In mid-November the City of Stockton entered into an agreement with the San Francisco SPCA, the stated purpose of which was to improve humane outcomes for animals impounded in Stockton and to promote effectiveness and efficiency at the Stockton shelter. In Part 2 of this post we will examine the results of this partnership after five months of implementation.
Our analysis is based on records provided by the City of Stockton covering a ten-month period – five months before the partnership with the SF SPCA and five months after – accounting for approximately 9,500 dogs and cats that were impounded alive.
When comparing performance during the five months before the SF SPCA partnership with performance during the five months after, we see that the overall live-release rate improved by 12 points.
To better understand this change, we next look at the live release of dogs and and cats separately, instead of aggregated together.
For dogs, we see that the live-release rate was essentially unchanged, with a 1% difference in the return-to-owner rate and no change at all in the rescue-adoption-transfer rate.
Because the live-release rate for dogs was unaffected by the SF SPCA partnership, the overall improvement must be attributable only to cats. For cats, we see that the live-release rate went up by 24 points. Since virtually no cats are returned to their owners, all of this change is in the number of cats rescued, transferred, or adopted.
We want to understand what caused the improvement in the cat live-release rate. There are two ways in which the live-release rate might have improved: (1) by increasing the number of animals released alive (growing the pie slice) or (2) by decreasing the total number of animals impounded (shrinking the pie itself). To find out which it might be, we look at the absolute numbers of cats impounded and their outcomes (dogs are included too, for completeness).
In the period following the partnership 119 more cats were released alive (average 24 cats per month) and 959 fewer cats were killed (average 192 cats per month). Of the additional cats released alive, most were clustered in the tail of the time period, which is the beginning of the kitten season. At the same time, 1032 fewer cats were impounded (average 206 cats per month). While additional cats per month were released alive, given the magnitude of the other numbers it is clear that the dominant cause of the live-release rate improvement was a policy change that resulted in dramatically fewer cats being impounded in the first place (the contribution of the additional cats rescued/adopted per month is on the order of seven percentage points).
Impounding fewer stray cats is a good practice that has been a component of high-save animal sheltering for a long time. Taking in cats only to kill them by the hundreds per month does not resolve citizen complaints, does not reflect the community’s values, and is not a wise outlay of taxpayer dollars. We are glad to see this change in the Stockton shelter’s operation, but we note that this change could have been made two years ago and would have had exactly the same effect. Also we note that this change provides a one-time boost in the performance numbers, and continued improvement will depend on the implementation of real life-saving initiatives, like a high-volume local adoption program and a strong system of local rescue organizations.
The reduction in stray cat impounds began around the time of the end of the Stockton Police Department investigation into illegal practices at the shelter, which was one or two months before the partnership with the SF SPCA. Thus, the before-partnership cat live-release rate of 8% noted earlier benefited some from this policy change. Historically, the shelter had a live-release rate of 5% for cats and was a veritable slaughterhouse for stray and surrendered cats, routinely killing them illegally within minutes of intake.
To sum up, the partnership between the Stockton shelter and the SF SPCA has yet to yield important and badly needed advances in saving more lives. At CCPA, we know that you cannot get anywhere close to a 90% live-release rate by transferring animals out of town. The results of this partnership substantiate that belief. While a transfer program can be a good supplement to a robust local adoption program, it is no substitute. Furthermore, when not managed properly, there is the danger of skimming off the most desirable and valuable animals and shipping them away, thus depleting the pool of animals available to local rescue organizations and weakening the local rescue system.