If you were to ask, "What's the state of homeless animal sheltering in America?" you'd get a wide range of answers derived from a variety of reliable and unreliable methods. While some reasonable estimates exist, the true number of U.S. animals sheltered at a national level has never actually been counted, much less shared. This lack of clarity severely impedes our ability to best serve our country's homeless animals.
To truly protect these animals, we must pinpoint regions of our country where the needs of at-risk pets are being met, as well as regions where shelters are struggling to meet their goals, leaving pets at increased risk of homelessness.
We can learn so much from both cases - if we choose to listen.
This is why the biggest animal welfare organizations in the country, including Best Friends Animal Society, The Humane Society of the United States, Maddie's Fund, PetSmart Charities and the ASPCA have joined animal welfare leaders from local agencies, national associations, and universities to support the launch of Shelter Animals Count.
This new organization has a singular purpose: to create the National Database Project, a data collection and reporting platform that will measure how many animals are entering our nation's shelters and rescue organizations, as well as the means under which those animals do or don't leave - painting the most accurate picture of homeless animal welfare in our communities and our nation.
By knowing where animals are more likely to enter shelters and where they're less likely to leave alive, we can target resources toward the biggest risks and save more lives.
This initiative relies on transparency, accountability, and trust - shelters and rescues must be willing, able, and encouraged to tell their stories. The goal is not to vilify or shame struggling organizations, but to inspire a shared national responsibility to help homeless animals at risk of entering a shelter or already inside one.
The National Database Project is currently recruiting shelters across the country to sign up and begin submitting shelter data. Any shelter or rescue involved in animal intake, adoptions, transfers, and other placement services can join the project, so long as they agree to provide their data in the established, standardized format on a monthly basis. By mid-2016, comparative reports will be available to all on the Shelter Animals Count website.
This is not an easy or simple undertaking. But with so much rhetoric and presumption filling the animal welfare airspace, true insight and measurement are absolutely vital to move the needle on animal homelessness and suffering, which is why so many diverse and influential organizations are collaborating in this project.
I hope shelters and rescues recognize the necessity and value of this database, and sign on to ensure a complete perspective. If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that homeless animals deserve the boldest - and bravest - effort we can deliver.
Matthew Bershadker is President and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).