This column originally ran on November 19, 2019, in the “Honolulu Star-Advertiser” and was submitted by Dr. Julie Dinnage, then interim chief operations officer for the Hawaiian Humane Society. The column remains accessible on the Star-Advertiser’s website.
Column: Shorter stay for isle strays better for animals
By Julie Dinnage
Nov. 19, 2019
I am privileged to have been hired by the Hawaiian Humane Society’s board of directors as part of a team of animal welfare professionals here to assist the organization through a time of transition. Since June, I worked closely with veterinary services and other staff to ensure the health and well-being of the animals in our care and those who care for them on our campus.
As part of that effort, we identified areas in need of improvement and reformulated policies and procedures as necessary. We also identified areas where our laws need to be updated to reflect animal welfare best practices.
Bill 59, which is now under consideration by the Honolulu City Council, is one result of those efforts.
Among other provisions designed to better protect animals, the bill reduces the minimum hold time for stray animals with identification to five days from nine days. The amount of time animals spend within a shelter, referred to as the length of stay (LOS), has a dramatic effect on the experience and needs of those animals. In addition, LOS has an impact upon shelter management decisions and costs. As average length of stay increases, it negatively impacts a shelter’s ability to save lives.
I was the principle investigator and co-author of one of the first studies to look carefully at LOS and its impact upon animal health. The study, published in the Journal of Feline Medicine in 2009, took an exhaustive look at the cat population in a large open admission shelter in Massachusetts and concluded that increasing time of residence in the shelter increased the risk of upper respiratory tract disease (URTD).
The cumulative probability of developing URTD by day seven in the shelter was approximately 32% for litters, 31% for individual kittens and 26% for adult cats. By day 14, these cumulative probabilities had risen to 84%, 86% and 80% respectively among those populations. Studies published since have shown similar results for sheltered cats and dogs.
In relation to LOS, the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program states that “with illness comes the need for treatment, reduced welfare and a yet more prolonged stay. The longer an animal is confined, the greater the demand for sufficient space, interaction and environmental enrichment to prevent confinement-related stress and behavioral disorders.
“However, longer stays also mean more crowded shelters, reducing the availability of space and care for each animal. Ultimately, the longer the stay per animal, the higher the costs as well. … Conversely, for any given outcome, shortening the length of stay to that outcome will reduce costs, lower risks for behavioral and health problems for each animal, and provide better conditions for shelter animals and people alike.”
The national norm for stray holding is three to five days, according to the University of Michigan’s Animal Legal and Historical Center.
Not only is shortening the LOS in shelters better for the health of an individual animal, it also leads to a healthier shelter overall and allows the shelter to have resources to develop more robust programs in the community to keep pets out of the shelter.
I urge the community to support the passage of Bill 59.