Estimating the Cost to Care for Animals at Austin Pets Alive!

October 31, 2019

Audience: Executive Leadership, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: University of Denver
Investigator(s): Sloane Hawes, Josephine Kerrigan, Tess Hupe, Tressa Nawyn, Kevin N. Morris
Grant Amount: n/a
Project Type: Basic Research
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

This detailed case study from the Institute for Human-Animal Connection at University of Den-ver aimed to understand how an increased Live Release Rate (LRR) in Austin, TX has impacted parts of shelter operations, such as: cost per animal, length of stay (LOS) and companion animal quality of life. The findings create a template for calculating the direct costs associated with caring for companion animals at other sheltering and rescue organizations.

Objective(s)

To understand how an increased LRR in Austin, TX has impacted parts of Austin Pet's Alive! (APA!) shelter operations, such as cost per animal, length of stay, and quality of life.

Methods

APA! was selected for this study because the shelter has a high rate of live outcomes for "difficult-to-place" pets. This retrospective cohort study used data from APA!'s animal management software, ShelterLuv. Data included all cats and dogs in APA!'s care with an intake date between January 1, 2018, and May 1, 2018, and had an outcome before July 2, 2018. The sample of 244 cats and 226 dogs represented a wide range of medical and behavior conditions.

Results

Cats

  • Cats who spent more days at the animal shelter had a total higher cost of care ($12/day). Cats with the longest LOS (130-160 days) had a median cost of care over $1,800.
  • Cats with behavior challenges were by far the most expensive (median cost of care at $728), and had the longest length of stay (median of 63 days on-site). Healthy cats had the lowest cost of care (under $50) and median number of days on-site (3.5).
  • Regarding age, neonates had the lowest cost for care ($55) and number of days on-site (3); senior cats had the highest median cost for care ($269) and number of days on-site (16).
  • Results related to cat size showed that small cats had a higher cost for care, lower adoption rate, and longer number of days on-site than the neonate cats, which resulted in the neonate cats having a median profit to APA! and small cats having a median loss to APA!.

Dogs

  • Similarly dogs who spent more days on-site had a total higher cost of care ($13/day). Dogs who spent the longest at APA! (120-149 days), had a median cost of care > $2,000.
  • The dogs with behavior challenges had the longest length of stay (16 days on-site) and the third highest cost of care ($295). Dogs with distemper and parvo had the highest median costs of care ($374 and $333, respectively). Healthy dogs had lowest median cost ($37).
  • Regarding age, neonate dogs had the lowest median cost of care ($50) and shortest median number of days on-site (2). Adult dogs had the highest median cost of care ($224) and the longest LOS (8.5 days on-site). Senior dogs adoption fee was $25, while the other age categories (neonate, juvenile, and adult) had a median adoption fee of $160. Neonate and juvenile dogs had a median final profit to APA!, while adult and senior dogs had a median final loss to APA!.
  • Regarding size, cost of care was highest for large dogs ($200) and lowest for neonate dogs ($40). Neonate dogs also had the shortest median number of days on-site (2), while medium dogs had the longest median number of days on-site (8 days). Neonate and small dogs turned a median profit for APA!; medium and large dogs resulted in a final median loss for APA!.

Conclusions

Not surprisingly, longer LOS has a correlation with higher cost of care. Results showed that the conditions resulting in the longest length of stay and highest cost of care were behavior and calici for cats, and distemper, behavior, and parvovirus for dogs. The conditions resulting in the shortest length of stay and least cost of care were neonatal age, health, ringworm, and FIV for cats, and neonatal age, health, ringworm, and medical "other" for dogs.As shelters increasingly care for animal who are more difficult to adopt, they may consider expanding the enrichment and training program opportunities to encourage potential pet-owners to learn more about basic cat and dog health and behavior. Shelters also can offer temporary adoption programs that allow a prospective pet owner to test out having the pet in their home before formal adoption to ensure it is the right fit (like the pre-adopt program at APA!), which are shown to prevent returned adoptions and relinquishment.

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