Communities across the country have embraced high quality, high volume spay/neuter as a means of reducing intake and saving lives. Our research focuses on two questions related to the effectiveness of this approach:
- Are the surgeries we're doing actually having an impact on the number of animals entering our shelters?
- Are we spaying and neutering the right cats and dogs – those most likely to produce offspring destined to end up in our shelters and therefore most at risk for euthanasia?
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) offers us an exciting new tool for mapping, literally, the geographic location of animals altered and of animals coming into shelters. The results enable us to identify groups of animals most at risk in our communities and target spay/neuter efforts to those populations.
Phase 1: We began with a pilot project in Buncombe County (Asheville), NC, an ASPCA Partnership community.
- The ASPCA Partnership organizations in Asheville have entered detailed baseline data, studied the GIS maps, made initial target decisions, and started targeting their surgeries to animals in specific geographic locations.
- We are analyzing intake numbers monthly and entering their data quarterly into the GIS system to monitor intake from the targeted locations.
Update, Fall 2011: We have undertaken GIS mapping projects in Erie County, NY, Portland, OR, and Tacoma, WA.
- In Erie County, we mapped intake and spay/neuter data from the SPCA Serving Erie County and Operation PETS Spay/Neuter Clinic.
- The map enabled these agencies to target two neighborhoods in Buffalo, NY, for low-cost spay/neuter services.
- The agencies will evaluate their intake data post-intervention to determine the success of the targeted campaign.
- The agencies are also using information they obtained from those who used the low-cost services to better market their services in future interventions to increase uptake.
- In Portland, we are working with agencies in the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland to map their data and develop interventions based on the results.
- The Alliance's focus for this work is cats. They want to better target their spay/neuter services to reach at-risk felines. Secondarily, they are looking at intake and spay/neuter for "bully" breed dogs.
- The Alliance members think that GIS mapping will be a powerful tool for demonstrating to potential funders how their work is making a difference and how it could be making an even bigger difference with more financial resources.
- We completed mapping of the intake and spay/neuter data for all agencies. They are now using the data to develop interventions for targeted locations.
- In Tacoma, we are working with four agencies to map intake data and develop interventions. This research is funded by a grant from the Gary E. Milgard Family foundation.
- Like the Portland agencies, Tacoma partners think that GIS mapping and analysis of data are valuable tools for making appropriate interventions and obtaining more funding to sustain this work.
Based on our work with GIS, PetSmart Charities has awarded the ASPCA a significant grant to expand the research.
- Their support will enable us to identify and involve additional communities, purchase software, and hire staff to analyze the data.
- In addition, since having accurate baseline data is absolutely essential to using GIS mapping, we also plan to develop tools that will help agencies across the country improve their data collection.
- We have recently begun conducting a large research project in New York City in which GIS mapping has a significant role.
- Buncombe County: Humane Alliance, Asheville Humane Society
- New York City: NYC Animal Care & Control, ASPCA
- Erie County, NY: SPCA Serving Erie County, Operation PETS
- Portland, OR: agencies of the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland — Oregon Humane Society, Humane Society of Southwest WA, Multnomah County Animal Services, Washington County Animal Services, Clackamas County, Cat Adoption Team
- Tacoma, WA: Humane Society of Tacoma and Pierce County, Metro Animal Services, Coalition Humane, Pasado's Safe Haven
One immediate result of our research has been to demonstrate the importance of "clean" data to effective targeting of programs. Aspects of clean data include:
- Recording gender and reproductive status of all animals
- Distinguishing between adults and young animals
- Entering the full address of the location where a stray animal is found (not the location of the person bringing in the animal)
- Entering the full address of the location of a feral colony when the cat comes in for spay/neuter (not the address of the colony caretaker)
- Indicating whether animals are owned or free roaming
- For dogs, using consistent terminology to identify breeds
- In projects involving multiple agencies, ensuring that all agencies are using common definitions, age designations, breed terminology, etc.
Having clean data is essential to generating maps that are accurate and meaningful — and therefore a valuable tool for making effective program decisions.
For example, the following image shows intake data around Asheville, NC, for one segment of the animal populations coming into the shelters: litters of kittens. The map makes it easy to see the geographic locations that are contributing significant numbers of kittens to shelter intake.
- In this image, colored triangles indicate locations that were the source of litters of kitten entering shelters.
- Each triangle represents a litter (the or more juvenile cats received on the same day from the same address).
- The legend shows how many kittens were in each litter.
From this mapping of kitten intake, the partners were able to define a geographic area to target for intensive spay/neuter. The dotted line indicates the perimeter of the focus area for cat intervention near Asheville, NC. As the intervention continues, we will look for changes in this intake.
What's the Bottom Line?
Inevitably, resources are limited for interventions that address animals at risk. To use the resources we have effectively, we need to be sure we target them to populations at highest risk. Data analysis tools such as GIS mapping enable us to define our targets and develop appropriate interventions by digging much deeper into our numbers and learning more from them.
Instead of targeting by broad criteria such as Zip codes or income levels, we can analyze intake data to identify specific risk factors, such as breed or age group of animals, for animals in our community. Knowing what really puts an animal at risk enables us to focus our spay/neuter programs toward those populations, and — of course — measure the impact, and target some more.