I had intended to begin talking about shelter transparency and its role in animal sheltering with this post. We had breaking news last week that was so relevant and entwined in this subject that I wanted to talk about it first.
The big news is that Best Friends Animal Society recently announced that they are pulling out of Shelter Animals Count (SAC). SAC is a project that created a centralized and standardized national database for animal shelter statistics. They became a 501(c)3 organization in 2016 and have as current Gold Sponsors the ASPCA, Maddie’s Fund, Petsmart Charities, Petco Love and MSPCA Angell.
The availability and transparency of shelter data is vital to understanding how any shelter operates. One such thing the data answers is what is its top outcome - adoptions, transfers to other groups, euthanasia? Having one place to find this was an important step that replaced earlier attempts to collect and share shelter data such as the Asilomar Accords. Around 2016, SAC took data collection up a level with more inclusive and standardized data including a basic level of data initially provided to the public. This was easily viewed on their website.
More detailed information was available too with access prices starting at $250 for an individual. (I tried that and received access to an Excel spreadsheet with thousands and thousands of monthly entries but no totaled annual data such as for adoptions or euthanasia by a shelter. It created more fog than transparency.) In early 2021, SAC changed the format for the data from actual numbers to graphs representing the numbers (no actual numbers). Then early this year, any access to shelter data for any individual shelter was removed entirely. (Ask yourself why?)
In their announcement, Best Friends stated “In addition, recent changes in SAC, such as removing public access to individual animal shelter data, no longer align with our priorities of data transparency and collaboration.“ They also announced that they had created a new shelter database called Shelter Pet Data Alliance. Starting February 27, 2023, network partner organizations are to start reporting their data directly to Best Friends.
What does this all mean? Before the Best Friends breakaway from SAC it seemed that one centralized and unaffiliated database was ideal for what was to be considered true transparency and decoding the data. Now that Best Friends is adding another database, it may make comparing data across the board more difficult. But that is another blog and not my main concern here.
When I first ran across SAC back in 2016, I reached out to them to ask whether they would be tracking community cats and trap-neuter-return (TNR). I was told probably not. Yet starting in 2018, SAC did include TNR/RTF/SNR in their data. Maybe that will happen with the new database. Perhaps this will be a wake-up call for SAC and they will become more transparent with shelter data.
In my research and attempts to collect shelter data, I have not found Best Friends to be as transparent as I would like or think we all deserve. Will their database be any different? We will know soon when we attempt to view their data. Will Best Friends allow open access to data for individual shelters (actual numbers, not graphs)? Best Friends is pushing to reach their goal of No-Kill 2025. I am concerned that this data will not be available to the public which would make me question whether we truly and honestly did reach No-Kill 2025. How do we know if we cannot see the data? Best Friends: don’t tell me, show me.
Read the related story here
Beth Frank is founder/president of Community Cats United, Inc, Fixfinder and Proactive Animal Sheltering. Beth has spent endless hours researching animal sheltering and analyzing shelter data from all over the US, including over 400 shelters. Click here to follow Proactive Animal Sheltering on Facebook.
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