Fifteen years ago it became clear that the only statistic that people were interested in was the number of animals that left the shelter alive. It was clear the people did not understand the dynamics as to how shelters work. Euthanasia was frowned upon from a statistical point of view; after all, we were dealing with living creatures.
All animals were grouped the same, so an animal shelter would be criticized for the animals surrendered by their owners to be euthanized for medical, behavioral and age related conditions. Even today, animal shelters will refuse to take animals from owners so as to not have to deal with the criticism that goes along with having a high euthanasia rate.
It became clear that keeping sick, injured, or old animals alive for statistical purposes was not humane, so in 2004 a group of people gathered together to create the Asilomar Accord: a way to classify an animal’s health condition at intake and at outcome.
Animals fell into four health categories: healthy, treatable, manageable, and unhealthy. The classification gave a better window into the dynamics of a shelter’s statistics. The classification system also aided shelters in their evolution to becoming no kill. Shelters could focus on saving all of the healthy animals, and then move on to saving the treatable and manageable animals; leaving only the unhealthy (untreatable and unmanageable) animals to deal with.
An interesting aspect of the classification system was that animals could change health conditions during their stay at an animal shelter. Sick animals abandoned by their owners could be nursed back to health and later adopted. Healthy animals could develop behavioral problems associated with long confinement. It became necessary to assess the animal’s health condition at the time of disposition.
If an animal’s condition degraded, the new health condition was recorded. If the animal’s condition improved the animal’s health condition was unchanged, so that shelters could show statistically the role they played in helping unhealthy animals find new homes.
At the time that the Asilomar Accords was created animal shelters were not dealing with the overwhelming population of pitbull dogs in shelters. In some cases the pitbull breed represented over seventy percent of dogs in a shelter. We entered a time when the shelters were full of healthy dogs, but the community had ruled the breed as too great a risk with breed restrictions in rentals and insurance companies refusing to insure the animal.
In order to avoid euthanizing a healthy animal, shelters were forced to keep the dogs until such time as they displayed behavioral problems associated with their confinement. Shelters then created enrichment programs that would delay the onset of confinement related behavioral problems in hopes of one day finding a home for the animal. It became normal for animal shelters to hold animals over six months as dogs learned to cope with their confinement.