Temporal trends in intake category data for animal shelter and rescue organizations in Colorado from 2008 to 2018

Sloane M. Hawes Institute for Human-Animal Connection, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver, Denver, CO

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Tess M. Hupe Institute for Human-Animal Connection, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver, Denver, CO

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Jaci Gandenberger Institute for Human-Animal Connection, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver, Denver, CO

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Kevin N. Morris Institute for Human-Animal Connection, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver, Denver, CO

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE

To investigate trends in animal shelter and rescue organization intake for dogs and cats in Colorado from 2008 to 2018.

SAMPLE

482 animal shelters and rescue organizations that reported annual intake data to the State of Colorado Department of Agriculture for 1,086,630 dogs and 702,333 cats.

PROCEDURES

Total intake, intake for each of 5 Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act categories (stray, owner surrender, intrastate transfer, interstate transfer, or other), and community-based intake (total intake after exclusion of transfers) of dogs and cats were assessed in total and for each organization type (shelter or rescue organization). The number taken in per year, number taken in/1,000 capita (human residents)/y, and number in each intake category as a percentage of total intake for the same species per year were analyzed with linear regression models.

RESULTS

Trend lines indicated that total dog intake increased over the study period, but there was no change when these data were adjusted for the human population. Cat intake decreased over time according to both of these measures. Total community-based intake decreased, whereas total intake by interstate transfer from other organizations increased for both species during the study period.

CLINICAL RELEVANCE

Increased transfer of dogs and cats across state lines into regions with low community-based shelter intake suggested that regional and national animal disease trends could potentially impact disease profiles for recipient areas. Findings supported efforts toward collecting animal shelter and rescue organization intake and outcome data across larger systems.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE

To investigate trends in animal shelter and rescue organization intake for dogs and cats in Colorado from 2008 to 2018.

SAMPLE

482 animal shelters and rescue organizations that reported annual intake data to the State of Colorado Department of Agriculture for 1,086,630 dogs and 702,333 cats.

PROCEDURES

Total intake, intake for each of 5 Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act categories (stray, owner surrender, intrastate transfer, interstate transfer, or other), and community-based intake (total intake after exclusion of transfers) of dogs and cats were assessed in total and for each organization type (shelter or rescue organization). The number taken in per year, number taken in/1,000 capita (human residents)/y, and number in each intake category as a percentage of total intake for the same species per year were analyzed with linear regression models.

RESULTS

Trend lines indicated that total dog intake increased over the study period, but there was no change when these data were adjusted for the human population. Cat intake decreased over time according to both of these measures. Total community-based intake decreased, whereas total intake by interstate transfer from other organizations increased for both species during the study period.

CLINICAL RELEVANCE

Increased transfer of dogs and cats across state lines into regions with low community-based shelter intake suggested that regional and national animal disease trends could potentially impact disease profiles for recipient areas. Findings supported efforts toward collecting animal shelter and rescue organization intake and outcome data across larger systems.

Introduction

A variety of data indicate that substantial progress has been made in animal sheltering practices and outcomes in the US during the past 5 decades. For example, the euthanasia rate of dogs and cats has likely dropped > 10-fold since the 1970s, when an estimated 64 animals/1,000 capita (human residents) were euthanized.1 By 2018, the euthanasia rate was estimated to be 5.6 companion animals/1,000 capita.2 However, the regional heterogeneity of this progress is driving new animal sheltering dynamics at the state and national levels. Most previous studies of sheltering operations have focused on data describing animal outcomes such as euthanasia, adoption, and either the Asilomar- or American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals–defined live release rate (LRR)3 in a single shelter, city, or state, with animal intake included as an aggregate.4,5,6,7,8,9 More detailed analyses of intake by categories are critical to understanding how intake types drive the outcomes that are the foci of these previous studies.8,9,10 Further, trends in intake types (eg, intrastate vs interstate animal transfers) may inform veterinary practice as companion animals are adopted out into local communities.

With nationwide changes in the incidence of diseases among veterinary patients, changes in the disease profiles of companion animal populations in states accepting large numbers of animals transferred from other regions should be closely monitored.11 For example, the southeastern region of the US, which is a region from which many animals are presently transported to Colorado, has recently experienced a larger increase in dog heartworm cases than other regions, at approximately 18%.11,12 From 2012 to 2018, there was a slight increase in the percentage of dogs that tested positive for roundworm, whipworm, hookworm, giardia, and ehrlichiosis in Colorado.13 Further, the prevalence of heartworm infection in dogs in Colorado increased by 67.5% from 2013 to 2017.14 Other factors that might influence changes in the disease profiles include local vegetation, urbanization, number of animals receiving heartworm preventives, human migration and socioeconomic status, and weather.15 Although there was no increase in the prevalence of heartworm infection in cats in Colorado from 2012 to 2018, there were increases in the proportions of cats that tested positive for FIV, roundworm, hookworm, and giardia.13 An evaluation of the health of 430 cats that were relocated among agencies revealed that although infectious diseases such as feline panleukopenia virus and dermatophytosis were not common, upper respiratory infection rates did increase following the transport of cats to a new animal shelter or rescue organization.16 More research is needed to understand how interstate transfer of companion animals impacts a receiving community’s risk of disease.

Previous studies on shelter intake have focused on the impacts of particular programs on overall shelter intake. One study17 evaluated the role of geographic information system mapping to support the decision-making process for allocating resources to communities with high rates of intake, and several studies18,19,20 have found that focused trap-neuter-return (TNR) and adoption of free-roaming cats are associated with decreased total intake of cats at local shelters. Other studies21,22 found that opening a subsidized spay and neuter clinic in a community was not associated with changes in the declining rate of dog intake at the local shelter but was correlated with a decrease in the number of cats impounded. Findings of other studies23,24,25 have indicated that subsidized spay and neuter clinics that offer low-cost veterinary care options provide access to animal health services for pet owners who were previously unable to use veterinary services, but there is little research concerning how these programs impact pet relinquishment and shelter intake rates. However, there is reason to believe these services may be beneficial because the cost of obtaining veterinary care is a common reason cited for relinquishing companion animals to a shelter.26,27

Other studies have investigated associations between specific intake categories and the outcomes for dogs and cats entering shelters. A study10 conducted at 1 large shelter in the US and published in 2018 found that the LRRs for dogs were similar among intake categories (owner surrender, stray, return from adoption, and return from foster care), with an overall rate of approximately 88%. Another study7 of 4 large animal shelters in 1 US city assessed trends in 4 intake categories (stray, owner surrender, dead on arrival or euthanasia requested on arrival, and transferred in from other organizations) from 1989 to 2010. Across the study period, the total intake of dogs decreased by 25% to 12/1,000 capita; this change was driven by approximately 40% decreases in annual intakes of stray and owner-surrendered dogs.7 Although these trends were partially offset by an increase in the intake of dogs transferred into these 4 shelters from other facilities in the same state, intrastate transfers were interpreted as a mechanism to optimize shelter and adoption capacity across the state. During the same period, the total intake of cats decreased by 24% to 8.8/1,000 capita. This trend was largely driven by a decrease of > 50% in owner-relinquished cats, with the number of stray intakes remaining unchanged. Two other studies8,9 focused on outcome data for animal shelters across the state of Colorado and identified decreasing trends in the overall intake of dogs and cats and substantial increases in transfers of both species to other facilities within the same state. The latter trend was again interpreted as an effort to maximize sheltering and adoption capacity throughout the state. These studies demonstrate ways that the types of intake may influence outcomes for animals in individual shelters and broader sheltering systems.

Starting in 2000, the State of Colorado legislatively mandated annual reporting of animal shelter and rescue organization intake and outcome data through its Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act (PACFA), making it possible to assess sheltering dynamics across the state system.28 Trend analyses of information for 76 of these organizations that consistently reported data to the State Department of Agriculture from 2000 to 2015 indicate that Colorado achieved LRRs of approximately 88% for dogs and 77% for cats during that time.9 However, only total intake data were analyzed, so important dynamics related to intake categories that may be associated with outcome trends in animal shelters and rescue organizations remain poorly understood.

The PACFA data reporting requirements were updated in 200829 to include 5 intake categories (stray, owner relinquished, transfer in from another Colorado organization, transfer in from an out-of-state organization, and other). The purpose of the study reported here was to assess trends in total intake and intake within each of these categories for dogs and cats from 2008 to 2018 on the basis of 3 scales (total number taken in per year, number taken in/1,000 capita/y, and number taken in as a percentage of total intake for the same species per year) to better understand how sources of intake may impact animal shelters and rescue organizations in Colorado. We additionally sought to assess intake trends on the basis of the recipient organization type (animal shelters or rescue organizations) and for a category representing community-based intake (ie, excluding transfers among organizations) to allow for additional insights into the potential influence of these factors on sheltering outcomes.

Materials and Methods

Data compilation

Intake data for dogs and cats entering Colorado facilities licensed in accordance with the PACFA from January 1, 2008, to December 31, 2018, were obtained from the Colorado Department of Agriculture PACFA program website.30 The PACFA mandated that all animal shelters and rescue organizations handling > 24 dogs and cats/y (in any combination) or having > 15 dogs and cats housed in a central facility at any time during a year be licensed by the state’s Department of Agriculture, meet defined physical facility standards, be available for inspection by the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, and submit an annual report on animal intake and outcomes.28 On the basis of PACFA definitions,28 an organization was classified as an animal shelter if a dedicated physical facility was used to care for and house pet animals, whereas it was classified as a rescue organization if pet animals were accepted for the purpose of permanent placement in adoptive homes but a central facility for keeping the animals was not maintained.

A total of 552 organizations licensed in accordance with the PACFA were active in Colorado at some time during the study period. Of these, 70 were excluded from the study because they had operations largely consisting of breeding, retail, boarding, or grooming that did not qualify them as animal shelters or rescue organizations. The 482 organizations included in the study comprised 225 shelters and 257 rescue organizations; total intake data reported by all organizations were used in the study.

Information obtained from the PACFA database included the numbers of dogs and cats taken into the animal shelters and rescue organizations in total and classified by intake category. These categories were assigned on the basis of PACFA reporting definitions.29 Stray intakes included animals that were found or impounded and kept for a predetermined holding period in accordance with state statute (CO 35-80-106.3), whereas owner-relinquished intakes consisted of animals surrendered to a facility by their legal owners.29 Transfers in from another Colorado organization comprised animals imported into a facility from another in-state PACFA licensed facility, and transfers in from an out-of-state organization consisted of animals that were imported into Colorado and the receiving facility by use of a licensed PACFA transporter or private transportation vehicle.29 For study purposes, the latter 3 categories were termed owner surrender, intrastate transfer, and interstate transfer, respectively. The intake category of other included subcategories of TNR (cats brought in for the purposes of being released back to a colony), protective custody (animals held because of law enforcement cases), disaster relief (animals taken in and sheltered during disasters), returns (animals brought back ≤ 30 days after being adopted out),29 and owner-requested euthanasia.

The intrastate transfer category did not include animals that remained in an animal shelter or rescue organization’s custody but were moved to another site for temporary foster care. Animals that had intrastate transfers among multiple facilities were not accounted for separately. Protective custody was changed from a separate intake category to part of the other intake category in 2014, and owner-requested euthanasia was removed from this category in the same year. For study purposes, protective custody and owner-requested euthanasia were included as other intakes across the entire study period to ensure consistency in data analysis.

Annual intake data from the 482 organizations were aggregated for each species in total and by intake category and then disaggregated into animal shelter and rescue organization subgroups. Data were provided as the total number of animals per year, total number of animals/1,000 capita/y, and the percentage of total intake for the same species per year. The number of animals/1,000 capita was calculated on the basis of the total number of state residents reported in the Colorado State Demography Office State and County Population Estimates for a given year.31 To explore the impacts of transfers on shelter and rescue organization operations, descriptive statistics were additionally calculated for community-based intake, which was a combination of intake categories (stray, owner surrender, and other) representing animals that were brought in as a result of community needs such as lack of access to resources, rather than to facilitate shelter capacity, provide adoptable animals to the community, or optimize resource allocation.

Statistical analysis

Trends in the aggregated total and organization subgroup data for the described metrics were identified for dogs and cats by linear regression analysis. This exploratory analysis assessed simple increases or decreases over time with the assumption that systemic heteroscedasticity was not an issue and that any changes over the interval were primarily monotonic. For linear regression plots, the y-intercept represented the magnitude for each intake category at the beginning of the study period and the slope represented the amount of change per year. No correction for autocorrelation was incorporated into the analyses, although the influence of data from a previous year on the next would have tended to flatten the trends. Slopes with P values ≤ 0.05 were deemed to be significantly different from 0, whereas slopes with P values > 0.05 were considered to represent trends that were nonsignificant during the study period. No adjustments for the multiplicity of testing were incorporated owing to the exploratory nature of the analyses; thus, the overall type I error could have been greater than the α value (ie, 0.05) for individual tests.

The total change, final value, and percentage change for the trend line over the study period were calculated for all trends that had slopes significantly different from 0. Total change was calculated as the slope multiplied by the number of years over which change from the year 1 values were analyzed (10) in the regression analysis. The final value of the trend line was calculated by adding the total change to the y-intercept, and percentage change was calculated as 100 times the total change divided by the y-intercept. For trend lines with slopes not significantly different from 0, the final value was assumed to be the same as the y-intercept. Data were primarily reported as predicted values from linear regression analyses (not as observed values unless specified otherwise); therefore, values for the first year in each analysis (2008) were reported as the y-intercept for the linear regression, and values for subsequent years were calculated from the y-intercept and slope. During the linear regression analysis, if y-intercepts were negative as a result of a low starting value and a substantial trend line slope over the study period, the percentage change was estimated by use of the observed (actual) number from 2008 instead of the negative y-intercept as the starting value.

Results

Over the 11-year study period, intakes reported by the Colorado animal shelter and rescue organizations included in the study accounted for 1,086,630 of 1,094,016 (99.3%) total dog and 702,333 of 703,891 (99.8%) total cat intakes. The sample represented 444,523 of 450,863 (98.6%) stray dog and 335,004 of 335,778 (99.8%) stray cat intakes, 229,058 of 230,457 (99.4%) dog and 207,031 of 207,418 (99.8%) cat intakes by owner surrender, 88,865 of 89,766 (99.0%) dog and 56,246 of 56,419 (99.7%) cat intrastate-transfer intakes, 224,350 of 226,747 (98.9%) dog and 32,658 of 32,690 (99.9%) cat interstate-transfer intakes, and 94,897 of 96,183 (98.7%) dog and 71,394 of 71,586 (99.7%) cat intakes classified as other types. During the same period, the estimated human population in Colorado steadily increased by 16.16% from an estimated 4,901,938 to 5,694,311.31

Trends in the aggregate animal shelter and rescue organization intake data for dogs and cats analyzed on the basis of the total number of animals per year, number of animals/1,000 capita/y, and animal intake category as a percentage of total intake per year were summarized (Tables 1,2,3). In addition, the community-based intake data (total number of animals per year and number of animals/1,000 capita/y) were summarized for subjective comparison with the data when animals transferred in from other facilities were included.

Table 1

Results of linear regression analysis of dog and cat intake data reported by 482 animal shelters and rescue organizations in Colorado from January 1, 2008, to December 31, 2018, and analyzed on the basis of total number of animals per year.

Intake category and organization type Dogs Cats
Slope P value* y-Intercept Total change Final value Percentage change Slope P value* y-Intercept Total change Final value Percentage change
All intake types
 Total 910 0.01 94,237 9,100 103,337 9.7 –1,226 0.001 69,979 –12,260 57,719 –17.5
 Animal shelter –299 0.35 86,194 NC 86,194 NC –1,745 < 0.001 67,465 –17,450 50,015 –25.9
 Rescue organization 1,047 < 0.001 8,446 10,470 18,916 124.0 519 0.007 2,515 5,190 7,705 206.4
Community based
 Total –1,824 < 0.001 79,430 –18,240 61,190 –23.0 –1,965 < 0.001 65,594 –19,650 45,944 –30.0
 Animal shelter –1,801 < 0.001 75,016 –18,010 57,006 –24.0 –2,095 < 0.001 62,951 –20,950 42,001 –33.3
 Rescue organization –185 < 0.001 4,817 –1,850 2,967 –38.4 130 0.22 2,643 NC 2,643 NC
Stray
 Total –1,439 < 0.001 47,608 –14,390 33,218 –30.2 –1,794 < 0.001 39,423 –17,940 21,483 –45.5
 Animal shelter –1,366 < 0.001 46,356 –13,660 32,696 –29.5 –1,726 < 0.001 37,430 –17,260 20,170 –46.1
 Rescue organization –74 0.01 1,252 –740 512 –59.1 –67 0.41 1,993 NC 1,993 NC
Owner surrender
 Total –937 < 0.001 25,508 –9,370 16,138 –36.7 –812 < 0.001 22,882 –8,120 14,762 –35.5
 Animal shelter –798 < 0.001 22,196 –7,980 14,216 –36.0 –844 < 0.001 22,049 –8,440 13,609 –38.3
 Rescue organization –138 < 0.001 3,312 –1,380 1,932 –41.7 32 0.14 833 NC 833 NC
Intrastate transfer
 Total 137 0.24 7,392 NC 7,392 NC 158 0.08 4,324 NC 4,324 NC
 Animal shelter 186 0.04 4,854 1,860 6,714 38.3 86 0.24 3,812 NC 3,812 NC
 Rescue organization –48 0.42 2,537 NC 2,537 NC 72 0.01 512 720 1,232 140.6
Interstate transfer
 Total 2,496 < 0.001 7,415 24,960 32,375 336.6 581 < 0.001 62 5,810 5,872 9,371.0
 Animal shelter 1,316 < 0.001 6,324 13,160 19,484 208.1 264 0.002 702 2,640 3,342 376.1
 Rescue organization 1,280 < 0.001 1,091 12,800 13,891 1,173.2 317 0.002 –640 3,170 2,530 5,660.7
Other
 Total 552 < 0.001 6,314 5,520 11,834 87.4 640 < 0.001 3,288 6,400 9,688 194.7
 Animal shelter 363 0.04 6,464 3,630 10,094 56.2 475 0.01 3,471 4,750 8,221 136.9
 Rescue organization 28 0.14 253 NC 253 NC 166 < 0.001 –183 1,660 1,477 5,030.3

NC = Not calculated (ie, the slope of the trend line was not significantly different from 0).

The P value was calculated to assess whether the slope of the linear regression line was significantly (P ≤ 0.05) different from 0.

A combination of intake categories (stray, owner surrender, and other) representing animals that were brought in as a result of community needs, rather than to facilitate shelter capacity, provide adoptable animals to the community, or optimize resource allocation.

The percentage change for this variable was estimated by use of the observed (actual) number for the intake category and organization type shown in 2008 because the y-intercept (used as the 2008 value for other variables) was negative on linear regression analysis.

Table 2

Results of linear regression analysis of dog and cat intake data reported by the animal shelters and rescue organizations in Table 1 and analyzed as the total number of animals/1,000 capita/y.

Intake category and organization type Dogs Cats
Slope P value* y-Intercept Total change Final value Percentage change Slope P value* y-Intercept Total change Final value Percentage change
All intake types
 Total –0.11 0.09 19.3 NC 19.3 NC –0.42 < 0.001 14.2 –4.2 10.0 –29.5
 Animal shelter –0.29 < 0.001 17.5 –2.9 14.6 –16.5 –0.54 < 0.001 13.6 –5.4 8.2 –39.8
 Rescue organization 0.16 < 0.001 1.8 1.6 3.4 90.4 0.08 0.02 0.6 0.8 1.4 140.4
Community based†
 Total –0.55 < 0.001 16.1 –5.5 10.6 –34.1 –0.54 < 0.001 13.3 –5.4 7.9 –40.6
 Animal shelter –0.53 < 0.001 15.2 –5.3 9.9 –34.9 –0.53 < 0.001 12.7 –5.3 7.4 –41.7
 Rescue organization –0.04 < 0.001 1.0 –0.4 0.6 –40.4 0.01 0.46 0.6 NC 0.6 NC
Stray
 Total –0.39 < 0.001 9.7 –3.9 5.8 –40.4 –0.43 < 0.001 8.0 –4.3 3.7 –54.1
 Animal shelter –0.38 < 0.001 9.4 –3.8 5.6 –40.4 –0.4 < 0.001 7.5 –4 3.5 –53.3
 Rescue organization –0.02 0.008 0.3 –0.2 0.05 –80.0 –0.02 0.30 0.4 NC 0.4 NC
Owner surrender
 Total –0.24 < 0.001 5.2 –2.4 2.8 –46.3 –0.21 < 0.001 4.6 –2.1 2.5 –45.6
 Animal shelter –0.2 < 0.001 4.5 –2 2.5 –44.6 –0.2 < 0.001 4.5 –2 2.5 –44.9
 Rescue organization –0.03 < 0.001 0.7 –0.3 0.4 –45.5 0.003 0.42 0.2 NC 0.2 NC
Intrastate transfer
 Total 0.006 0.77 1.5 NC 1.5 NC 0.01 0.49 0.9 NC 0.9 NC
 Animal shelter 0.02 0.25 1 NC 1.0 NC 0.02 0.21 0.7 NC 0.7 NC
 Rescue organization –0.02 0.20 0.5 NC 0.5 NC 0.01 0.10 0.1 NC 0.1 NC
Interstate transfer
 Total 0.43 < 0.001 1.7 4.3 6.0 257.5 0.11 < 0.001 0.02 1.1 1.1 5,500.0
 Animal shelter 0.21 < 0.001 1.4 2.1 3.5 154.4 0.06 < 0.001 0.1 0.6 0.7 500.0
 Rescue organization 0.22 < 0.001 0.3 2.2 2.5 733.3 0.06 0.002 –0.1 0.6 0.5 6,000.0‡
Other
 Total 0.08 < 0.001 1.3 0.8 2.1 62.0 0.1 0.008 0.7 1 1.7 140.9
 Animal shelter 0.05 0.13 1.3 NC 1.3 NC 0.08 0.02 0.7 0.8 1.5 111.1
 Rescue organization 0.01 0.05 0.02 NC 0.02 NC 0.03 0.001 –0.04 0.3 0.3 4,285.7‡

Population estimates were obtained from the Colorado State Demography Office State and Population Estimates.31

See Table 1 for remainder of key.

Table 3

Results of linear regression analysis of dog and cat intake data reported by the animal shelters and rescue organizations in Table 1 and analyzed on the basis of the percentage of total intake (within the same species) per year.

Category and organization type Dogs Cats
Slope P value* y-Intercept Total change Final value Percentage change Slope P value* y-Intercept Total change Final value Percentage change
Stray
 All –1.82 < 0.001 50.2 –18.2 32 –36.3 –1.85 < 0.001 56.6 –18.5 38.1 –32.7
 Animal shelter –1.43 < 0.001 53.8 –14.3 39.5 –26.6 –1.46 < 0.001 55.9 –14.6 41.3 –26.1
 Rescue organization –1.16 < 0.001 13.1 –11.6 1.5 –88.5 –3.77 0.003 53.9 –37.7 16.2 –69.9
Owner surrender
 All –1.13 < 0.001 26.9 –11.3 15.6 –42.1 –0.7 < 0.001 32.9 –7 25.9 –21.3
 Animal shelter –0.86 < 0.001 25.8 –8.6 17.2 –33.4 –0.53 0.003 32.9 –5.3 27.6 –16.1
 Rescue organization –2.71 < 0.001 34.8 –27.1 7.7 –77.9 –1.32 0.02 28.0 –13.2 14.8 –47.2
Intrastate transfer
 All 0.07 0.55 7.8 NC 7.8 NC 0.39 0.009 6.2 3.9 10.1 63.3
 Animal shelter 0.24 0.03 5.6 2.4 8.0 42.6 0.36 0.006 5.6 3.6 9.2 64.8
 Rescue organization –1.57 0.007 25.9 –15.7 10.2 –60.6 –0.41 0.58 20.7 NC 20.7 NC
Interstate transfer
 All 2.42 < 0.001 8.3 24.2 32.5 291.2 0.99 < 0.001 –0.2 9.9 9.8 1,237.5‡
 Animal shelter 1.61 < 0.001 7.3 16.1 23.4 222.1 0.55 < 0.001 0.8 5.5 6.3 670.7
 Rescue organization 5.47 < 0.001 23.2 54.7 77.9 236.0 3.58 < 0.001 –4.0 35.8 31.8 3,377.4‡
Other
 All 0.48 < 0.001 6.8 4.8 11.6 70.7 1.17 < 0.001 4.6 11.7 16.3 256.6
 Animal shelter 0.45 0.02 7.5 4.5 12.0 59.7 1.08 < 0.001 4.8 10.8 15.6 223.1
 Rescue organization –0.03 0.87 3.0 NC 3.0 NC 1.91 0.02 1.4 19.1 20.5 1,364.3

See Table 1 for key.

Total and community-based intake

Dogs

On the basis of trend line analysis, the total number of dogs entering shelters and rescue organizations increased by 9.7% from 94,237 to 103,337, whereas the community-based intake of dogs decreased by 23% from 79,430 to 61,190 over the study period. Animal shelters, which accounted for 85,772 of 105,728 (81.1%) total intakes and 60,587 of 63,785 (95%) community-based intakes on the basis of observed (actual) numbers in 2018, experienced no change in total intake during the study period but had a 24% decrease in community-based intake. In contrast, rescue organizations experienced a 124% increase in total intake, with a 38.4% decrease in community-based intake of dogs. When the growth in human population was taken into account, there was no change in total intake of dogs at 19.3/1,000 capita, and there was a decrease of 34.1% in community-based intake to 10.6/1,000 capita during the study period. Animal shelters experienced decreases in total and community intake of dogs on this scale, whereas rescue organizations experienced a 90.4% increase in total intake, even with a 40.4% decrease in community-based intake of dogs.

Cats

Trend lines revealed that the total number of cats entering animal shelters and rescue organizations decreased by 17.5% from 69,979 to 57,719, and community-based intake for this species decreased by 30% from 65,594 to 45,944 during the study period. Animal shelters, which accounted for 52,785 of 63,483 (83.1%) total intakes and 44,791 of 49,718 (90.1%) community-based intakes on the basis of observed (actual) numbers in 2018, experienced a 25.9% decrease in total intake and a 33.3% decrease in community-based intake over the study period. The total intake of cats by rescue organizations increased by 206.4%; however, this accounted for only approximately 17% of the total intake by observed numbers in 2018. Similar trends were detected on analysis of intake/1,000 capita, with 29.5% and 40.6% decreases in the trend lines for total and community intake of cats, respectively, largely driven by trends in the animal shelter subgroup. Rescue organizations had increasing trends on this scale for total intake, but community-based intake remained constant at 0.6/1,000 capita over the study period.

Stray intake

Dogs

Trend lines indicated that the total number of dogs entering shelters or rescue organizations as strays decreased by 30.2% over the study period. This translated into a 40.4% decrease in this intake type/1,000 capita and a 36.3% decrease as a percentage of total dog intake. The downward trends were driven largely by the animal shelter subgroup, with the rescue organization subgroup accounting for only 368 of 34,652 (1.1%) stray intakes on the basis of observed numbers in 2018. The analysis indicated that stray dog intake by rescue organizations as a percentage of total intake decreased by 88.5% to reach 1.5% of total dog intake for this subgroup in 2018.

Cats

Trend lines revealed that total intake of cats as strays decreased by 45.5%. Likewise, stray cat intake/1,000 capita decreased by 54.1%, and that as a percentage of total cat intake decreased by 32.7% to represent only 38.1% of the total in 2018. These trends were largely driven by decreases in stray cat intake by the animal shelter subgroup. The intake of stray cats by rescue organizations represented 1,809 of 63,483 (2.8%) total cat intakes on the basis of observed numbers and was 16.2% of total cat intake for this subgroup in 2018.

Owner surrender intake

Dogs

On the basis of trend line analysis, the total number of dogs surrendered by their owners decreased by 36.7%, and the animal shelter and rescue organization subgroups both experienced decreasing owner surrender intakes across all 3 scales used for analysis during the study period. Owner surrender intake comprised 17.2% of total dog intake by animal shelters and 7.7% of total dog intake by rescue organizations in 2018.

Cats

Trend lines revealed that the total number of cats surrendered by their owners decreased by 35.5%. The animal shelter subgroup experienced decreasing trends for this intake type on all 3 analysis scales, whereas those for the rescue organization subgroup remained unchanged except when calculated as a percentage of total cat intake for the subgroup, in which a 47.2% decrease was detected.

Intrastate transfer

Dogs

Trend lines indicated the total number of dogs taken in by transfer within the state and for those transferred among rescue organizations within the state did not change significantly, but animal shelters experienced a 38.3% increase in this type of intake during the study period. In 2018, animal shelters received 5,290 of 7,163 (73.9%) intrastate dog transfers on the basis of observed numbers. There were no changes in the trends for this type of intake in total or within the subgroups of animal shelters or rescue organizations when analyzed as the number/1,000 capita. Although there was no change in the total number of dogs received by intrastate transfer as a percentage of the species total intake, intakes of this type increased by 42.6% for the animal shelter subgroup and decreased by 60.6% for the rescue organization subgroup when calculated on this scale.

Cats

Trend line analysis indicated no changes in the total number of cats or cats in the animal shelter subgroup taken in by intrastate transfer. The animal shelter subgroup accounted for 4,392 of 5,841 (74.2%) cats received in this manner in 2018 on the basis of observed numbers. Rescue organizations experienced a 140.6% increase in this type of intake. There were no changes in the trends for intrastate transfer of cats in total or within the subgroups of animal shelters or rescue organizations when analyzed as the number/1,000 capita, whereas a 63.3% increase in total intake of cats by intrastate transfer was found when data were analyzed as a percentage of total cat intake. The latter change was informed by a 64.8% increase in this type of intake for animal shelter organizations.

Interstate transfer

Dogs

Trend lines showed the total intake of dogs by transfer from states other than Colorado increased by 336.6%, 257.5%, and 291.2% when calculated on the basis of the total number, number/1,000 capita, and percentage of total intake for the species, respectively, over the study period. These trends were driven by increasing trends in both the animal shelter and rescue organization subgroups. For the animal shelter subgroup, total intakes of this type increased by 208.1% by 2018, whereas those for the rescue organization subgroup increased by 1,173.2%. Interstate transfer of dogs accounted for 32.5% of the total intake of dogs by 2018, largely accounting for the discrepancy between the decreased trend for community intake of dogs and the increased trend for total dog intake.

Cats

Trend line analysis indicated that the total number of cats received by interstate transfer increased by 9,371%. This trend was driven by increasing trends in the animal shelter and rescue organization subgroups, with increases observed across all 3 scales. The increased number of cats in this category accounted for 9.8% of total intake by 2018.

Other intake

Dogs

Trend lines revealed that total intake of dogs in this category increased by ≥ 62% on all 3 scales over the study period. Dogs entering the system as other intakes represented 11.6% of total dog intake by 2018. On the basis of observed numbers in 2018, 10,548 of 11,232 (93.9%) dogs in this category were taken in by the animal shelter subgroup.

Cats

The trend line for the total number of cats categorized as other intakes showed a 194.7% increase. Most of this trend was driven by an increase in the number of cats taken in by the animal shelter subgroup. The total number of cats entering the system as other intakes increased by 140.9% and 256.6% when calculated as the number/1,000 capita and percentage of total cat intake, respectively.

Discussion

As there is no mandated national system that collects animal shelter intake and outcome data, attempts to assess the number of shelters, rescue organizations, and animals served by such facilities have proven challenging.1,32,33,34 In 1 study,34 a state-by-state records search estimated the presence of 3,352 shelters in the US with a physical building to house animals. A national database of sheltered animal statistics was initiated in 2012, but challenges with reporting and participation have limited its scope and accuracy.35 For example, of the nearly 5,000 participating animal shelter and rescue organizations in 2018, only 2,230 self-reported a full year of data, and there was a lack of participation from the midwestern and southern regions of the US.36,37 Interestingly, only 79 animal sheltering organizations from Colorado (24.1% of the 328 that reported data through PACFA) contributed to that database in 2018,38 suggesting that a large number of organizations were not represented. Continued challenges for national efforts increase the value of Colorado’s legislatively mandated annual reporting of categorized shelter and rescue organization intake and animal outcome data. The present study of trends in almost all (> 99%) dog and cat intake data for these organizations over a decade, combined with previous assessments of shelter outcome data for Colorado,7,8,9 illustrated the changing dynamics across 1 state. Further, we assessed these data by organization type (shelter or rescue organization) and their intake types (community-based, stray, owner surrender, intrastate and interstate transfers, and other) as a means of providing insight into the ways that these organizations contributed to the overall sheltering capacity during the study period.

The overall trends for animal shelter and rescue organizations in Colorado indicated that dog intake was stable or increased while that for cats decreased. However, when transfers of animals within these organization types were removed from the analysis so that only community-based intake was examined, trends declined by 23% for dogs and 30% for cats. If the rates of community-based intake were to continue with the same negatives slopes, the intake of dogs in Colorado would reach a theoretical value of 0 in 2051, while that for cats would reach this value in 2041 owing to the lower starting intake number and a steeper trend line slope. Although this goal is neither possible nor desirable for a number of reasons, there are likely many factors driving the observed rates of decline in community-based intake from 2008 to 2018. One mechanism may be progress in keeping companion animals with their families. It is important to note, however, that some percentage of animals in a community will likely continue to need support from animal service organizations, and therefore it is unlikely this trend will remain monotonic or achieve a value of 0.

The decline in community-based intake in the present study was largely attributable to decreases in the number of stray dogs and cats entering animal shelters and rescue organizations. More research is needed to determine whether decreased intake of stray animals by these facilities is associated with increases in a community’s use of nonsheltering methods (eg, social media and mobile applications) to return lost companion animals to their homes or with the use of other emerging shelter-based programs (eg, return-to-field efforts). There were also substantial decreases in the number of companion animals surrendered by their owners to shelter and rescue organizations during the study period. Some animal service organizations in Colorado have initiated more intake diversion programs and expanded their missions to provide more proactive pet resource programming to address the root causes of relinquishment. Examples of such programs include support in finding pet-friendly housing, local pet food assistance programs, affordable veterinary care, and behavior specialists; access to necessary pet supplies; and support for individuals experiencing homelessness and victims of domestic violence who own companion animals.39 Research is needed to determine whether intake diversion programs are associated with decreases in the intake of owner-surrendered animals by animal shelters and rescue organizations.

The study findings demonstrated that while community-driven sources of dog and cat intake by Colorado animal shelter and rescue organizations were significantly decreasing, transfers from facilities in other states were significantly increasing. One limitation of this study is that transfer of animals among multiple shelters or rescue organizations within the state of Colorado may have resulted in multiple counts of intake for these individual animals. Even so, results of trend line analysis indicated that from 2008 to 2018, there were > 300% and > 9,000% increases in the numbers of dogs and cats, respectively, that were received by interstate transfer (although the reported number of cats received in this manner in 2018 was still substantially smaller than that of dogs). The decreasing trends in euthanasia of dogs and cats in Colorado animal shelters that have been identified in previous studies7,8,9 suggest that the transfer of animals into Colorado from other states may be a means of meeting a need for adoptable companion animals. Further, 16,580 of 34,780 (47.7%; observed numbers) dogs received through interstate transfer by animal shelter and rescue organizations in the last year of the present study were classified as juveniles, likely reflecting an effort to meet a demand for adoptable puppies (data not shown). However, the substantial increases in Colorado’s human population during the study period could not have solely accounted for the large increases in dog and cat intakes of this category, as indicated by the interstate intake calculated/1,000 capita (human residents)/y. Future studies should follow these trends to ensure that community sheltering needs are met and that an increasing proportion of juvenile dogs received by interstate transfer does not correspond to an increase in the relinquishment of adult dogs.

Similar to the insights provided by disaggregating the transfer intake data from the community-based intake data, assessment of the data by facility type can provide a more nuanced understanding of the sheltering dynamics across the state. For example, separating the data for animal shelter and rescue organizations in the present study revealed that the latter appeared to drive the increased intake of dogs by interstate transfer. Although interstate transfer intakes by animal shelters also increased, shelters reported most of the intrastate transfer and community-based intakes for both dogs and cats. Further, disaggregating the data by intake type beyond the distinction between overall and community-based intake can provide useful information for the assessment of ongoing and emerging needs of the surrounding community. For example, the intake of animals for owner-requested euthanasia was separated from the category of other intake for PACFA reporting purposes in 2014, and these data provide a better understanding of the extent to which pet owners in Colorado seek options other than veterinary clinic or hospital services for end-of-life care for their companion animals.40 Although these data were kept in the category of other intake for purposes of the present study, the trend in owner-requested euthanasia at these facilities appeared to decrease between 2014 and 2018 to a total of approximately 4,000 dogs and 1,500 cats (data not shown). In the future, disaggregation of the intake data for TNR and shelter-neuter-return programs from the category of other intake within the PACFA data set should be considered as a means of providing information on the prevalence of these programs and potential impacts on community cat populations in Colorado, including LRRs when shelters offer these services for cats.18,19,20 Because community cats received as part of a TNR or shelter-neuter-return program were included in the larger category of other intakes, it was not possible to assess how these programs contributed to the animal shelter and rescue organization intake rates in the present study.

It is possible that substantial increases in the number of dogs and cats received by animal shelter and rescue organizations through interstate transfer, such as those detected in Colorado over the 11-year period of the present study, may impact trends in diseases of animals and zoonoses over time. A survey41 of 193 US animal shelter and rescue organizations found that 64% of organizations required a mandatory quarantine period after long-distance transfer of an animal, and 76% of organizations required that dogs receive certain medical treatments prior to being transported. These requirements varied extensively, with 19% of respondent organizations requiring a health certificate issued by a veterinarian; 58% requiring vaccination against rabies; 54% requiring vaccination against distemper, parvovirus, or both; and 35% requiring heartworm testing, treatment, or preventive administration.41 A descriptive study42 of shelter intake procedures in Colorado with an emphasis on infectious disease screening procedures found that shelters with the highest rates of transfers from other states are more likely to screen for heartworm and other parasites that could negatively impact the state’s population of companion animals than are shelters that only accept transfers from other facilities within the state. These differences in transfer-related requirements for medical assessment and treatment imply a lack of standardized protocols in place for the interstate transfer of companion animals that could impact the health of the population of animals in the destination facilities and communities. Future research should investigate potential associations between the rates of interstate transfer of dogs and cats by animal shelters and rescue organizations and disease profiles for those species in recipient states.

Animal shelter and rescue organization dynamics are rapidly evolving on local, regional, and national levels. In the study reported here, we analyzed trends in animal shelter and rescue organization intake data within a single state. The results highlighted recent changes occurring as some regions experienced lower shelter intake. Both dogs and cats were increasingly transferred into areas with low community-based intake and high adoption capacity. The present study of Colorado facilities found that transfers of dogs and cats from animal shelters and rescue organizations, particularly from outside of the state, increased significantly between 2008 and 2018. This type of influx of companion animals from other regions can be viewed as an attempt to optimize sheltering capacity on a regional and national level; however, close monitoring of animal disease profiles in the receiving areas is likely required to contain outbreaks of nonindigenous pathogens.

Acknowledgments

Supported by a grant from an anonymous donor to the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work to support its Institute for Human-Animal Connection Research Fellowship.

The authors declare that there were no conflicts of interest.

The authors thank Erin-Claire Michaels for input on interpreting the findings.

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