Thursday, June 17, 2010

From the Beginning - Animal Welfare By the Numbers

One of the most frustrating and confusing issues in animal welfare is what we call transparency. How can we know where we're going if we don't know where we are? Part of it comes from a lack of uniformity. There is no governing body or national association that regulates animal shelters, rescues or animal control agencies.  There is a lot of smoke and mirrors going on.

Transparency in sheltering  comes in two parts - financial records and animal records. It's a big thing - yet not many like to talk about it. We are just supposed to assume that our donations are being well spent.  It makes me a bit suspicious when I don't know where the money I donate is going. When I go to church on Sunday - in the hallway is posted the current financial records of the congregation. I can see how much money we pay the pastor, how much we spend on hymnals and snow plowing,  even how much  it costs to have coffee and donuts after services each week. That's transparency.

Maddie's Fund, a national non-profit organization is seeking to standardize and change the way animal shelters operate.

They would like to see transparency in animal sheltering. They have huge amounts of money to disperse as grants but won't do so unless a shelter meets certain qualifications - one of those is transparency to the public and their donors. (Interestly enough, one of their other requirements is the shelter's ability to get along with  and work with all other rescues and shelters in the area). 

Check out Dane County Humane Society's website under the "About Us" tab to see an example of good transparency.

Dane County is part of a Maddie's Fund project.  I can click and see how many animals came in, how many went out, how many were euthanized and why. I can also see their past income tax returns, their board meeting agendas and the minutes of the meetings. This is transparency. Is it foolproof? No, of course not. But it's a big step in the right direction.

My husband and I donate to the Brew City Bullies - a pitbull educational and awareness group based in Milwaukee. A relatively new organization that GETS it. They emailed me their annual report as standard procedure. I didn't have to ask for it or search for it.

"Old school" shelters think that the public and their donors should be shielded from this information. They think that if we knew the truth - we would be less likely to donate. They think that the public can't handle the truth about shelter deaths and disease. I beg to differ with that argument. I am far more likely to donate to an organization when I know exactly what is going on - and where I can see they are trying to improve their practices. I don't expect organizations to be perfect - but I expect them to be honest and forthright.   My wallet snaps shut when I see that things are being swept under the carpet.

The thing that most people don't realize is that the Freedom of Information Act applies to any shelters that hold animal control contracts, because this is taxpayer money that is being used to provide these services. Detailed advice on how to request this information is provided here.

Animal shelters and rescues that will be successful in the future are those that are improving their transparency now. They are providing information on their websites that is easily accessible. Donors have been burned too many times in the past by charitable organizations of all sorts. They justifiably want to know how their money is being spent. Transparent organizations will have more access to grants and programs from national organizations and a steady income from confident donors.

The Maddie's Fund website is a wealth of information - they are tracking statistics  and I encourage everyone to check it out. They spent over a half million dollars last weekend to stimulate animal shelters and rescues in the Bay Area resulting in the adoption of over 1700 animals.

Their figures show us to be well on track to being a no-kill nation by 2015.

And yes, no-kill is not a dirty word!


  1. I am all for transparency and think it should be rewarded. Now I will check "the books" to choose what my donations are supporting. Thanks.

  2. In my opinion transparency is available to those who seek it and not wait for shelters to have it.
    Under the open records law you can obtain intake and diposition on any dogs a shelter or humane society takes in. You just have to write it down and request it from the proper "authority". Financial info like 990's have to be made available to the public. Just ask for it. By laws also just ask for it. The laws are in place for people to obtain this information. Shelter/humane societies "must maintain adequate records". They have no choice but to turn them over. If you want to know what goes on behind closed doors than use the laws to obtain the information. You can turn around and post it in the paper if you like. The donating public should know how their money is being spent and as long as people don't get involved and don't ask the quiet killings continue and the money squandered. It looks better when they are forthright with information and it's very embarassing for them when they are exposed. If you love animals tell the public in your community how many viable animals are being needlessly killed each year. When people know better they tend to do better.