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  • Writer's pictureSusan Houser

What Colorado’s Statistics Say About Transports

The great majority of the communities listed in the right sidebar of this blog have attained their high live release rates by placing animals within their own communities. There are some places, though, that rely heavily on sending animals out of the state to save them. For those of you who are not familiar with transports, they generally involve sending animals from shelters in the south to rescues and shelters in the north. Colorado is a major receiving state for transports, and it takes in thousands of animals per year from other states.

Transports are not easy – the trips often take 2 days (meaning that overnight accommodations must be found), a health certificate is usually required, and money must come from somewhere for gasoline, crates, etc. Transports used to be done by volunteers driving individual “legs” of 1-2 hours, which involved a lot of work in recruiting and coordinating the volunteers, but now they are often done with a large van and one driver who does the whole route. There are also private companies who will transport shelter animals for a fee. There is even a group called Pilots N Paws that uses volunteer pilots to fly animals.

In most cases, the animals who are transported are on the kill list of their sending shelter, so there is no doubt that transports are literally lifesaving for the great majority of the transported animals. Many people nevertheless object to transports because they fear that transported animals will take homes away from animals in the receiving communities and result in those animals being killed. What does the evidence say on this issue?

Fortunately, the state of Colorado collects detailed statistics for its animal care facilities, and since Colorado is also a state that receives many transferred animals, these statistics can tell us a lot about whether transferred animals take homes from animals in the receiving location. The Colorado reporting system has a “shelter” category that includes all shelters that receive impounded animals as well as some private organizations that have a centralized intake facility. (Rescues that do not have a centralized facility report in a separate category.) Thus, we have statistics available for public shelters in Colorado. If transports are resulting in local animals being euthanized, we should be able to see the effect in the numbers.

In 2012, impounding shelters in Colorado transported in 13,726 animals —  12,642 dogs and 1084 cats. (There were probably many thousands more who were transported in by non-impounding rescues, but those transports are not germane to our inquiry since rescues generally will not euthanize for time or space). As I discussed in an earlier post, Colorado had an overall 90% live release rate for dogs for 2012. With a live release rate that high, it is unlikely that very many, if any, local dogs were killed who could have been adopted but for the transports. We know from the experience of many shelters all over the United States that the difficulty in placing the last 10% of dogs is more a matter of finding resources than finding homes — the last 10% are generally animals who need medical care or training, or perhaps hospice or sanctuary.

In fact, the statistics definitively prove that, as least as far as impounding shelters are concerned, the transports of dogs into Colorado saved lives in 2012. As mentioned above, 12,642 dogs were received by impounding shelters. There were 8801 euthanasias of dogs in the entire state for 2012 by those shelters. Thus, even if we assume for the sake of argument that every single transported dog took away a home from a local dog, there were still 3841 net lives saved by the end of the year.

I think it’s safe to conclude, based on these numbers, that transports of dogs into Colorado took sales away from breeders rather than taking away homes from local shelter dogs. But what about cats? There were only 1084 cats transported into Colorado in 2012. Colorado is doing far better than most states with cats, in that it had a live release rate for cats of 79% in 2012. I think we would need to know more about the cats being transported into Colorado to make a judgment. If the cats are mostly purebred, it may be that they are taking sales away from breeders rather than homes from local cats. Still, the evidence in favor of the effectiveness of transports for cats is much less than for dogs.

Can we generalize from the experience in Colorado to make conclusions about transports nationwide? I think we can, because there does not appear to be anything that sets Colorado apart from the other transportation destination states that would make such a generalization invalid. There are a great many communities in the northeast that are at a 90% or more live release rate for dogs, and the northeast probably receives more transports than any other part of the country. So the same statistics that apply in Colorado probably apply to most destination communities.

I think this study shows statistical support for the conclusion that there is a shortage of adoptable dogs in certain areas of the country. I think the study also shows that transporters in general are being careful not to take homes away from adoptable animals. This is shown by the fact that in 2012, transporters brought only a few cats into Colorado, and did not bring in enough dogs to push the live release rate below 90%.

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