Monday, September 9, 2013

Cats and dogs and other animals

Lulu: signed over because she was kept permenently
in a shed and had untreated mange
While writing up the previous post I searched for statistics on saving pets in the UK; how the numbers changed over time, and what needs to be done to save more animals and discovered that reliable information is a) remarkably sparse, b) skewed towards an assumption that this is predominantly about healthy stray dogs, and c) probably unreliable although it may point up trends.

The situation is very different in the US because their equivalents of the UK's dog warden services collect cats as well as dogs and they will also take pets who are simply not wanted by their owners (including sick animals whose owners can't afford the cost of euthanasia at a vet). The result is extremely high rates of euthanasia—around 71% of cats and 56% of dogs compared with around 7% for stray dogs in the UK.

The largest organisation rehoming stray and unwanted cats in the UK is Cats Protection, and they fairly recently conducted a large-scale study of mortality rates in their adoption centres, which revealed an average of 4.7%, qualified by a warning that the study period did not include the kitten season and the death rate is probably higher then because young kittens are more vulnerable to infections.

(Murray, J. K., Skillings, E., & Gruffydd-Jones, T. J. (2008). A study of risk factors for cat mortality in adoption centres of a UK cat charity. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 10(4), 338–45. doi:10.1016/j.jfms.2008.01.005)

Few of the cats who died or had to be euthanased were suffering from traumatic injuries (e.g. from traffic accidents), which is to be expected because fatally injured casualties would be likely to be euthanased by a veterinary surgeon before they could be admitted to a rehoming centre. 

One of the most reliable sources relating to stray dogs is probably the Dogs Trust Stray Dogs Survey— in their conclusion:

"The number of stray dogs reported by UK authorities overall has decreased by six percentage points since last year. The grossed number now stands at an estimated 118,932 stray dogs across the UK. Reported figures suggest that the majority (70%) of these dogs were seized by the local authority as strays.

In line with last year, two fifths (47%) of the estimated stray dogs handled in the UK between 1st April 2011 to 31st March 2012 were reunited with their owners, and a quarter (24%) were passed on to a welfare organisation or dog kennel for possible rehoming. A further 9% were re-homed by the local authority.

The proportion of stray dogs being put to sleep across the UK remains an at estimated 7% of the total number of strays."

This was collated by surveying the UK local authorities, who are responsible for collecting and providing 7 days of boarding for stray dogs.

In total, 8,093 stray dogs were put to sleep, 40% of these because they were not considered re-homeable for behavioural or veterinary reasons or because they belonged to illegal breeds.

It's not clear which local authorities also accept unwanted dogs from their owners and whether these are added in with the stray figures or not, and the euthanasia figures probably don't include dogs handed over to rescue organisations after the 7 days and later assessed as not rehomeable, or dogs put to sleep when found injured and hence never transferred to the local authority pound.

Funds and rehoming costs

Calculation of a figure for total income divided by numbers of animals rehomed for some of the larger animal charities gives a very approximate idea of how funding relates to the numbers of animals.

These figures are not "the cost of rehoming an animal" or "funds available per animal" because a proportion of income will always have to be spent working to generate funds (e.g. rent paid for charity shops), and all of the charities do other welfare activities as well as rehoming (for example about half of the Blue Cross's welfare activity is devoted to provision of welfare hospitals and the Dogs Trust provides free veterinary treatment for dogs owned by homeless people).

The figures do help in understanding what's likely to be possible for the charities and when pressuring them will simply be a distraction that hinders them from helping larger numbers of animals (for example it wouldn't be possible for Cat's Protection to take on large numbers of cats needing expensive fracture repair). They also disprove the claim that the RSPCA rehomes disproportionately fewer animals than other welfare organisations: on the contrary their benchmark figure lies well in the middle of the range in spite of their unique rĂ´le in investigation and prosecution of cruelty.

It's extremely short-sighted to say that all income should be diverted to rehoming because funds spent on making it possible for owners to keep the animals they have and on preventing the birth of unwanted animals will help to prevent animals needing to be rehomed. 

Cats Protection: £800 per cat rehomed (note that Cats Protection also does a very large amount of work on cat neutering)

Shelters responding to Nottingham University PUPS survey: £1,400 per animal

Wood Green Animal Shelters: £2,000 per animal rehomed

Battersea cats and dogs home: £2,300 per animal rehomed

RSPCA: £2,500 per animal rehomed (or released in the case of wildlife)

Blue Cross: £4,000 per animal rehomed (but note that the Blue Cross spends roughly half its income on provision of veterinary treatment)

Dogs Trust: £5,000 per dog rehomed (note that Dogs Trust provides free veterinary treatment for dogs owned by homeless people and runs a neutering scheme in certain areas of high need).

Animals who are not strays

Neither the cat nor the dog survey tells us how many animals are put down because their owners no longer want them or can't afford the cost of veterinary treatment they need and arrange euthanasia at a private vet, or who simply die because their owners don't arrange treatment or don't know how to provide proper care. However the frequency with which this crops up in veterinary forums suggests the number is significant, for example:
The dilemma in the September issue concerned a vet presented with a dog with dystocia (In Practice, September 2010, volume 32, pages 413–414). Clinical examination revealed an oversized puppy impacted in the birth canal and the vet advised an emergency caesarean. The owner said she was claiming benefits and had no savings with which to meet the cost. [...] 
If payment was not possible, it was acceptable to refuse to perform the caesarean without payment and prevent the suffering of the bitch through euthanasia. Experience suggested that, even with promises of payment, the debt would generally remain unpaid and the owner would never return to the clinic.  (In Practice 32:459 doi:10.1136/inp.c5098)

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