I have written before about the data category used by many shelters that is labeled “Owner Request Euthanasia.” This data category is tricky to use on a national level in that not every shelter defines the data in the same way. Some shelters use the category to count any owner-relinquished animal who enters their shelter and is not deemed to be an adoption candidate. These shelters often have a clause in their contract that the owner must sign that states they request euthanasia if the pet is not adoptable. Some other shelters might use a call-back program: If an animal is not deemed an adoption candidate, they will notify the owner. If the owner does not want to take the animal back home, the animal is placed in the ORE category.
Why would a shelter do this? Depending upon the formulas being used, the ORE category may not be included in the Live Release Rate calculation – or in the euthanasia rate calculation – and thus rates would be higher, or lower, compared to a shelter that is including these animals in their calculations of Live Release Rate. From our perspective of wanting to compare data at a national level and wanting to accurately assess risk, this is a significant problem.
If dogs or cats with particular behavior or medical problems (or are at a certain age, etc.) are deemed not to be adoption candidates and are therefore placed in the ORE category, the organization is less likely to be mining that data to look for the next risk category to tackle strategically in order to save more lives.
I am a member of the National Federation of Humane Societies’ Metrics group and we were recently talking about the terms in the NFHS’ basic data matrix. As you may know, the basic data matrix is the basic data set that many of the national groups (SAWA, NACA, ASV, HSUS, ASPCA, Maddie’s Fund, Best Friends Animal Society, PetSmart Charities and AHA) agreed should be collected.
During the conversation we talked a bit about the Owner Request Euthanasia category. Under the NFHS (and ASPCA’s) definition, the only animals who should be counted in this category are dogs and cats whose owners had brought them to the shelter with the absolute intent – when they walked into the doors of the shelter – to have the animal euthanized, as they had no other low-cost options available to them. In some shelters, however, as noted above, the category is used for dogs or cats who are admitted but do not meet the adoption criteria. It can also be used to classify a dog or cat who is left at the shelter by his owner, once told the dog or cat would not meet the adoption criteria – even if the person’s intent was not euthanasia.
In order to compare apples to apples, it is important that we have the same operational definition – but changing culture can be hard. My friend and colleague Jodi Buckman came up with a term that I think really helps us to better understand which animals should be included in that category – instead of calling the category Owner Request Euthanasia, how about Owner Intended Euthanasia?
This would eliminate those dogs and cats who get counted because the relinquishment contract states if the dog or cat is deemed unadoptable, the owner ‘requests’ euthanasia, along with some other interpretations. It could be a great opportunity for us to mine a whole new set of data – imagine, for example, the potential safety net opportunities for communities in which the per capita owner request is high, and the number of vet clinics are low!
What do you think of this term?