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Data Transparency Takes A Hit - Again (Beth's Blog #14)

Updated: Jun 4, 2023

I must be a dreamer. I keep thinking that our animal shelter leaders will see the need to be transparent to EVERYONE with their data. That makes me hope that our shelters will pressure the large national data collection groups to facilitate that transparency. Yet here we go again - even less data transparency since the last time I blogged on this just a few short months ago.

At that time, Best Friends Animal Society pulled out of Shelter Animals Count (SAC) due to the lack of data transparency. Best Friends has since started collecting its own data. We will wait and watch to see what level of transparency will evolve. (Am I dreaming again?)

Back in 2021, SAC provided basic individual shelter data that was accessible to anyone on their website dashboards. That included annual intake numbers and some outcomes for years 2016 through 2020. The data of any shelter that reported to SAC could be viewed by the public. This was the first time the animal sheltering industry allowed non-shelter people to have such an inclusive and transparent view.

I had such high hopes. I had heard about “community partnering” and this was a huge first step. Shelter leaders, rescues, TNR people, community leaders, veterinary professionals and more, all on board, working together to help our dogs AND CATS. But for this to become reality, we all need to be able to view and understand shelter data through the same set of eyes. Each partner needs to have a clear view and the same access to information.

In early 2022, this changed. SAC, for whatever reason, greatly reduced that access. It was beyond disappointing. SAC no longer provided any dashboard access to an individual shelter’s data. That meant that the industry’s main collaboration to collect uniform data and provide access to it (SAC) suddenly removed our ability to view it. When data is buttoned-up for some, how do we all work together as partners? Why not make it available to all?

2023 brought in even less access to shelter data by SAC. Their dashboards now allow access to combined nationwide shelter data for the current year only (2023). The ability to view overall US shelter data for previous years is now gone too. Strangely, this is a quote from the most recent (May 2023) Shelter Animals Count E-Newsletter SAC Bytes: "SAC believes in data transparency and that organizations should publicly share their intake/outcome and community services data at the shelter level." They go on to say that their participating organizations list is back and better than before. How would non-shelters know?

SAC was established in 2012 by these founding organizations: ASPCA, The Humane Society of the United States, Best Friends Animal Society (left SAC in 2023 but still show as a silver sponsor), Petsmart Charities and Maddie’s Fund. Do all of these animal sheltering industry leaders really believe that detailed shelter data should only be available at the shelter level? And for the public (non-shelters), there is now only a glimpse of the aggregate data of all reporting shelters for the current year only. Why?

It is a huge barrier to working together to help our dogs and cats and a giant step backwards when you must be a partner organization to access it. That means that a few “community partners” get to see the playbook while the rest of us remain clueless. How does a team succeed under those conditions? In the end, it’s our dogs and cats that suffer.

A note to all the organizations listed in this blog: If any of the information shared here is not accurate, please reach out to me so we can get it corrected. And if you truly believe in the data transparency you write about, perhaps you could tell me why your actions are just the opposite? Or are they just words?


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.

Community Cats United, Inc. is a CommUNITY of over 96,000 including in all 50 US states and 127 countries.

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