One of the most common excuses used by directors of pet killing facilities to explain why they aren’t doing their jobs is that saving lives is too expensive. Even in some shelters where the save rate is significantly higher than the national average, there are claims made that saving the last X% is too costly and the resources are better directed toward the many vs. the few.
I wanted to know how much it actually costs to save literally every healthy/treatable animal in a shelter. So I asked UPAWS in Marquette Co, MI about their cost per animal handled since they saved approximately 99% of their dogs and cats in 2012, reserving euthanasia for rare cases when a pet was medically or behaviorally hopeless and suffering.
My original intent was to get a figure from UPAWS and include it in a post. I was going to explain that when looking at cost per animal, one must consider fundraising and community involvement as well since these things directly correlate. I was going to say a lot of things but then something unexpected and exciting happened.
I received from UPAWS a 3 page document explaining in detail what their cost per animal was back when they killed pets for population control (they adjusted the figures for inflation) vs. what it is now that they save every healthy/treatable animal under their roof. Their document is quite a bit more than I expected and says everything I wanted to say so much better.
UPAWS board president Reva Laituri writes:
The figures being provided should be considered as a case study. They represent how things have played out for UPAWS. Our experiences, methods of resolution, and results are most likely unique to us. We are not saying anything we did or are doing is the best way or the only way. Every shelter has its own sets of strengths, weaknesses, and obstacles and the path each needs to travel will be slightly different depending on those factors. What works for one shelter, will not necessarily work for another.
But that does not mean the killing can’t be stopped; it only means that shelters will need to be creative in finding what works for them. There are key areas that every shelter must address in order to be successful. The differences lie in the specifics which vary by shelter.
What is important is the unwavering decision to not kill healthy, treatable, adoptable animals. Once that decision is made and everyone (board, staff, volunteers) are committed to that goal, it can be done. It won’t be easy, there is no cookie-cutter approach, and there is no slacking off. Obviously finances are a concern in running any shelter and have to be taken into consideration, but finances should not be an excuse to stop evolving. Rather they should serve as a prompt telling you that a particular area requires more creative thinking to get what you need.
In FY 2005/2006, UPAWS admitted 1,456 animals, 530 left our shelter alive resulting in a save rate of 36.4%. Our cost per animal was $190.85. In FY 2012/2013 we admitted 1,620 animals, 1,628 left our shelter alive resulting in a save rate of 100%. Our cost per animal was $207.58, or $16.73 (8%) more per animal. Looking at it from a strictly numbers viewpoint, by killing 63.6% of the animals, we were also basically throwing away the corresponding revenue those animals represented (after all, we didn’t fulfill our mission to save and re-home them). That amounts to $178,636 when for another 8% ($15, 660) we could saved nearly every one of those 936.
But, and this is the reason we don’t look at cost-per-animal, the numbers do not end with expenses. While cost-per-animal rose, two other areas also rose. First the figure of $207.58 includes a number of services and programs we were not providing seven years earlier.
By 2013, we were open seven days a week and one evening, including every holiday except Christmas (instead of being open only five days a week). Advertising animals through the UPAWS website, print-radio-TV media, and social media and keeping the public updated from start to finish in terms of adoptability and outcome, became standard. Pet sponsorships became and continue to play a huge role in getting animals adopted (donors can opt to pre-pay for medical care, vaccinations, or all or part of adoption fees for specific animals). Promotions with accompanying adoption fee reductions or waivers were being used on a regular basis. We had implemented reduced adoption fees for seniors and “Lonely Hearts” (those animals who have been in the shelter 3 months or longer). People willing to adopt animals for what would equate to hospice care had fees waived. All animals were being microchipped and we were Felv/FIV testing all cats and heartworm testing all dogs. In addition, staff and volunteers began making a more concerted effort at reuniting lost pets with their owners and becoming more pro-active in pet retention efforts.
Also, not included in the cost-per-animal, a community spay-neuter program was instituted to assist pet owners in getting their animals altered which ultimately reduces the numbers of litters being admitted and a Home-2-Home program that allows owners to use the UPAWS website to advertise pets that need re-homing, thus preventing them ever being admitted to the shelter. (A number of restrictions were put in place to avoid advertising by breeders.)
The second very important component that cannot be ignored is that while the cost-per-animal rose 8%, we also saw an increase in donations of 43% and a net increase in fundraising efforts of 294% for an overall increase in revenue of 61%. This is where the transparency and trust, mentioned above, enters the equation. Obviously, the increased revenue more than makes up for the cost-per-animal, and has allowed us to implement more services, become pro-active and plan for a future (including plans for a new shelter).
Thank you UPAWS for providing this detailed information. I hope many shelter directors and staff members will read the document and use it as a tool to assist them in developing their own plan to increase their live release rates. Just knowing that finances are not an obstacle in saving every healthy/treatable pet at UPAWS will hopefully be inspiring for other shelter directors who want to save more lives.
Read about the changes UPAWS made in order to move from killing to saving pets here.