When Pinellas County's three largest animal shelters announced plans in November to exchange data about their animals, they had a major goal in mind: reduce euthanasia rates.
For nine months, Pinellas County Animal Services, SPCA Tampa Bay, the Humane Society of Pinellas and a fourth organization that joined them, Pet Pal Animal Shelter, have shared and posted on their websites data on the number of animals they take in and what happens to them.
While shelter heads say it's too soon to draw firm conclusions from the data, they like what they're seeing from the initiative so far.
"It's going great," said Maureen Freaney, director of Pinellas County Animal Services. "It says a lot about our system that we're able to be transparent not just with each other, but also with the community."
The shelters submit data to a designated record-keeper, who tallies up the figures and categorizes them by live intakes, live outcomes and other outcomes. The agencies then post the numbers on their websites each month to monitor adoption and euthanasia rates.
"These numbers give animal lovers a chance to see the magnitude of the challenge we're facing and the magnitude of the opportunity we have to impact some of these animals' lives," said Martha Boden, chief executive officer of SPCA Tampa Bay. "Ultimately, the more animals we're able to put into homes, the better."
In all of 2012, the four shelters took in 27,363 animals, including more than 10,000 dogs and 14,000 cats. They released 10,457 for adoption and euthanized 12,215. The shelters also keep track of other categories, such as transfers and animals that run away or die of natural causes.
Through May this year, the shelters have admitted 10,871 animals — 4,098 dogs and 5,328 cats — and euthanized 4,655 of them.
Collectively, they are on pace this year to admit 26,090 animals — 9,835 dogs and 12,787 cats — and euthanize 11,172 of them. The euthanasia figures combine owner-requested euthanasia and shelter euthanasia.
The shelters will eventually use the numbers to dictate strategy and coordinate events together. That will begin to happen in the next few months, according to Sarah Brown, executive director at the Humane Society.
"We'll be able to compare the numbers to last year and see how things stack up," she said.
In the next few months, for example, the agencies will host a joint spay/neuter drive, she said.
Animals can wind up in shelters for any number of reasons, Boden said. She has seen pets dropped off because of a divorce, a newborn baby or financial problems. Sometimes it's just an animal that's poorly trained, she said.
"If it's a cat climbing on the drapes or a dog chewing on the coffee table, we try to get people through those tough situations so that they can keep the pet. But sometimes there's just nothing you can do," she said.
The shelters use euthanasia as an absolute last resort, Freaney said. They consider public health, public safety and animal welfare. But sometimes it's the only option.
"We all love animals, but those are the dynamics of the business," she said. "In any case, we're always trying to have the best live release rate we can. And (the data-sharing program) is something we think will help."
Matt McKinney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4156. Twitter: @mmckinne17.