August 12, 2010

Closer look at numbers driving debate over Racine's animal shelter

Want to help? P'Jamma needs a home. 
At least 80 people gathered in Sturtevant Wednesday night to discuss alternatives to Countryside Humane Society in light of recent allegations of mistreatment of animals and the shelter issuing over 600 expired vaccinations to local pets. Beth over at Racine Uncovered was at the meeting last night and has a good write-up of what happened.

One small, but important, aspect of the story are the numbers flying around about how many animals Countryside euthanizes each year. After looking closely at 2009 data from Countryside, it appears most reports - including one on RacinePost - have been high.

Ald. Eric Marcus, who is leading efforts against Countryside, says the shelter euthanized 62% of the animals that came into its care last year from the city of Racine. If you look at the numbers, it's easy to see how you would arrive at that percentage.

One chart of "Field Activity" shows Countryside brought in 2,063 animals from the city in 2009. A second chart of "Outgoing Method" shows 1,281 city animals were euthanized. If you divide the two together, you get 62%.

But this isn't an accurate reflection of what's happening inside of Countryside. First, "Field Activity" does not account for all of the animals brought into Countryside. A chart of "Incoming Method" shows 2,403 city animals were brought into Countryside in 2009 - 340 more than the "Field Activity" chart shows. It's unclear why there is a discrepancy, but we'll go with the higher number because it is specifically broken down into categories of how animals were brought in (categories include: Abandoned, Rescued, Returned, Seized, Stray, Surrendered for Euthanasia, Surrendered).

Also, of the 1,281 city animals the shelter put down in 2009, 56 were wildlife and 213 were specifically surrendered for euthanasia. If you subtract those animals out, the number of euthanized animals drops to 1,012. (It's arguable whether animals surrendered for euthanasia should be included. The shelter lists 246 animals were surrendered for euthanasia, but only 213 were actually put down. It appears Countryside can still adopt out animals dropped off by owners to be euthanized.)

Using the adjusted numbers of 1,012 animals euthanized divided by the 2,403 city animals brought in, you get an euthanized rate of 42 percent. That's significantly lower than the number Marcus is citing and the 50% number we reported earlier.

It also puts Countryside's self-reported number of a 36 percent euthansia rate for all of Racine County within the realm of possibility. Presumably there are fewer abandoned, stray or mistreated animals outside of the city, which would reduce the number of animals the shelter puts down.

Lastly, using the Humane Society of the United States' formula for calculating a "live-release" rate for shelters, Countryside's rate is 66%, if you factor out animals dropped off for euthanasia.

A lot of these numbers are up for interpretation, and they certainly lead to questions for Countryside's staff (like why 246 animals were dropped off for euthansia, but only 213 were put down? Could more have been saved?) But it's safe to say Racine's animal shelter euthanizes less than half of city animals brought into its care, and, using nationally accepted standards, could be saving two-thirds of the adoptable animals that come under its care.

Check Countryside's data yourself here.

Here's a link to the "live-release" formula we used

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