Rescue Transport – Does It Help ?
Guest blogger Ivy Collier introduces us to the growing network of companion animal rescue transport. The mission of these groups is to move animals from saturated, high-euthanasia localities to other areas where the odds for adoption may seem to be more promising. But documentation of impacts on either end is scanty. Many questions are raised, and in the absence of research on the effectiveness of these efforts, most remain unanswered.
Guest Blog by Ivy Collier
What is the impact of animal rescue transports? How many dogs and cats are transported every year? How many animals are adopted each year because of transports? The fact that no one has the answers to these questions is troubling because the stakes are so high. The number of animals in shelters is staggering. An estimated six to eight million dogs and cats enter animal shelters each year and what may be even more astonishing is that three to four million are euthanized (The Humane Society of the United States).
Numerous people in the animal welfare field believe that one of the main factors for this is the high number of companion animals brought to shelters coupled with low adoption rates. There are simply not enough permanent homes. In order to address this critical issue, animal advocates created rescue transports. Transports are largely volunteers that drive adoptable animals from high kill animal shelters that would have otherwise euthanized them to animal rescues that will find them a permanent home.
Rural Shelter Transport and Policy
Rural Shelter Transports (RST) spends several hours each week ensuring dogs, cats, and the occasional pocket pet travel safely from the rural South to the Northeast to find permanent homes. The animals that RST transports are frequently from high kill rural animal controls that are overpopulated, and euthanize heavily to make room for new animals. To add another layer of complication, many of these establishments have policies in place that will not allow people to volunteer inside the shelters to wash, groom, feed, or even walk the shelter animals. These shelters say that this is due to high insurance premiums and liability clauses – insurance companies are concerned with citizens being bitten or being hurt while they are on shelter premises.
The transport works in partnership with the sending animal shelters and receiving rescues. In order for shelters to participate in the transport process, they must first sign and agree to RST transport guidelines, established to prevent the spread of disease and follow state importation laws. For example, all animals must have rabies shots and a health certification issued by a licensed veterinarian.
RST prescreens all receiving shelters, reviewing their adoption and euthanasia policies, and checking veterinarian, shelter and personal references. Once a shelter has been approved, a request is sent to RST along with a picture of the animal (now called passenger) and basic information like breed, sex, color, age, and personality traits. RST then emails this information to the list of approved rescues in hope that one will want to foster and find a permanent home. When a rescue decides to take an animal, they are added to the transport list and a driving route is created. Volunteer drivers sign up for “legs” or short driving periods that once connected, transports the animals from the shelter/control to their rescue.
After learning about RST, I wanted to know more about transports and find out if there are others that have similar policies, as well as figure out how rescues select which animals they would receive. I wondered how many transported animals were adopted, and whether transport was making a difference in the euthanasia rate.
To start this conversation, I created a qualitative survey. Included below are a sample of the questions:
- How do you decide what animals are selected for the transport?
- How many transport animals have you adopted into permanent homes in 2013?
- How do you feel the transport has affected euthanasia/adoption rates?
The ten question, open-ended survey was initiated (multiple times) in March 2014 and sent to animal welfare list servs across the country, reaching approximately 200 individuals, shelters, and animal controls. The confidential survey received a 22% response rate, with the majority being from individuals who are a part of a rescue or transport group.
Survey Conclusions and Thoughts
Overall, I found that the majority of the responders wrote very thoughtful responses to non-data questions and yet had very slim answers to data questions such as the euthanasia or adoption rates. In some cases these questions were skipped altogether.
I found that within the pool of responders, most transports had similar policies that were put in place to protect the health of the animals. All required rabies vaccinations, and at least the first set of puppy vaccinations, as well as a health certificate. A few outliers were transports that required all animals to be spayed and neutered in order to participate, and another would not accept animals that were heart-worm positive.
Rescue responses were a bit more varied when asked how they select the animals for transport. The overwhelming response was that rescues pick dogs that they feel are in demand. There are some rescues that are breed specific like the Golden Retriever Rescue or the Pitbull Rescue and of course will only take those breeds or mixes thereof. For those rescues that serve all breeds and mixes, some stated that they look for small or toy breeds, that are relatively young, with no behavior problems, as these dogs are normally in demand and quickest to be adopted. In these cases, the breed did not matter; one rescue stated that dogs that “look cute” are quickly adopted.
Responders were most lively when expressing how they felt their transport affected the euthanasia/adoption rates. One transport responded that they transported over 90 dogs from a high-kill city shelter, and 1700 from high-kill rural shelters, while another stated they have transported nearly 230 “passengers” from county animal controls within 2013. One shelter says that “our payoff is seeing that adoption photo when a dog that has languished for weeks or months in our shelter with little interest is adopted within days.”
There is no doubt that transporting one dog or one cat to a no-kill rescue means the world to animal welfare volunteers, and of course saves that animal’s life. But what is concerning is that none of the responders could connect the data dots – how do transports affect the overall euthanasia and adoptions rates? There are a few hypotheses we can construct; for some it seems obvious, if you transport animals from a high-kill shelter to a safe haven rescue, the euthanasia rate should drop for the sending shelter. But one wonders if the animals that are transported are only displacing the animals that are in the receiving rescue’s area, which would just move the euthanasia rate around. Unfortunately, the responders did not have any figures that would support or dismiss these hypotheses. So how do we evaluate the effectiveness of transports? Do we really know if transports are doing more harm than good? It is hard to definitively say that transports are effective because the statistics to back this statement are missing.
While I realize that any animal transported safely to a rescue and later adopted gives life and new meaning to that dog or cat, I also know that we will never know the true impact that transports and rescues are making if there are no numbers to support their work. I urge transports and rescues to record the animals you transport and adopt out. Help tell the story of the impact you are making in your community and across the country.