interesting analysis. Unfortunately, I cannot agree with the conclusions for a variety of reasons.

    The conclusion that no potentially adoptable Colorado dogs are being displaced is not correct IMHO. We need to back out transports from intakes to estimate the percentage of local dogs killed/euthanized in Colorado shelters. Under assumption almost all transports are not killed/euthanized, the live release rate based on Colorado intake is 89% (8,801 dogs killed/euthanized /94,361 dog intakes – 12,642 transports). In order to reach 90% live release rate on Colorado only dogs, you’d have to have only 8,172 Colorado dogs euthanizes/killed which works out to 629 Colorado dogs displaced and killed.

    However, the true number of Colorado dogs displaced and killed should be higher due to fact that using an average understates number of local adoptable dogs. For example, many Colorado shelters save well over 95% of their animals and presumably many other Colorado shelters have live release rates well below 90%. Therefore, you would need to to add up all the dogs killed at each Colorado shelter which has dog live release rates below 90%. For example, in New Jersey our dog live release rate is 87% and using an average 90% assumption for adoptable dogs killed would yield a figure of 1,074 adoptable dogs killed statewide. However, when I used this assumption on a handful of larger individual New Jersey shelters and added the numbers up the adoptable dogs killed statewide increased to 2,162 (more than double and would be even higher if I did calculation for all New Jersey shelters).

    While I agree with 90% being standard for designating an open admission shelter no-kill, I cannot support using that as an excuse to give up on the local dogs. As many Colorado shelters proved, saving 95% or more of animals is certainly possible. In fact, the largest no-kill community in the nation, Austin, is saving 95% of animals. Thus, I think shelters should continue to strive to increase local live release rates at least to 95% rather than taking easy way out and transporting easy to adopt dogs.

    While your calculation of net life saving impact of transports is important, I think it takes a short-term view. Specifically, I truly believe more animals are saved indirectly by no-kill community success than through actual animals directly saved. For example, when a specific community achieves 95% live release rates it puts political pressure and financial pressure (if poorly performing shelter is non-profit) on neighboring shelters to improve. If an entire state is saving 95% of its animals, it puts pressure on neighboring states to save 95% of their animals and so on. If shelters are simply rescuing easy to adopt animals haphazardly from different areas, that goal will be harder to achieve. Additionally, local shelter policies are easier to influence when you can get feet on the ground and face to face interactions. Personally, I prefer Animal Ark’s, Nevada Humane Society’s and Austin Pets Alive’s approach of using excess life saving capacity to help nearby communities.

    The transport issue hits close to home here in New Jersey. Our no-kill shelters largely pull dogs from down south and many of those dogs are direct competition for local dogs languishing or dieing in the very same shelters. Most of the transported dogs are puppies and their mamas of large breeds (and a significant portion are pit and pit bull mixes to boot) who clearly compete with our local large breeds. Volunteers at one local urban shelter, which takes in mostly pit bull type dogs and does not transport, tell me many people come in looking for a small dog and leave with a small pocket pit bull because they fell in love with that dog. This shelter despite extremely strict temperament testing, a tiny facility, and few financial resources achieved no-kill for its dogs last year. On the other hand, another local no-kill shelter with a small animal control contract who transports huge numbers of puppies/mamas from the south (about 8 times local strays impounded through animal control) has local dogs languishing for years in shelter.

    This is not to say Colorado should do no transports. However, I think they should be doing at most 1/3 of the level they are doing based on reaching an overall 95% statewide dog live release rate. That number will likely be even lower if we calculated the 95% on an individual shelter basis.

  2. Victoria Brooks

    Colorado is one of the states which has the shelters report their statistics to their state entity, not sure if it is the state veterinarian or the Dept of Agriculture, which tracks all of the shelters. Susan only reports the ones doing 90% or better on this blog, because that is what she focuses on. If New Jersey keeps track of that on a state level, I’m sure Susan would love her to get a copy of the report so she could see how communities are doing there.

    I don’t know if that would help as much in Colorado as lifting the BSL laws in several of the counties/locales in Colorado. I strongly believe that that would help. It is hard to find dogs homes when they are illegal to own.

    The No-Kill 90% standard is for all companion animals that a shelter intakes, not under the categorization of “adoptable”, thankfully. I have seen kill shelters killing 50% or more of the animals in their care saying that no “adoptable” animals were killed. So the number of animals that were killed includes true euthanasia, truly dangerous dogs, as well some unlucky healthy adoptable dogs that ran out of time or had problems that were fixable.

    The same argument has presented itself in Austin. Critics of helping other communities have said that until only the 2% that are truly aggressive or truly suffering, Austin shouldn’t be taking in animals from other communities. Unfortunately, doing so also limits life-saving capacities.

    Many of the dogs that are the “long stay dogs” at Austin Animal Center and Austin Pets Alive are big dogs with behavior issues, which are more expensive and harder to find homes for. Meanwhile, there is still a huge market for puppies (which Texas seems to never have a shortage of) and small dogs. The “undecided” pet owner (which we are trying to reach and have the most gain from) who is not committed to rescuing, if they only see big dogs and pitbull mixes may decide instead to go a breeder.

    Thankfully in Austin, they don’t have to because there are plenty of rescue groups who pull animals from all over Texas (starting with Austin first, of course) so they can find the cute, small and furries or the big, cute and furries, hopefully at Austin Animal Center but if not, at Austin Humane, APA or our numerous rescue groups who pull all over Texas. At Austin Pets Alive, they have mostly big adult dogs and overall more “pitbull mixes” (the puppies and small dogs are usually the ones from other communities and they usually go pretty fast). Some do fall in love with a dog even though it isn’t what they were looking for, but with others, no amount of convincing will help. I have seen counselors discuss dogs who were nearly perfect with someone looking for those exact traits but because it was a “pitbull” mix, the adopter was not interested.

    It is tragic that there are rescue groups that importing from across the country rather than looking in their own backyard first. Has anyone asked them why they don’t pull from their local AC? Is their local AC rescue friendly?

    I know that down here, there are shelters who try to get every animal alive. They will give rescues, free of charge fully worked up animals – vaccs, spay/neuter, etc. and live by the mantra “any animal at any time.” Others will charge the rescues the adoption fee as a “pull” fee and do nothing in terms of medical and wait until the “adoptables” are kill-listed to be released to rescue. Some will go as far as refusing to work with rescues and killings dog that the rescues have shown interest in. You can guess who has the higher live release rate.

    I’m glad there are people out who are fighting for the local dogs and who question transports. After all, someone *should* do it.

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