The Community Lifesaving Dashboard: The Power Of Data In Advocates’ Hands
In late July, animal advocates gathered in Dallas, TX for the Best Friends National Conference hosted by Best Friends Animal Society, a widely-known animal welfare nonprofit organization in the United States. At the conference, Best Friends announced the release of a new online interface called the community lifesaving dashboard. The new tool’s creation is motivated by a desire for greater transparency in the animal welfare sector and will facilitate greater engagement between the public and the animal shelters they support. Animal advocates are celebrating the release of this dashboard for its never-before-seen reporting on animal shelters on a granular, community-by-community basis; in a realm where substantial data collection and presentation has been a consistent struggle, groundbreaking tools like this are even more important.
Best Friends released the tool as part of their mission of all animal shelters achieving no-kill status across the country by 2025. In 2018 alone, 733,000 dogs and cats were euthanized across the U.S. due to shelter overcapacity and lack of adoptions. For Best Friends, the solution to this tragedy is to advocate for no-kill communities and pushing for support of no-kill shelters. Their definition of “no-kill” means a save rate of 90% – that is, at least nine-tenths of animals that come through a shelter’s doors must be placed in a home for qualification (the remaining 10% allow for situations of acute suffering where euthanasia is truly the most compassionate and ethical decision).
Now, community members have direct access to data that tells them how their local shelters are faring, empowering them with information to help them decide which shelters to support and what areas need help. The new community lifesaving dashboard presents years’ worth of data in an easy-to-use, simple-to-understand interactive map that color-codes states and shelters based on how close they are to achieving no-kill status. Visitors can click to the state of their choice and instantly view how many shelters there are as well as how many dogs and cats were taken in, adopted out, and euthanized. Best Friends reached out to every shelter across the country to collect this information, creating the most comprehensive collection of data ever seen in animal welfare. Now, these data are in every advocates’ hands.
The color-coding system immediately reveals some interesting information. Out of all 50 states in the U.S., only Delaware has achieved no-kill status with a save rate of 92.9% across its 59 shelters. While the rest of the country tends to be shaded in light green—meaning they are less than 13,000 saved animals away from achieving no-kill status—the southeastern region including Florida, Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas, and Virginia all struggle with higher euthanasia rates. Texas and California, the two most populous states in the country, are striking with their bright red coding – this signifies that each state has to decrease its euthanasia rate by 100,000 animals per year to achieve no-kill status.
What is different about these states that have made it easier – or harder – for them to achieve no-kill status? What differences at the cultural, societal, and political levels affect how well shelters are supported in their communities? Holly Sizemore, Chief Mission Officer of Best Friends and lead expert of the dashboard, “can’t make any definitive correlations,” but goes on to say “what does seem likely is that transparency along with the government’s willingness to address the issue on a policy level could be factors. A lot of additional factors come into play generally across the U.S. in terms of lifesaving progress as well: socioeconomics, resource and program infrastructure (or lack thereof), and leadership capabilities.” Users of the dashboard may find it insightful and enlightening to make a point of seeing how their own community stacks up to the rest of the country.
What can you do if, through this dashboard, you discover that your community isn’t no-kill? This may be upsetting information, but you can be part of the change to get their status flipped the other way. Best Friends recommends supporting these organizations by getting involved and being an advocate for them. Many shelters have found success in becoming no-kill when community members took it upon themselves to engage local government and other community members to bolster support. The community lifesaving dashboard is a tool for empowerment.
Community members are also encouraged to work with any shelters local to them that are designated as “waiting on shelter data.” Because the dashboard will be continuously updated and generate new statistics as data comes in, advocates can get involved to help make the data set even more robust. Anyone interested in following up with their local community shelters can complete this form and submit it to Best Friends.
This is an exciting development for animal advocates – the integration of rigorous data collection and technological sophistication presents an engaging new way to inform the public about companion animal welfare in the U.S. and encourage greater involvement with their local communities. In turn, we’re being empowered to better help companion animals find homes and prevent unnecessary euthanasia. You can view the community lifesaving dashboard and explore all of its data here.