Data saves lives every single day. Although a data-driven culture is often associated with a business, analytics can be applied everywhere. Public safety, healthcare, charities, and many other areas can use data to make our world a better place. In this new series, I will share inspirational stories of how analytics projects and applications are making a difference with data.

Big Data, One Dog at a Time

Over the weekend I was honored to meet up with the amazing Jill Dyché at an event. Jill is a respected thought leader in the analytics industry that also happens to be donating her time and talents to improve public shelter adoption processes. As a huuuuuuuge animal lover myself, I was deeply moved by her charitable work.

Big Data One Dog

The following are highlights from Jill’s animal shelter public data analysis, key findings and fabulous ideas for applying digital technology to save animal lives, time and tax dollars. Her detailed report is a stellar must-read for animal advocates. It contains specific guidelines and estimated savings for animal shelters and stakeholders across the entire animal adoption journey experience. (Tip: If you are a consultant, you can learn a lot from how Jill presents her case.)

Background and Highlights

Every year 7.6 million animals enter the shelter system in the United States. (Source: ASPCA) In 2015 the United States shelter system euthanized an estimated 3.5 million animals. Although that is an enormous ~10X reduction from ~30 million just a few years ago, there is still a lot that can be done simply by applying modern technology. (Source: Cesar Millan Pack Project: http://millanpackproject.org/)

Animal Shelter Trends

Click to view larger image. Source: Jill Dyche

The peak time for animal shelters is right now – summer. In summer, shelters intake too many animals. If you have thought about adopting a dog, now is the time to do it.

Why is summer a peak shelter time? The reason is appalling. Family pets get sent to animal shelters before people go on vacations to avoid paying kennel or pet sitting fees. Pet owners erroneously assume their furry family member will still be there and someone else can get the pet back via adoption. It is high risk gamble that usually ends in horrendous heartbreak for both the pet and the family.

DO NOT ever use animal shelters as a free kennel or to avoid pet sitter fees.

Recent public shelter data reveals a dire need for digitization of tragically slow, inefficient, error prone manual processes. A shocking 90% of dogs get visually identified and mislabeled as the wrong type of breed. (Source: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary) Misclassified dogs are usually labeled as pit bulls, a breed with low adoption rates resulting in higher euthanasia rates. Families who have lost a dog might not be able to find their beloved, misidentified pet by calling shelters or searching online. Even more distressing is the case where dogs get forgotten and/or never get listed.

Delays in manual, paper-intensive animal shelter processes today result in far too many “pet not found” or “no longer available” messages. Shelter staff spend approximately 30% of their time answering calls from other shelters and the general public. That time could be significantly reduced with better use of technology. Also noted in Jill’s report, metrics that shelters use to define success do not reward increased adoption.

broken animal shelter process

Click to view larger image. Source: Jill Dyche

If you have ever seen an animal being shared on Facebook and wanted to adopt it, chances are the animal shown is no longer there. The currently available animals do not get posted and promoted in a timely manner so the miserable cycle of euthanasia continues on. If modern technology was applied to streamline and optimize shelter intake, an estimated 65%+ savings in burdened staff costs totaling over $584,430 could be realized per shelter.

animal shelter process

Click to view larger image. Source: Jill Dyche

Higher adoption and lower kill rates would also be likely with the creation of videos. Today a general description and static pictures of a frightened pet get posted on shelter web sites. Those static pictures are the primary means for animal survival via adoption…if they do get posted on time. Jill has found in her charitable work that posting videos of animals interacting with humans are far more effective and result in much higher adoption rates than static pictures.

Animal Shelter Video Data

Click to view larger image. Source: Jill Dyche

The chart above shows the number of days between the date a dog was videotaped at the shelter and the date it was adopted. It is evident that there is a clear correlation between videotaping a dog, posting the video on social media and likelihood of being adopted or rescued. Jill’s research also reveals the average number of days a pit bull labeled dog with a video is adopted can be 54% higher than if the dog had not been on video.

All dog breeds had a higher percentage of making it out of an animal shelter alive if they are shown on a video.

Doggie Dashboards and Mobile Apps

Another idea that Jill shared was applying the concept of mobile friendly, dashboards – Doggie Dashboards. In business, dashboards and mobile apps with real-time data updates are commonplace. Why are we not using dashboards in the animal shelter system? With modern business intelligence advances, dashboards are easy to build and free or inexpensive to host.

Doggie Dashboard Vision

Source: Jill Dyche

In Jill’s own words, “the Doggie Dashboard is a powerful tool and an example of a modern application that exemplifies the digital experience. Better information is its currency. Businesses in both the public and private sectors can exploit these technologies for better adoption – in both senses of the word! This is how it should be. No taking a ticket. No waiting in long lines for simple information. No robotic policy explanations that result in potential adopters leaving empty-handed with no plan. Using digital technology – technology that is available at any big box retailer, connected and network-enabled to allow for remote communications – you can find an animal, get as much information as possible, and decide what to do next.

This process has saved both you and the shelter time. This means that shelter workers – and, not to put too fine a point on it, they are government employees – are able to spend less time on analog and paperwork-intensive tasks, and more time helping people adopt or rescue pets.

Applying technology to the adoption process helps get more dogs seen. It’s more efficient, and thus more cost-effective. It not only saves more lives, it saves tax dollars. The only thing standing in the way of automating the shelter system is the lack of political will.”

How You Can Help

I was personally touched and motivated by Jill’s brilliant work. I want to help her get the word out. If anyone else is interested applying digital technologies at animal shelters, please share Jill’s detailed report or this story.

Positive change is possible and digital solutions have never been easier to implement. The hard part is influencing leadership and navigating politics to embrace change. Let’s make it happen!