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Transparency: The Foundation of Animal Sheltering (Blog Post #9)

Transparency is an ethic that makes it easy for others to see what is being done. All animal sheltering models not only must include transparency, but they must REQUIRE it. It should not be optional or lip service be given. Transparency should include shelter data and financials. And now, because of managed intake and the increased importance of the outcome of “transfers out”, it needs to include rescue partners as well. (More on this in a later blog.)

Transparency in today’s sheltering models refers to data (kennel statistics). While financial and rescue partner transparency are vital to full disclosure on the part of a shelter, today we will talk about data transparency. I have attached an overview of position statements for transparency from our leading national organizations in animal sheltering. Click HERE to read it.

Data transparency is important because it reflects how a shelter operates. For example, how many animals does it take in? What effect does managed intake have on the shelter and animals? It also gives us an insight into what outcomes our animals are facing. When I analyze shelter data, I view the following outcomes to see how dogs and CATS are helped: adoptions, returns-to-owners, euthanasia, transfers out and trap-neuter-return (TNR), shelter-neuter-return (SNR) and return-to-field (RTF) numbers done BY the shelter. There are other outcomes but these are the main ones that mostly every shelter does or should be doing.

In an (undated) statement issued by eight of the big, national animal sheltering organizations, they stated this: “As national leaders and funders of animal welfare in North America, we believe that organizations should be transparent about the number of animals that come under their care, and the outcome for all of those animals.” I agree!

Sadly, this transparency is not always found in our shelters or even the leading national groups. These leading groups must lead by example. It starts with adding position statements on transparency to their websites and guiding the shelters they work with to clearly display their data on their websites in an easily found and transparent format. To me, when a shelter has no data available on their website, it raises a red flag for me. It should for you too.

If data is not available on a shelter’s website, can it be requested? Yes. However, there is a difference in the requirements for reporting that data that depends on whether the shelter is a public or non-profit organization. Public shelters, such as those run by cities and counties, are required to comply with public records requests for the data. Read more on Sunshine Laws here. For those of you wanting to request data from your shelter, this attachment is an important read!

It is also important to remember 501(c)3 non-profit organizations are NOT required to respond to public records requests. You may try contacting the shelter through email or a phone call to request data but don’t be surprised if you don’t get it. In all the data analysis I have done, I have had quite a difficult time getting data from these groups. That must change if transparency is important in determining whether you will donate to them or not. You may think they do good work for the animals but without data but how can you really be sure?

Bottom line is we shouldn't need to request data. It should always be available to the public so we know the animals’ chances, where it might go and what will happen when it enters the shelter. In the name of transparency and life-saving, please be clear.


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 90,000 including in all 50 US states and 127 countries.

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