The state of Virginia has posted a statistics summary for 2014 for the public shelters and intake rescues that report to it. With a little modification, these statistics can be used to calculate a live release rate for the state as a whole for the year and make some other conclusions as well.
First of all, net intake (intake with intra-state transfers subtracted out) was down for the third year in a row. It was 194,408 in 2014 versus 214,159 in 2013 and 224,145 in 2012. That’s an average shelter intake in 2014 of 23 pets per thousand people (PPTP) for the state, down from 27 PPTP in 2012. The 2014 PPTP number of 23 is right about average for the nation as a whole. Virginia has a large metro area near the District of Columbia with low PPTP, though, so that means that some shelters in more rural areas of the state still have high intake.
The live release rate for the year, again leaving intra-shelter transfers out of the calculation, was 71%. This is up from 65% in 2013 and 61% in 2012, so that’s good news. What is not so good is that all or almost all of the reduction can be accounted for by the lower number of animals coming in to the shelter. That means that the main reason the Virginia numbers are improving on average is that fewer animals are coming in, not that more animals are getting out alive.
Adoptions have increased only slightly at 88,897 in 2014, 87,836 in 2013, and 85,194 in 2012. Those are adoption-per-thousand-people (APTP) rates of about 11. While a rate of 10 or more APTP is considered high for traditional shelters, No Kill shelters often have substantially higher APTP. The entire state of Colorado, for example, had an APTP of 17 in 2013.
The return-to-owner (RTO) rate for Virginia shelters in 2014 was 30% of strays, although that number may be a little overstated because Virginia has a rather large “other” intake category that may include some strays. The breakdown by species is 49% RTO for dogs and 6% for cats. Those rates are better than for traditional shelters. Some No Kill shelters have even higher rates, but Virginia’s RTO numbers are not bad.
Why is Virginia lagging behind Colorado, which had an 89% live release rate in 2013 and may well have gone over 90% in 2014? (We won’t know Colorado’s numbers for 2014 until the PACFA reports come out, which usually happens in June.) I don’t know for sure, but I suspect the reasons are differences in climate, terrain, economics, and possibly public attitudes toward animals. Colorado’s climate and terrain are more hostile to free-roaming pets than Virginia’s, which would presumably lead to less reproductive success. Virginia is very much a have and have-not state when it comes to wealth and education levels. Virginia has a lot of wealthy people, but they are concentrated in the District of Columbia metro area. Shelters in rural areas of the state have less money and less access to talent. The same stratification between northern Virginia and the rest of the state exists in education levels, and may affect the value that people place on the lives of dogs and cats.
Given the lackluster current performance of many Virginia shelters, what can Virginia do to get to No Kill? First of all, they need to improve cat live releases. In 2014, Virginia shelters killed 43% of the cats they took in. In the old days of pet overpopulation back in the 1970s, spay-neuter for owned pets was an all-hands-on-deck effort, and rightly so. Today, our problems are different, because the great majority of people have already spayed and neutered their owned pets. Today what we need to work on most of all, and what should be the all-hands-on-deck effort for our generation, is TNR/SNR for community cats. Virginia is killing tens of thousands of cats each year – almost twice as many cats as dogs. If Virginia shelters were able to implement the 5 initiatives of the Million Cat Challenge, the number of cats killed could be dramatically slashed. Nothing is easy in animal sheltering, and there are legal and institutional barriers to the new cat paradigms in many places, but this is where the potential for a big payoff lies.
Virginia’s live release rate for dogs in 2014 was 81%. Virginia is right on the I-95 and I-81 transport corridors, so I was surprised to see that only 7.5% of dogs who were taken in by reporting shelters during 2014 were transported out of state. Of course it’s better to place animals in the community when possible, but it may be a long wait for change in some rural shelters and transports can save the dogs right now. The Virginia Federation of Humane Societies is working on a program to increase transports.
Differences in climate, terrain, wealth, and education occur all over the United States, and they make No Kill much harder to achieve in some areas than others. The great thing about transports and the Million Cat initiatives is that they can work anywhere, even in the have-not areas. You do not need a lot of money or local talent to start using managed admission, capacity control, or transports. SNR can be expensive, but there are more and more grant programs for SNR as the large national organizations see the spectacular results such programs have achieved.