Webinar presenter Dr. Josh Fisher answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Data-Driven Decision Making for Animal Welfare Organizations (part 1). Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Is the justification of the budget different for an organization like yours that is part of a police department versus a standalone shelter?
Dr. Josh Fisher: So, yes, and no. For us, as part of the police department, our budget has to be incorporated into the police budget as a whole. So, I’ve worked for both a standalone organization and for an organization under police and public safety. Basically, the difference is that what I have put in my budget request doesn’t just go to the budget office to be incorporated. It goes to the police chief to be reviewed and incorporated in the police department overall requests. So, there are essentially two opportunities for my budget to be cut in different ways. The other aspect of it being part of the overall police department budget is that once I am given a budget, there is the potential that chunks of my budget could be re-allocated by the police department itself, by the Office of the Chief. Rather than just being re-allocated by the city manager’s office. There’s essentially a two-step approval process but then there’s also a process in which funding could be redistributed. Now, the advantage there is that, as part of public safety, as part of the police, generally speaking, when a budget goes to vote, you know, police budget is a little bit safer than some other services. And there’s also the component of that the funding from the elected official being distributed out differently. So, they may request that part of my budget be used towards parks and rec, or something along those lines because they perceive some of the services that I provide being provided elsewhere, but that would be similar to a standalone department, as well.
Audience Question: You stated to you do vaccines and physical work up on intake. Does that include a heartworm test, combo test, and flea tech prevention? And if so, did you find that more cost-effective in the long run?
Dr. Josh Fisher:So, yes, it does include all of those things at the time of intake. So, we actually did find long-term that that was something that was more cost-effective. And part of the reason that that is the case is, A – we were not having to treat as many animals for worms, flea bite allergy, or something along those lines if they were spending a significant amount of time in the shelter. Plus, we weren’t having to deal with it being spread in the shelter. We also were in a situation from a heartworm perspective. We actually have a couple of different community programs in which we offer low-cost heartworm treatment to the community. So, we were able to tell community members that their pet was heartworm positive. We had more of them signed up for those low-cost heartworm treatments, and then the treatment would actually offset the cost.
Audience Question: Do you feel that coordinating and sharing data collection would be useful between shelters and non-profit rescues in a general area for a more accurate look at the animal situation there, and a more coordinated effort to resolve some of the issues?
Dr. Josh Fisher: Absolutely, so we’re super fortunate in the county that I work in, that we have an extremely good working relationship with our local Humane Society, and we share data very regularly. We actually both involve each other in the strategic planning on an annual basis, I meet with their CEO once a week to discuss different topics. And one of the things that we always discuss is current inventory, length of the day, that kind of thing. Because what it helps is to have a true picture of what is going on in our county. And it helps us to leverage resources appropriately. So, if their organization is really good at something, we would rather defer patients, or our community members to them for aid, than try to duplicate those programs ourselves, and vice versa. If there are things that we’re really good at, that they feel they can divert those patients or community members, or cases for investigation as a good example over to us to be handled. So, it’s making sure that we’re getting the biggest bang for our buck, if you will, within our community.
Audience Question: Perfect, and I would assume that it goes without saying that if you’re going to combine data across multiple organizations, then you need to collect data in the same way and have the same dropdowns isn’t right for the sub-types and so on?
Dr. Josh Fisher:That would be ideal. There are definitely going to be some things that, depending on the organization, may just not be possible. The Humane Society is likely not going to be taking in cruelty investigation, things like that. But, for as much as possible, you want to have comparable data so that you’re comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges.
Audience Question: What software do you use for your animal control agency as part of the police department? I function the same as you and I’m looking for new software.
Dr. Josh Fisher:Yeah. So, we use Chameleon for our case report and tracking on anything related to animal control specifically. We do use CAD through the Police department as our dispatching software and, we were very fortunate that our City IT and Police IT Department, worked very closely with Chameleon and actually wrote an interface between Chameleon and CAD, where the call for service data that is taken by 911, once the call is initiated and responded to by an officer, it gets automatically ported over into Chameleon so that we don’t lose any of that data and we can make sure that our reports and everything are appropriately accessed and tracked. And we have a special field in Chameleon for the CAD number. So, that if there ever is an issue with any of the information that is ported over or if the dispatcher adds additional supplemental information after the transfer occurs in the CAD case, we can reference that CAD number in our Chameleon and just double check that if that really exists in the CAD system.
Audience Question: When transitioning from one shelter software system to another, do you recommend that we import data from the Legacy system?
Dr. Josh Fisher: Absolutely. So, work as much as you possibly can with your new software provider. Most of the software companies do have a pretty decent working relationship, and they’re going to help you to get data ported over as much as possible. Because when they have somebody switch from the system that you’re switching to, from that system to their system, they want you to play nice in the sandbox if you will. And anytime that you can have the legacy information transition over, you’re going to be better off. Because once you start looking into cases 10 years down the road, having all of that previous data lost would really hinder you. So, one of the things that I always recommend is scheduling in and making sure that you do have some crossover time, where you’ve got to have active licenses with both software so that you can hopefully identify early, any potential missing data that didn’t transfer. And then work with your software company to get that ported over as much as possible. But then also, doing everything you can to get as much data ported into your new system because when you hire a new staff member three years from now, they’re going to be trained on the new system. They’re not going to be trained on the legacy system. And, even if you maintained one license to the legacy system and had to go look data up, or something like that, your new staff members aren’t going to be as familiar with that legacy system, so their ability to search fast is going to be compromised.
Audience Question: Did the intake diversion that specific breeds, like you talked about bully breeds, reduce the intake or surrenders or anything else specific? Did you see an improvement because of the additional focus on those bully breeds?
Dr. Josh Fisher:We definitely did see a decrease in the intake of those bully breeds. Essentially, from what we looked at, the overall intake decreased, but then, we also saw a decrease in the percentage of bully breeds in our total intake. So, that’s how we determined essentially that those programs were effective. We were able to see more success from targeting the high intake areas and providing proactive resources in the community in those areas than we were waiting until the animals were coming into the system and offering a safety net at that time. And I think a lot of that is, by going out in the community. We were helping people to resolve issues before they realized they were significant enough issues that they may be considering surrendering, and any time you can get ahead of that is you’re better off.
Audience Question: You use the phrase, at-risk animals, then mentioned bully breeds, which seem to be the subject of increased interest in my community. Can you talk about what are these breeds at increased risk for?
Dr. Josh Fisher:So, for us, the increased requests were for euthanasia we also had an increase in the disproportionate percentage based on the total number of bites we were seeing. We were seeing more bites recorded from bully breeds. That is something that candidly from both local and national perspective bites from smaller animals tend to go under-reported because if you’ve got something that can’t wrap its mouth around your forearm and it bites to you, chances are you’re going to go wash it out. You’re not necessarily going to seek medical attention. Whereas if you’ve got a larger bully breeds type dog, who is going to inflict more damage, you’re going to end up seeking medical attention more often. So, by at risk, what I mean in our community is at an increased risk of euthanasia if they enter the shelter system. But we also do see, quote-unquote, public safety risk higher for bully breeds. Especially the ones that we have not been able to get out and provide some of that early intervention with. And some of the things may be helping to repair a fence, making sure vaccinations are current, really just helping community members to invest some time and energy into the care of their pet, which increases the value of their pet in their eyes.
Audience Question: First, has anyone founds shelter software that captures cost per animal? And how about a system that captures inventory? Any suggestions, Josh?
Dr. Josh Fisher: So, I am not familiar with a shelter software that does cost per animal. I think that if you were to go down that road, you would want to make sure that you were taking things into account that are not traditionally captured in shelter software, such as personnel costs, etc. Because the amount of time each of your staff members are spending on an animal, or the average amount of time that each of your staff members is spending on an animal, is probably your biggest cost, even over the cleaning products and food, etc. If that’s something that, chances are, it’s going to have to be broken down outside of a shelter software. And then the second part of that question, talking about inventory, there are absolutely some shelter software that helps with inventory management. But, again, you are in a situation where, garbage in, garbage out, right. And one of the things that you have to be really cognizant of when you’re using a software for animal inventory management is that you’ve got to put processes and procedures in place that staff are essentially checking out or dispensing if you will, the items that are being used. So, if you want to use it to track your paper towels, inventory, for example. Every time somebody pulls a paper towel rolls out of the closet, or a package a paper towel rolls out of the closet. They would have, there’d have to be some mechanism for them, checking that out of your inventory.
Host: Fantastic. I also wanted to interject a comment from Tracy, one of our attendees here. A shelter software system called Shelter Animals can apparently track costs, including board and medical care. So, thank you very much, Tracy, for sharing that.