Methodology

How do you get your data, and what do you do with it?

We're so glad you asked! We love our stats. They help us with so many things - from  seeing where we need to spend our time & funds to helping us actually get those funds through grants. For example, just a quick glance will tell us that we get a lot more cats in than dogs. If we look a little closer, we can tell that a lot of those cats that come in actually have places they consider Home - but well-meaning community members bring them in to us. Unfortunately, a shelter environment isn't the best place for outdoor community cats, and they often end up ill or unable to be handled due to the stress of being in a place that scares them. By looking at the stats, we can tell that focusing on programs that will keep these cats out of the shelter would help us reduce the number of cats we have to euthanize. That's better for all of us! Armed with our stats, we can apply for grants that will help us not only spay/neuter, vaccinate, and return these cats to their homes, but will help with education for our staff and the community, so we can all work together to save more lives. We use stats to plan ways to help our community members keep their pets in their homes, to help us make sure our foster homes are used wisely, and so much more.

We're developing ways to be more transparent to the community, as well, so that you can know what it is that we're doing here. Two of the biggest changes happened in early 2020. First, we moved staffing around so that one person is in charge of making sure the data is accurate every month. Second, we did a complete overhaul of the way we collect and report our statistics, to be more in line with industry standards. We continue to tweak them as necessary to refine our approach and get the most useful information we can. From 1/2020 to 6/2021, we participated in a study conducted by Tufts University and Shelter Animals Count on how sheltering data is collected and presented on a national level.

 

At the end of 2020, we started releasing our Community Reports, which highlight some of the things we do here at the shelter each month. A few months ago, we switched from yearly comparison bar charts on our website to monthly charts that show detailed numbers. In July, we started doing quarterly data audits, to make sure our numbers continue to be accurate.

 

We use Chameleon as our Shelter Management Software, and we use Crystal Reports to pull information out of the Chameleon database. The way Chameleon works is that data is never locked, and can be changed if necessary. This is both good and not-so-good. Sometimes, things need to be entered in the past (for example,  a Lost Report where the owner didn't report the animal missing until a month later), or incorrect information needs to be corrected (like in the case of a dog that had the wrong age entered when it came in). We have about 25 people who enter data into the database on a regular basis, so mistakes occasionally happen. But since we started focusing on data accuracy in 2020, that data is cleaned and reconciled every month, as well as audited each quarter. Data on individual animals is analyzed using Crystal Reports, Excel, and Tableau.

 

Once everything is cleaned up and correct, the total numbers are pulled and entered into a few different worksheets. We report our statistics in several different places, and each place requires a slightly different format, so they get recorded in several ways. For example, some reporting bodies count Euthanasia Requests (where owners can bring in their animals for end-of-life services) as live intakes for the shelter, and some do not. In the same vein - some count TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) as live intakes, while others do not.

The standard numbers you’ll see for animal sheltering are Live Release Rate (LRR) or a Save Rate. However, while most shelters will show you a LRR or Save Rate, there is no one standard way to calculate those numbers. In general, they’re calculated by using live intakes and all outcomes, but what organizations count as live intakes and all outcomes can vary widely. As mentioned in the paragraph above, some organizations count Euthanasia Requests or TNR in their live intakes, which means that they would also count in their outcomes.

We do not count the following in our LRR –

  • Disposal - animals that are found already deceased by community members, and are brought to us for cremation.

  • DOA – animals that are picked up already deceased by our Field Services team or the police.

  • Euthanasia Requests – this is just a service we provide for the community; these are not animals that would have come in the shelter. So, we do not count them.

  • Fospice & Foster – Fospice & Foster animals are counted on their initial intakes and final outcomes, but not as they move in and out of different forms of care.

  • Home/Lost – animals that have been reported found (home) or lost, but that haven’t actually come into the shelter. They are entered into our database so we can match them with owners, but as they never actually come under our care, they do not count in our LRR. 

  • Wildlife – we are not authorized to deal with wildlife. We only accept wildlife if the animal is suffering and needs to be euthanized or if we can transfer it to a wildlife rehabilitator.

The worksheet below is the first one used each month. It’s printed out and everything is done by hand. The numbers for the beginning & end counts are taken from inventory counts at the beginning & end of the month, and then Home/Lost animals are subtracted to get the number of animals actually in our care. You’ll notice that this sheet has several smaller boxes on the right.  This is because we use many different intake types for in-house analysis, but most of the national reporting bodies want broad categories. For example, what they call “Stray” encompasses our intake types of Stray and Unowned. So, if you look on the right, you’ll see a box with a B in the top left, with lines under it that say Stray and Un (for Unowned). We put in the numbers for the Stray and Unowned animals in the box on the right, and the totals are then transferred to the line for B in the main worksheet on the left.

monthly annotated.jpg

Once all of the math is done, it should match the number of animals in the inventories at the end of the month. If it doesn’t, then the individual animal data is combed through again to find the mistake. It doesn’t mean that any animals have actually been lost or that we have gained any mystery animals, it merely means that some record was done incorrectly. We all make mistakes;, the important thing is to find and correct them! Unfortunately, it’s possible in our database that a record can be overwritten in a way that it’s almost impossible to find. In that case, the important thing is to make sure that we go through the individual animal records to make sure that we physically have all of the animals we should have, and that we don’t have anybody that we don’t have records for. 

The numbers from this worksheet are then put into other formats for all of our reporting needs. The other sheets all use formulas to do the math, so we can double check the math that has been done by hand. (The 0s in the pictures below are just where the formulas are in Excel.)

Here are just a few of the other formats we use –

This one is for our report to the Department of Agriculture. You can see that they only need numbers for cats & dogs –

dpt of ag.jpg

Here’s the one we use for our website. It has the same base numbers as the Department of Agriculture sheet, but we don’t count Euthanasia Requests like they do. We also break out TNR from the “other live intakes”, because we’re really proud of the work we’re doing in this area, and want to let you see what we’re doing. We also show you our “others”, because we feel they’re an important part of the work we do.

stats for site screenshot.jpg

If you have any other questions about our statistics, please email data@hswcmd.org.