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Focus Oklahoma
Pioneering Models in Eliminating Overpopulation in Low-Income Populations in Rural States

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Finding Information
In the Absence of Shelters and/or Mandatory Data Collection

This information is for rural organizations that operate spay/ neuter programs in areas that have no animal shelters and therefore have no baseline numbers of unwanted pets. In this environment, it is difficult to assess start up resources that are needed. Without numbers, once the program has started, it is difficult to assess the impact you’ve had.

In the states that do not mandate countywide sheltering, (much less record keeping), many towns have animal collection facilities that serve the towns located within counties without facilities. These facilities turn away animals from the surrounding county area. This creates a “checkerboard” whereby an unwanted dog from the town can be placed in a shelter, while a dog originating from the same county, but outside of the incorporated town limits, cannot be.

Where do unwanted animals go that cannot be placed in a shelter? How many are there; how many homes need help?

Many factors affect the numbers, and the numbers affect your spay/ neuter program. For example, if 50 litters are received at a local pound during the spring time, and 10 phone calls a day are turned away, obviously 25 surgeries will not be sufficient. Information is vital to effectiveness.

FIRST, to find out exactly how much of your county has access to sheltering and how much does not:

1. Call the county clerk, the sheriffs office and the town offices to find out what towns within the county have some type of animal control that accepts unwanted animals.

2. Go to US Census 2000 “Gateway”, go to State & County QuickFacts and click on your state.

3. The next screen will have boxes saying, “Select a County” and “Select a City.” Scroll down to the correct county and write down the population. Next, go to “Select a City” scroll down to “Other places not listed.” A window will appear. Type in the name of the first town that has animal control within the county. The site will bring up the name of the town, click on the name and the site will bring up a PDF showing facts about the town. Write down the population of the town. Repeat this for each town that has animal control and add up the populations of all of those towns.

4. The total population of the towns with services, divided by the overall population of the county (population without services), equals the percentage of the county that has access to a shelter for an unwanted animal.

For example, Maple County has 12,000 people, and has no county wide sheltering. Two towns within Maple County, Oak, and Elm, have animal control. Oak has 1,600 people, and Elm has 1,400 people, for a total of 3,000.

3,000 divided by 12,000 equals .25 or 25%. So, 25% of the population of Maple County has access to sheltering and 75% does not.

To get statewide totals, add up the populations of locations within the state that have animal control and divide that number by the total population, as above. The number will be the population that has access to sheltering.

Most information on areas without sheltering will be anecdotal, but you can still get a good idea about the problems.

Try to learn from the animal control personnel how many animals they receive in a year and, more importantly, how many from the surrounding area are turned away. Are most calls about litters? Do they know the communities of the animals turned away? This will give you an idea of places that need help. This also gives you an opportunity to establish a working relationship with animal control.

People who rescue unwanted animals can sometimes tell you the number and types of calls they get.

Towns usually have more animal control regulations than county areas, including leash laws and a limit on the number of pets per home, consequently, rural households tend to have more pets per home than households incorporated towns. Housing managers, and even the health department, will often know the sources of animal complaints, especially regarding colonies of cats.

Find out the number of animal related complaints received by local law enforcement. Most will involve intact animals. Learn the number of cruelty complaints. These numbers give you some “facts” to take to local officials when discussing issues relating to unwanted pets.

Assessing your program’s effectiveness...

Again, this is difficult in areas without shelters, but it is worth trying to assess whether or not you are making a difference and how much. It is easiest to impact isolated areas. Here’s some information to help you know if you’re on the right track:

Have the number of calls turned away from existing shelters decreased, remained constant or increased?

Have rescuers seen a change in numbers of requests for services they receive?

One Oklahoma town originally complained that over 70% of the 911 calls they received were related to animals, particularly neighborhood conflicts involving roaming dogs. The police chief realized that these complaints usually involve intact animals, many involving females in season. After developing a spay/ neuter program, continue tracking the number of animal related complaints to police.

One isolated (and very low-income) area in the US had a very excessive number of stray dogs; many affected by mange and malnutrition. Most homes relied on table scraps for feeding dogs. After two years of high volume spay/ neuter clinics, the overall number of unwanted (roaming) dogs had dropped dramatically, the number of dog bites decreased dramatically as well, and the general condition of the local dogs had improved visibly. Were the changes passive, i.e. a smaller number of animals shared the scraps, or was a pro-active change occurring? A call to the two local grocers revealed that as the number of dogs decreased, people purchased much more dog food. People do more for their pets when they are not overwhelmed.

Has the number of cruelty complaints changed?

Dog bites are related to intact animals. Contact your local health department to track changes in reported dog bites. Importantly, learn the communities most affected by bites.

Assessing and evaluating your program helps your program succeed.

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