Analyzing Animal Intake at Indianapolis Animal Care and Control

3886 words (16 pages) Essay in Biology

23/09/19 Biology Reference this

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Analyzing Animal Intake at Indianapolis Animal Care and Control

Background

Since the 1980’s,  Indianapolis Animal Care service (Abbreviated IACS) has been located at 2600 S. Harding street. Built on top of a landfill, the Harding Street building was built to euthanize animals. Strays that came in were put on a four-day hold, and after day four, the animal was euthanized for space. Without social media, microchips, and cell phones, owners had to physically go to the shelter and walk through the kennel floor daily to look for their beloved pet. And heaven’s forbid they were half a day too late to save their pet. Spaying and neutering was not the norm, so Indianapolis, like many others, was vastly overpopulated with unwanted dogs and cats that too often found themselves facing death at the shelter doors. Even now, as one walks through Animal Care and Control, it is apparent the kennels were made for temporary holding and not for the animal’s well-being. Cages are in long rows, without drains for washing out feces, or windows for letting in lights. Dogs are face to face with one another, exacerbating the dog’s emotions. Cats are allocated a room in the middle of the building, away from ventilation and running water.

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If a person felt they needed to surrender his or her animal, there is one room allocated by the back door. There is a door around the back of the building that is open during certain hours of the day. Many times, people aggregate in the corner, waiting to surrender their animals regardless of the weather. Still to this day, there is not a specific person dedicated to intake, rather the shelter staff takes turns handling intake. The staff is not always emotionally equipped to handle intake, and some staff lash out on the owners from lack of understanding the owner’s problem. While staff makes a great effort to divert intakes, it hasn’t always been that way.

The No-Kill movement began in the 1970’s, however, it did not reach Indianapolis until the early 2000s (The History of the No-Kill Movement, n.d.). The No-Kill Movement focused brought light to spaying and neutering as a humane way to decrease pet overpopulation in America. In 1999, FACE low cost spay, and neuter clinic was founded by “The Foundation Against Companion-Animal Euthanasia” and opened in the heart of downtown Indianapolis (History and Rationale, n.d. ). FACE offered Indianapolis residents for the first time, affordable sterilization options. Since low cost spays and neuters options began and societal views on companion animals has change, the live release rates for Indianapolis Animal Care and Control has steadily increased each year from 2013 (Animal Care Services Kennel Statistics, 2018).

While great movement toward spaying and neutering to be the norm and an increase in shelter-adoption awareness, the question still remains: Why do Indianapolis residents resort to surrendering their animals? It may seem like a simple question, but in actuality, it is a lot more complex. First, who is surrendering the animal? Do people over the age of 50 surrender their animals the most? Over 50 years of age is theorized to be the average because this subpopulation is not as familiar with online resources as the younger generations. To examine this, intake form from Indianapolis Animal Care and Control were inputted into excel. Owner’s date of birth were calculated from the date of the intake form to determine the person’s age. After all the intake forms were analyzed, the average age was calculated with basic statistics. The importance of the demographics of “who” can be used by IACS in the future to personalize resources and services for pet owners.

Materials and Methods

 The purpose of this research was to determine the average age of a person who surrendered an animal to IACS. In the beginning, the goal was to determine the “why” behind animal surrender, but it was soon realized that the why cannot be determined until the “who” is known. Intake forms were obtained from IACS with their permission. Over the course of two months, Marian Students met once a week and organized the intake forms by date, and then inputted all the information from the form into an excel spreadsheet, making different sheets for each month. The biggest issue students ran into was incomplete forms. Many categories were left blank on the intake form, including useful information such as the type of animal the person surrendered and if the animal was altered or not. Recommendations for IACS is to have the form filled out completely so further research can be done.

 The independent variables were date of surrender, date of birth (Person), zip code, species, breed, age of animal, reason for surrender, sex, and microchip, however, age of person and reason for surrender were the variables that were focused on. The dependent variable for age was person’s age in months, and the dependent variable for reason of surrender was coded to reflect the various reason why people surrender animals. Below is the reason given for surrender along with the coded key that was used for data analysis.

Figure 1: Key for Codes


Note, other categories were coded but were not used in data analysis sat this time. While student researchers focused on age of person and reason for surrender, all information was input into excel spreadsheet for future research, such as finding relationships between species and surrender reason, stray and microchip correlation, etc.

Four-Hundred and Fifteen intake forms were inputted into excel. Of those 415 intake forms, 509 animals were surrendered between July 29th, 2018, and September 25th, 2018. For data presentation, August 2018 and September of 2018 were counted towards graphs and figures because there was such little data for July 2018. For data analysis, 400 intake forms from August 2018 to September 2018 were analyzed using basic statistical methods. These 400 forms accounted for 483 animals.

Age of Person

 Indianapolis Animal Care and Control requires a valid ID to surrender an animal. However, 38, or 9.15% of all forms, did not have a written date of birth. This is believed to be due to Lawrence animal care officers and staff, as staff is often known to bring in rescued animals they find. Person’s date of birth was converted into number of months from the date of the surrender. Average age was calculated by adding up the number of months and dividing it by the number of  intakes for said month. Data was further analyzed by sorting each surrender reason into a category, and then finding the average age of the person that surrendered for said particular reason. A bar graph was chosen to represent the age of the person surrendering per reason of surrender (Figure 4).

Surrender Reason

 All intake forms had eight categories for surrender reason. The code made for analysis correlated with the nine reasons on the form. There were eight “reasons for surrender” on the form (Behavior, Euthanasia, Financial, Moving, Owner Death, Sick Pet, Stray, and write-in.) and from these eight categories, another six categories were deduced. Note that the write-in category was not counted toward the 14 categories, instead, the write-ins were separated into established categories that most closely resembled the reasoning. All the added six categories were deduced from popularity or relevance in the write-in portion on the intake form. The write-in category was switched out for persons that left the surrender reason part of the form blank. The six other added categories were allergy, citizens rescue (Ex: Person rescued dog from owner dump, neglected by neighbor, etc.), no time, too many animals, homelessness, and Landlord.  Surrender reasons for August 2018 and September 2018 were tallied up and displayed in a pie graph (Figure 5).

Limitations

 Every animal that entered animal care and control between August of 2018 and September 2018  was not  accounted for in this study. Annually, IACS sees about 14,000 animals per year, which comes out to an average of 1166.66 animals per month (Animal Care services Kennel Studies, n.d.). For the month of August, there were a total of 165 animals in this study. The gap in data could be due to IACS’s disorganization. At IACS, intake forms do not have a file cabinet or computer base, so files lay around the building. Student researchers were handed a stack on disorganized paperwork that were found in the corner of someone’s office. Besides the disorganization, the gap could be due to  animal control officers, as it is their duty to bring in strays or pets for cruelty investigations. When the officers bring in the animals, they have separate paperwork that is filled out and is not accessible to Marian student researchers. In this research, the average age from the given data and distribution of reasons can be concluded, however, it is not enough to extrapolate the average age as a whole until more data has been obtained.

Results

The hypothesis stated that the average age of a person who surrendered an animal, would be older, middle-aged folks around 50 years of age. However, it was concluded that the average age was 43.78 years old. Reasons for surrender varied, and more data is needed to quantify accurate distribution for reasons for surrender. To understand August 2018- September 2018 research data fully, refer to Figure 1 for reference on Figures 2, 3, 4, and 7.



Box and Whiskers Plots for August 2018 and September 2018

Figure 3: September 2018 Average Age of Owner Surrender

Figure 2: August 2018  Average Age of Owner Surrender

Data was split into its perspective months and a box and whiskers plot was created to find the mean, median, upper and lower quartile, and the maximum and the minimum.

 Figure 2 displays August 2018 average age of surrender. The mean age for August was 36.32 years old. The maximum and minimum were 74.39 and 18.25, respectively. The median was 31.88 years old. The upper and lower quartiles were 46.49 years and 24.86 years, respectively.

Figure 3 displays September 2018 average age of surrender. The mean age for September 2018 was 42.08 years old. The maximum and minimum were 78.24 and 18.24, respectively. The median was 41.12 years old. The upper and lower quartiles were 53.18 years and 30.66 years, respectively. The outlier was 88.76 years.


Average Age of Owner Surrender for August 2018 and September 2018 by Reason

Figure 4: Average Age per Surrender Reason

Data points, corresponding to age in months, were sorted into 14 different categories based on the reason for the surrender. Above in Figure 4 are the listed reasons for surrender with the average age of person that surrenders for said reason in August 2018 and September 2018. Note numbers are converted into years for convince.


Number of Instances per Surrender Reason for August 2018 and September 2018

Coded Key for Figure 4

1: Stray

2: Blank

3: Euthanasia

4: Behavior

5: Moving

6: Too Many Animals

7: Allergy

8: Citizens Rescue

9: Landlord

10: No Time

11: Homelessness

12: Sick Pet

13: Financial

14: Owner Death

Figure 6: Coded Key for Figure 5

Figure 5: Reasons for Surrender August 2018- September 2018

 Figure 5 represents the 65-day period between August 2018 and September 2018; 483 animals were surrendered to Indianapolis Animal Care and Control. Figure 6 is the representative key code for Figure 5 and only Figure 5. Strays comprised of the most intakes, 229 to be exact, accounting for 47% of all intake during this 65-day period. Unfortunately, for 64, or 13% of total surrenders, the forms were left blank. Euthanasia comprised of 9% of overall surrenders, with 45 in total, while Behavioral issues resulted in 39 surrenders, or 8% of overall surrenders. Thirty-nine animals were surrendered because their owners had to move, which made up 6% of all surrenders. Five percent of surrenders were due to owners having too many animals, which resulted in 27 surrenders. Allergies were the case 13 surrenders, allocating to 3% of total surrenders. Citizens Rescue, Landlords, and No time resulted in 6% of surrenders, each of which contributed 2% to overall surrenders. Homelessness, Sick Pet, and Financial issues each contributed 1% to the overall surrender rate for the two-month period. Over the course of the 65-day period, no animals were surrendered due to owner death.


Average Age of Owner Surrender per Reason and Instances

Figure 7: Average Age of Person per Surrender Reason and Instances

 In Figure 7, All three elements of research were put together to see how each part contributes to the overall picture. The decisions to surrender an animal is not made on whim, rather, it is a complex decision that often times, many owners contemplate for a while. Figure 7 depicts how age corresponds to reason for surrenders, and which reasons occur the most often. Reason 7 was shorted, because it accounted for 229 surrenders, and the parameters of the graph did not allow for the smaller instances to be seen. The reasons with more instances have a similar average age (1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 12), with each being in the 30’s, except 12 is early 40’s. This graph depicts outliers, such as reason 5, which had one instance, so the resulting average age was 73.61 years. Possibly, the more instances per reason, the more the average age will be in the 30’s. 

Discussion

 The research conducted through Indianapolis Animal Care and Control between August 2018 and September 2018 yielded promising results to future directions. The implications found in this study can be used to expand on said basis to discover future correlations within the Indianapolis community. Interestingly, the results of this study concluded similar results as seen in other studies.

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 After much literature review, many shelters came to the same conclusion that the people relinquishing animals are, on average, younger than 50 years of age ( New Jr et. Al., 2010). The original hypothesis for this research was that most people surrendering pets would be over 50 years of age, because it was assumed people surrendered because lack of resources. While people did surrender because of lack of resources, it was originally assumed that younger people were familiar with the free and accessible pet resources found on the internet and social media. However, this may not be the case because according to Figure 2, in August 2018, 75% of people that surrendered their pets were under 50 years of age. Figure 3, for September 2018, shows that 75% of people that surrounded their pets were under 53 years of age. While this demographic age group has access to free resources for pet care, they may not know that within their access, are free resources and  services. In order to bridge this gap, a similar study suggested the use of free advertising for these resources on other websites and pages (Tongg, 2016). With the increase in advertising, the city shelter can begin to be viewed as a resource for pet owners, instead of a last resort (Tongg, 2016).

 Indianapolis Animal Care and Control was not the only shelter that experienced lack of participation in surrender forms. Many places, especially city shelter that see a heavy volume of intake, have many people that do not fill out any information about their pet. One theory behind this lack of participation is embarrassment. For the 65-day period, referring back to Figure 5, 13% of intake forms were not filled out as to why the animal was being relinquished. During these two months, that 13% equated to a total of 64 animals being surrounded. Had the owners filled out the reasoning behind why they were at the shelter surrendering their beloved pet that day, the shelter stay could have possibly guided them to resources or services that would have helped them keep their pet.

 The one-on-one method has shown promising  success in deterring  people away from shelter drop-off doors in other shelters (Tongg, 2016). Often, in over-crowded shelters, the public is made to sit or stand amongst one another, with their soon-to-be homeless pet beside them. Many people are left to feel judged and embarrassed amongst strangers and staff. Many times, shelter intake staff is stretched too thin, resulting in the intake process being rushed, which leaves people feeling helpless and defeated. Some shelters have found that when shelter intake is private and one-on-one, many people are open to keeping their pet if they are connected with the resources needed to overcome their internal or external hurdle. Tongg suggests using a private room, and if possible, have the public schedule appointments to drop off their pet (Tongg, 2016). These two measures would allow staff to have allocated time to spend with each person and pet, and hopefully find an alternative to the owner having to relinquish their pet (Tongg, 2016).

 It should also be noted that while Indianapolis has a large stray volume, there is also a large gap between the cost of veterinary care and owner income, as seen in the high instance rate of euthanasia requests in Figure 4. Euthanasia, from experience, can cost upwards of $500.00 us dollars. This expensive, and sometimes unexpected expense of euthanasia can leave owners at the mercy of owner relinquishment. When euthanasia animals are surrendered to IACS, the Euthanasia is done for free if it is deemed in the best interest of the animal.

Conclusion

This research is just the top of the iceberg. Marian Students plan to continue this research for the remainder of their college career, with hopes of passing it on to prospective new students within the coming years. Students and shelter staff are aware of the vast implications that can come from determining the who, what, when, why and how. The “who” was determined in this first part of the research: People under 50 years of age, mostly in their 30’s. However, in order to feel more confident about this statement, a larger sample size would be needed. By knowing the “who”, IACS can then target this specific group of people for low-cost and free services. Possibly with this age group, like Tongg suggested, more advertising would be beneficial to meeting their needs (Tongg, 2016).

Next semester students will focus on the “what”: species, breed, sex, age, etc. The “what” will focus on the demographics of the animals in Indianapolis shelters. Other studies have shown that young ( < 2 years), mixed breed, and male intact dogs have the greatest risk of ending up in a shelter (Mondelli et al., 2004; New Jr et al., 2010). By understanding the “what”, hopefully Indianapolis can gear their resources and services towards this animal demographic. For example, if it is found that dogs surrendered for behavioral issues are intact, possibly offering free neutering once a month at different clinics would help people to neuter their male dogs, so their energy level and maintenance decreases to a level of manageability.

After the “who” and “what” are established, Marian researchers can shift their focus to the “why”. The “why” answers the simple question: Why are people surrounding their animals? Even though 14 different reasons were pinpointed (Figure 1), it is important to realize that people are not a “one box fits all”, rather each situation has it’s each unique story. The Italian shelter study identified six, broad reasons for surrender, one of which was “blank” (Mondelli et al., 2004). The other five reasons had sub-reasons for each section to further individualize the owner and animal (Mondelli et al., 2004). In the future, Marian researchers would like to create recognize and organize reasons for surrender under two categories: External, Internal, and Acquisition Problems (Tongg, 2016). Under these categories, similar categories used in Figure 1 would be used, and each would have specific sub-categories (Mondelli et al., 2004). For example, a data point could be sorted in External, Financial Constraints, Loss of Job, vs a similar data point, such as External, Financial Constraints, Death of Breadwinner. By truly understanding the “why”, the shelter and community will be better able to serve the Indianapolis resident and their pets.

Throughout the continuation of this research, the “when” will be observed throughout the research process of other hypotheses. Specifically, is there a certain time of the year where shelter intakes peak, or drops to a low? The “when” can only be confidently concluded with year’s worth of intake forms. The “when” can help shelter staff better deduce the reason behind people surrendering, and better prepare for certain times of the year if a pattern is found.

Finally, the “how” will not be researched. Rather, the “how” will be a compilation of all the information gathered throughout this project which will be used to  implement a plan to begin to heal the the problem at hand: 6.5 million animals enter United States shelters every year. (“Pet Statistics”, n.d) The hope is that Indianapolis will reach “no-kill” status, meaning they save at least 90% of the animals that come in (Live release rate), as defined by the Best Friends Animal Society (“No-Kill Shelters”, n.d.). And maybe someday, Indianapolis Animal Care and Control can be the leader in preserving the human-animal bond.

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