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How Major Animal Organizations Conspired to Erase Animals from Outcome Statistics

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

The year was 2004 and it was August at the beautiful, sea-side Asilomar Resort and Conference Center. The guest list was invitation-only and included some of the biggest names in the world of animal sheltering, including the American Humane Association (AHA), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and others. It was the first of several meetings. The group described the meeting like this:

In August of 2004, a group of animal welfare industry leaders from across the nation convened at Asilomar in Pacific Grove, California, for the purpose of building bridges across varying philosophies, developing relationships and creating goals focused on significantly reducing the euthanasia of healthy and treatable companion animals in the United States. Through hard work, lively discussion and brainstorming, a common vision for the future was adopted. The leadership of the following organizations participated in the original, and/or subsequent meetings, and were involved in the drafting of the “Asilomar Accords”:

That statement was then followed by a list of attendees and their "Guiding Principles." The remainder of the document was dedicated to the one, single topic to which this group could agree: statistics reporting.

One does not need to be and should not have to be a statistician to understand animal shelter reporting. There are really just three basic questions that need to be answered:

  • How many pets entered the shelter alive?

  • How many pets left the shelter alive?

  • How many pets are currently living at the shelter or in foster care?

But, simplifying the reporting, to make it really transparent and understandable, does not appear to have been the goal of the Asilomar Accords.

In reading through the Asilomar Accords, many people are surprised how unnecessarily complicated the document makes it to compute a very simple value: The Live Release Rate, or the percentage of total outcomes that represent animals that left alive. Computing this value should be as simple as dividing the total live outcomes by the total outcomes. For example: if a shelter had a total of 1,000 animal outcomes and 700 of those were live outcomes (adoptions, tranfers to rescues, returned to owner, or, in the case of free-roaming cats, returned to field) then the math would be simply 700/1,000 or, a live release rate of 70%. That, however, is not how these animal agencies decided to calculate a shelter's live release rate.

The Asilomar Accords actually includes the following statement:

When reporting the Annual Live Release Rate for an individual agency, you should include the following statement: The Annual Live Release Rate does not include ___owner/guardian requested euthanasia which were unhealthy & untreatable [see Line R] and _____ dogs and cats that died or were lost in the shelter/care [see Line U].

In other words, these animal organizations decided it was appropriate to compute the LRR by NOT counting a number of deaths in the shelter. Literally, animals listed as "Died" are not counted in the LRR, or that were "euthanized" at owner request, or lost or stolen...

So, how many animals can go "missing" from outcome statistics by following the Asilomar Accords method of computing the LRR for a shelter? A lot. Sometimes thousands of deaths in a single year are uncounted in the offical "Asilomar-approved" reported Live Release Rate.

So, is your shelter using shady tactics to manipulate its reported LRR? You can keep them honest by using the No Kill Movement Live Release Rate Calculator which computes the LRR for all outcomes, not some arbitrary subset of them. Don't let them erase these animals. All lives matter and all should be counted.

The group that met in Asilomar in 2004 had the stated goal of "reducing the euthanasia of healthy and treatable companion animals in the United States." Too bad all they really accomplished was standardize the erasing of deaths from animal shelter statistics.

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