• Susan Houser

Colorado’s Statistics

The Colorado Department of Agriculture collects detailed statistics* for shelters in the state that impound animals. Based on those statistics, in recent weeks I’ve been listing the many cities and counties in Colorado that report saving 90% or more of their shelter animals. In addition to the statistics for individual shelters, the state also provides shelter statistics for the state as a whole, and in this post I take a look at those statistics. There is some inspiring news, along with a couple of surprises.

The consolidated live release rate for all of the shelters reporting to the state in 2012 was 85.5%.** The consolidated 2012 live release rate for dogs was 90%. Thus, based on the reported figures, the entire state of Colorado met the live release rate benchmark for dogs in 2012. The rate for cats was 79%, which is much higher than average.

What accounts for Colorado’s 85.5% live release rate? The return-to-owner (RTO) rate is certainly part of it. There were 40,948 stray dogs impounded, with 24,245 returned to their owners, giving the state a consolidated 59% RTO rate for dogs. The rate is 49% if all dogs in the confiscated/protective custody and incoming “other” categories are added to the figure for strays. As good as that RTO rate for dogs is, one large shelter in Colorado has shown that RTO rates for dogs can go even higher. The Humane Society of Boulder Valley reported a 90% RTO rate for dogs in 2012 based on its stray dog intake, and a 79% RTO rate for dogs based on all dog intake other than owner surrenders and transfers.

As to cats, the state’s reporting form directs that feral cat live releases be recorded as RTO. Of the 29,492 stray cats taken in by Colorado shelters in 2012, 6345 were recorded as RTO, for an impressive 22% RTO rate for cats. This figure would presumably be somewhat lower if feral cats were not counted.

Adoptions are also a big part of Colorado’s success. Colorado shelters adopted out 64% of the animals impounded in 2012 who were not returned to their owners.

Although Colorado is doing very well at getting animals out of the shelter alive, it is not doing so well at keeping them out of the shelter in the first place. Colorado shelters reported a total intake of 159,183 dogs and cats in 2012 — 94,361 dogs and 64,822 cats. The 2012 estimate for the state’s population is 5.2 million people, so the rate of intake for dogs and cats in 2012 was 31 animals per 1000 people. This is either average or well above average, depending on what estimate you use, but it is certainly not a low intake. Colorado is a destination state for transports, but even if you subtract out-of-state incoming transfers from the intake numbers, the intake per 1000 people was 28. The fact that Colorado communities are able to maintain such high live release rates in the face of high intake makes their achievement even more impressive.

The statistics showing that Colorado’s success is more on the placement side than the intake side correlate with what I found in researching shelters in the state. The shelter managers and workers I interviewed for the blog impressed me as people who were working very hard to get animals out of the shelter alive. You can see it in the shelter websites, Facebook pages, and newsletters, where they talk about their programs and initiatives.

Now for the bad news — there are several cities in Colorado that still have grandfathered breed-specific bans. Two cities that have bans — Louisville and Lone Tree — are served by shelters with 90%+ live release rates, but I don’t list them as 90%+ communities because of the bans. Denver, which is close to a 90% live release rate, also has a ban.


*I’ve not come across any public shelters that have failed to report to the state, but there could be some out there. Therefore, I cannot guarantee that the state statistics account for every animal that was impounded in Colorado in 2012.

**Notes about the data: There were 125,298 live releases for dogs and cats in the state in 2012 (82,605 adoptions, 30,590 returns-to-owner, and 12,103 transfers), and 21,298 euthanasias. The 85.5% live release rate may be slightly overstated because of double counting of the outgoing in-state transfers (the animal shelter reporting requirement includes some of the larger rescues along with the public shelters, and some shelters help out other shelters when needed), but even if we assume that all 12, 041 of the in-state transfers were transferred to other reporting organizations, it drops the live release rate by only about 1.5%. There were 1223 dogs and cats who died in shelter care, and if they are counted in with euthanasias the live release rate drops by about 1 percentage point. There is no separate category for owner-requested euthanasia, and the state suggests recording those euthanasias as “Other” in both the incoming and outgoing categories. Some shelters include fosters in the outgoing “Other” category. The fact that both live and euthanized animals may be recorded in the outgoing “Other” category is an unfortunate flaw in the reporting system, but it does not affect the standard calculation of the live release rate.