From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1993:

I have questioned the validity of
the national shelter statistics for more than
10 years. After discussing the issue with
the late Phyllis Wright in the early 1980s,
and with her support, we organized a work-
shop on the question at the Tufts Center for
Animals and Public Policy in 1984. The
workshop included the AHA, MSPCA,
HSUS, and ASPCA, plus a number of
local shelters known to have good statistics
and quality programs. As a result of the
workshop, I concluded that the animal
overpopulation problem had been dramati-
cally reduced, from shelters killing 20% of
the national owned dog and cat population
in 1973 to only 10% in 1982. As far as I
can tell, my claim for this progress has
been virtually ignored by nearly everyone
in the business, Phil Arkow being a notable
exception. Certainly no one has ever tried
to challenge it.

The workshop also found that no
one had any data that could convincingly
demonstrate what actions had led to the
decline. The tragedy is that almost 10 years
later, we have increasingly convincing evi-
dence that the situation has improved even
further, to 5% of the national owned dog
and cat population being killed in shelters,
and we still have no data to indicate what is
I appeal to all shelter operators
and to the national groups to recognize the
importance of collecting relevant data and
to support such activities with real people
hours and funding. We need to collect data
on such factors as trends in the sterilization
rates of cats and dogs, the sources of
owned cats and dogs, what subsets of the
human population record high turnover
rates, what proportion of dogs and cats in
shelters are unadoptable and what criteria
are used to decide that, and so on.
The amount of unexamined
dogma in the field of shelter numbers and
national companion animal demographics is
horrifying. Many people still wrongly
believe that dog ownership is relatively sta-
ble and cat ownership is going up. In fact,
using AVMA surveys, one can show that
over the last 10 years household dog owner-
ship rates have declined by 15% and cat
ownership rates by 3.5%. The total number
of dogs has remained more or less stable
and cats have increased only because the
total number of households in America has
increased over the same period.
We cannot plan for the future
without much more sophisticated data gath-
ering and analysis to identify which initia-
tives have an impact and which do not.
Every shelter that aspires to be professional
and well-managed needs to start surveying
the market for its services and understand-
ing what the trends are, so that it can antici-
pate and prevent unwanted developments
and promote the desired outcome: no
euthanasia of healthy animals. We are clos-
er to that goal than ever before, and I per-
sonally believe it is not productive to pre-
tend that we are back in the early 1970s.
As a donor, I like to think my
donations are leading to improvements,
rather than simply maintaining the same old
crisis situation.
[Rowan is director of the Center
for Animals and Public Policy at the Tufts
University School of Veterinary Medicine in
Westboro, Massachusetts.]
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