Thursday, February 16, 2012

*Microchips versus Municipal Registration for Dogs—Let’s Get Crackin’ Animal Welfare Supporters!


*Warning—slightly controversial post below, read at your own risk!

I recently stumbled onto a fantastic blog dedicated to interesting correspondences, and while perusing through the posts hit the jackpot when I found a letter from children’s book author E.B. White written to the ASPCA back in 1951.  Apparently, he was cited for harboring an unlicensed dog and his amusing response to the citation got me to thinking about animal licensing and identification and a shelter’s role in it all.    
           
I am just coming off a tour of duty at Chicago’s municipal control facility and learned more than I ever thought necessary about animal licensing laws in Chicago.  The thing that sticks out most for me is that no one really pays attention to the mandatory licensing law and even with incentives built around spaying and neutering and discounts for senior citizens, the compliance rate is pretty abysmal.   In fact, according to this Sun-Times article, Chicago’s compliance rate is under 5% of all dogs in the city, and that is even after a 2005 upgrade of the licensing software to cross reference against the county’s rabies vaccination list.  Obviously, the city and its citizen’s are not paying attention, so what is the point?  From experience, the only time fines are imposed for not having a city dog license is when a dog has a run-in with animal control for some other reason (bite, off-leash, noise ordinance violation, etc), and of course, licensing fees are imposed for any stray animal reclaimed by its owner.  And, that leads me to the meat and potatoes of this post: redemption rates. 

Historically, return to owner rates at Chicago Animal Care and Control hover around 10% (source: CASA; this number is possibly higher, but the data provided do not split intake numbers by type).  This is slightly worse than the suspected national average of 15-20%.  Although not the primary reason municipalities require dog licenses, one of the benefits of it being law should be a higher stray redemption rate because (in theory) we have ownership information about the dog.  To put this in other terms, we can measure a direct increase in Live Release Rates if more dogs were licensed. However, because we have such low compliance, Chicago is never going to see an increase in its rates.  And to make matters worse, some people who do have licenses may not actually put them on their dogs’ collars as eloquently hinted by E. B. White:


So if said dog turned up at the city pound, staff would never know the dog is licensed and ownership information is on record.  This is a missed opportunity to reunite the animal with its owner, and subsequently, increase shelter live release rate.  So, I am proposing it is in the animal shelter’s best interest (regardless of whether they accept strays or not) to encourage their municipality to explore alternatives to dog licensing.  From an animal shelter’s perspective, what is a better method to identify animals?  Microchips!

While not a new technology and already thoroughly embraced by the animal welfare community, microchips provide the perfect substitute for licenses: they are permanent, they are reliable, and they are gaining in popularity.  Many studies have time and again reported a higher rate of return for stray animals with microchips, than those without chips.  And, when disaster strikes, local animal shelters and rescue groups are the first to jump in and assist with the homeless and displaced animals, so again an additional benefit of having the community’s animal population microchipped. 

Can microchips replace traditional dog licenses?
It appears that legislators and local government leaders are aware of the benefits of micochipping, but the new laws are targeted in the wrong direction, or at the least, not in a helpful direction.  I find it odd that a new measure was signed into law in Illinois effective since January 1 of this year requiring all Illinois animal shelters to scan for a microchip at least two times during an animal’s tenure with the shelter in effort to reunite lost pets with their owners.   In Governor Quinn’s own words, this really is making law policies shelters already have in place: “The bill that I’m signing is really a best practices bill, it’s used already in many places in Illinois”.  The Governor is right and in fact, most shelters and rescues have stronger and even more thorough microchip scanning procedures in place.  So, I really don’t see the point to this law—it’s missing the first step: require all animals to be microchipped in the first place!  And again, this is where I see the role of shelters acting as consultants to legislators to steer them in a more productive direction.   

I am not na├»ve enough to think microchipping is anything more than a substitution of municipal dog licenses and will solve all our animal identification problems.  The same compliance and enforcement issues exist, but from the perspective of the animal shelters responsible for reuniting lost pets and their owners, microchipping will go a whole lot further at effectively accomplishing that task than will paper licensing alone.  So, let’s get crackin’ and start talking to your local City Clerk’s office to encourage a better licensing system. 

Please leave your thoughts about this below, I’d love to have a conversation about the pros and cons of mandatory microchipping, success and failures of communities that already have this as law, compliance and enforcement issues, return to owner rates, etc.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Calculating Staffing Requirements Based on Animal Population


I don’t think anyone would argue if I made the blanket statement that all shelters are on a limited budget and must carefully apportion their resources in order to manage their animal population best.  In that spirit, one of the most important resource allocations a shelter makes is deciding how many staff are required to clean and feed the animals in its population.  Too many staff can drain the shelter’s budget, and too little staff can compromise the health and well being of the animals in its care.  So, how does a shelter manager decide how many staff to assign?

To answer this question, let’s start with the animal care time requirements suggested by HSUS and NACA and also endorsed by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians in their 2011 Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters document.  These groups estimate a minimum of 15 minutes is required for adequate animal cleaning and feeding.  This is a good starting point for calculations, but if you feel 15 minutes is too long or too short, you can adjust the calculations accordingly to hit your goal.  Next, we need to know how many animals are in the shelter.  We can use our historical data to make staffing projections, or we can use the daily shelter count to make real-time decisions.  Let’s use some faux data from Shelter XYZ:

Table #1: Shelter XYZ Daily Population, January
January
Total Cats
Total Dogs
Total Population
1
100
75
175
2
111
76
187
3
99
79
178
4
98
80
178
5
99
81
180
6
100
76
176
7
104
74
178
8
109
70
179
9
121
69
190
10
123
68
191
11
120
66
186
12
121
67
188
13
125
69
194
14
121
61
182
15
119
63
182
16
118
65
183
17
115
69
184
18
113
64
177
19
101
70
171
20
99
71
170
21
99
60
159
22
100
61
161
23
111
62
173
24
111
63
174
25
112
64
176
26
108
66
174
27
106
60
166
28
103
70
173
29
102
71
173
30
101
77
178
31
99
70
169
Average:
108.6
68.9
177.5


And, finally, the third variable of total time allotted for staff to finish the task is needed.  For our calculations below we will use four hours, but based on each individual shelter’s operating procedures, this may differ.  

To calculate for real-time staffing decisions (using January 21st as an example day):
  • We had 159 total animals in the shelter that day: 159 x 15min/animal = 2,385min
  • 2,385min / 60min/hr = 39.75 care hours
  • Staff are expected to finish cleaning and feeding in 4 hours: 39.75 care hours / 4hr = 9.9 (10) staff required to complete the task


To calculate for projection staffing (using January animal averages):
  • On average, we had 177.5 animals in the month of January at Shelter XYZ: 177.5 x 15min/animal = 2,662.5min
  • 2,662.5min / 60min/hr = 44.3 care hours
  • Staff are expected to finish cleaning and feeding in 4 hours: 44.3 care hours / 4hr = 11.0 staff required to complete the task


What if you are curious to know how long it is currently taking your staff to clean and feed the animals?  One option is to time your staff.  But, I would not recommend this as anyone doing a task knowing they are being times/watched will at the least be suspicious, and probably perform differently as a result—in other words, your data will be significantly skewed.  The other option is to work the above math backwards to find a time per animal.   For example, if I have five staff cleaning and feeding for three hours, and 50 animals they are tending to, then they are spending 18 minutes per animal:

·      5 staff x 3 hrs x 60min/hr = 900min
·      900min / 50 animals = 18min/animal

Although I am not a fan of timing staff, now knowing the theoretical time per animal, a shelter manager can pull out their stopwatch to see how the data compare. 

Looking at the population numbers from the past year will allow shelter managers to plan appropriately for the upcoming year, and help save money and stress when high population season hits.  For example, if we know from last year’s data that June-October produces our highest populations, then the shelter manager can prepare for the staffing fluctuations needed to accommodate the rise in animals in February or March, rather than be taken by surprise in June and July and have husbandry and animal health compromised as a result.  When hiring seasonal help, I have found two techniques to be of great service:
  1. Begin the hiring process 2-3 months before you actually need the seasonal help.  This will allow you to train new staff during a period of lower population when stresses are less and you can dedicate more time and attention to training.  When the high season begins, they are all in place and ready to jump in.
  2. Consider rehiring the same seasonal help year to year.  This works great if you have a relationship with college students looking for summer work or even stay at home moms or retirees who would like a little work from time to time.  And again, having the same seasonal help will minimize the learning curve.


Photo from Health Technology Professional Products (htproducts.net)

Once you do the calculations above, and set your goal for animal contact time, what should a shelter do if it can only employ so many paid staff?  Using the data from January for Shelter XYZ above, we need 11 people to accomplish the task in four hours.  Shelter XYZ only has budget for eight staff.  My suggestion is to get trained volunteers in to work along staff and fill in the staffing gap to hit the target.