Positive Impact Upwards of $157 Million, Who? What? Where? How?
It’s tough these days making the case to build a new animal shelter. Recent years have been rough not only on taxpayers, but also on county government and the cities of Yolo County. Roads need paving, buildings need maintenance, schools need funding, and libraries have been postponed. Then there are the hot and compelling local topics: affordable housing, mega dorms, hotels, homelessness, and downtown parking. Have no doubt, all of these conversations begin and end with the word “cost”. Cities want to see cost savings and an increase in revenue. Citizens are passionate about their overdue projects and want to see them finally started.
With an estimated cost likely to be around $15-18 million, a new state-of-the-art animal shelter seems out of reach when it is weighed against the projects the cities and County of Yolo have lined up waiting in the wings.
But is it?
I recently read a new study out of the University of Denver. It has been dubbed “157 million reasons to go No Kill”. The exact number, or, dollar value (are you ready for this) is $157,452,503. That dollar amount represents the total positive economic impact the City of Austin, Texas, has realized since passing Resolution 20091105-040, the “No Kill plan.” Authors of the study note that’s “the most conservative possible measure of the data.” In other words, the real economic value is likely to be much higher.
Yes, there are certainly a lot of differences between Austin and Yolo County. Austin takes in about 17,000 animals per year while the Yolo Animal Services intake is just under 7 thousand. But it’s all relative. If Austin’s operation is, thus, two and a half times larger than Yolo’s, then a $157 million economic benefit to Austin would translate into a $63 million economic benefit for Yolo. Now that $15-18 million price tag for the construction of a new Yolo County animal shelter doesn’t sound quite so daunting, does it? But building a true No Kill shelter offers far more than just a positive economic impact on government and the community.
The University of Denver study measured “the social, environmental, and economic impacts” of the No Kill plan and found it had a positive impact on animal welfare, on human and public health, on social cohesion, and on the bottom line: leading to increased jobs, relocation of businesses to Austin, and more economic spending.
The following is a brief summery of the report given by Nathan Winograd, Director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, former criminal prosecutor, humane officer, Director of Operations for the most successful private shelter in the country, the director of what was then the most successful open admission No Kill shelter in the country and the first true No Kill community, and chief of animal control. This is what he had to say:
Positive Impact on Animal Welfare
The No Kill plan resulted in significant increases in the adoption rate and a corresponding decrease in killing. Adoptions between the baseline year and the last year for which data was available showed dog adoptions were up 67% and cat adoptions were up 49%. Conversely, dog killing was down 94% and cat killing was down 91%. The live release rate went from 54% to 95% for cats and from 70% to 98% for dogs.
Impact on Costs and Benefits
While cost per animal went up about $237, these costs were more than offset by the economic benefits. The study found that from 2010-2016, additional spending to implement the No Kill plan amounted to $40,938,565. This expense, however, included those by non-profit organizations like Austin Pets Alive (APA).
From the standpoint of city officials, however, the spending by APA is not a cost, but a benefit, as it shifts cost of care away from taxpayers and towards private philanthropy. The true cost — what the study calls the “No Kill premium”– to city taxpayers from 2010-2016 was roughly $30 million, the majority of which was shelter staffing. Not only is staffing also a benefit as it provides employment and sources of additional community spending by those employed individuals, but the premium represents only a small increase in the overall City of Austin budget: from 0.2% to 0.3%, or 1/10th of 1%.
Meanwhile, the additional spending by individuals within Austin on veterinary and pet care services as a result of the ordinance for the same period amounted to $49,307,682. An additional $25,333,237 was spent on other pet-related expenses as a result of the No Kill plan. These are additional expenditures, not total expenditures, and they are “attributable to the Resolution”: a total of $74,640,919.
There were still other benefits: “creating a pet friendly environment will affect a city’s ability to attract new residents.” It will also attract businesses: Google’s decision to build a new office tower in Austin is directly attributable to the City’s No Kill plan. Google executives noted, “It is attractive to a young, vibrant, pet-loving workforce.” In turn, Austin’s pro-pet policies permeate throughout the community, leading to a wider pet friendliness, including on rates of rental housing, which in turn draws more people.
During the study period, Travis County’s population grew by 17.1%, resulting in an additional $4.9 billion spent on the local economy, of which $72.3 million is “attributable to no-kill.”
Public Health/Social Cohesion Impacts
In addition to economic impacts of roughly $150 million, the study finds broader social impacts including gains in public health and social cohesion. In other words, we know No Kill is good for animals — they live instead of die — but is it good for people? The answer is yes.
The study found that “increases in the rate of adoption can be connected to increased rates of pet-keeping in the community, which has been correlated with changes to pet-keeping individuals and families’ holistic wellness, including their physical, mental, and social health.”
Debunking the criticism from naysayers that No Kill leads to adoption of aggressive dogs, it found no variance in moderate and severe dog bites and that any increase in overall dog bites is attributable to the increase in the human and dog population, not the No Kill plan. (Given Austin’s 98% live release rate for dogs — and other communities that are even higher — it thus implicitly also debunked the notion that a 90% live release rate is the upper limit and thus constitutes No Kill.)
Finally, the study found that the No Kill plan is “positively associated with some forms of contact and interaction (civic engagement) and with perceptions of neighborhood friendliness” and “to the social and civil health of the city as a whole.” It also led to people looking out for animals by being more willing to report conditions of neglect/cruelty when they feel people are not living up to their responsibilities.
Mr. Winograd concluded by saying “Despite these limitations, the study ‘represents the most comprehensive analysis conducted to date of the impact of the City of Austin Resolution 20091105-040”; the No Kill plan. It just may be “the most comprehensive analysis conducted” regarding the economic and broader impacts of No Kill sheltering.
Its conclusions are, therefore, transferable to other communities. These include:
- “The study found that a high LRR [Live Release Rate] is achievable at a municipal level.”
- “The costs associated with implementing the Resolution appear to have been more than offset by a series of economic benefits to the community.”
In addition, “the positive contribution of Austin’s progressive animal welfare policies to its brand equity” leads it to “attract employee demographic that in turn draw new business and economic growth to the area.”
Finally, there are additional positive impacts on “public health, social capital, and community engagement” which has “important implications for Austin’s ability to promote and sustain the health and well-being of both its human and non-human animal residents.”
Winograd points out the errors in the study as well. He says, “While full of good news on the effect of Austin’s No Kill Plan, the report is not perfect.” Winograd continues by saying “Another concern about the study is that it did not fully measure local sales tax revenues from spending attributable to the No Kill plan — at the Austin rate, almost $2 million in additional local revenues to city coffers during the same time period — as well as increases in property tax revenues from both new construction and the increasing value of existing properties as a result of economic growth driven by companies like Google coming to Austin. Had it done so, it would have found that these additional sources of government revenue helped offset some of the direct city expenses related to the increase in the municipal budget for animal services. Moreover, while it used actual costs, it used very conservative estimations for the economic benefits. Indeed, it used “the most conservative possible measure of the data,” meaning the benefits were more likely higher and therefore the offsets via sales tax and property tax revenues would be even more significant.
While I find all this very compelling, I decided to go on a personal tour the Austin Animal Center and see with my own eyes what they are doing. So, that is where I am headed: Austin Texas. In my next article, I will report back my impressions of this well-respected No Kill facility.
Janis Rosenberg serves as President of Unleashing the Possibilities, Inc., a 501 (c) (3) corporation, raising private funds to assist Yolo County in the planning and construction of a new, state-of-the-art animal shelter. Tax deductible donations can be made for this purpose. Go to www.unleashingyolo.org to learn more and to make donations to build the new shelter.