Merritt Clifton is at it again -- and once again fudging numbers to promote his own personal agendas.
In this month's issue of Animal People, Clifton's own newspaper where he is the sole writer and editor, Clifton releases his updated information on the state of shelter euthanasias in the U.S.
Not all of Clifton's information is garbage -- although enough of it is to even make me question the parts that seem accurate. He has certainly pulled ou this own conclusions in order to support his own personal agendsa
The article starts with a misleading headline "Decade of adoption focus fails to reduce shelter killing" -- even though in spite of pushes by proponents of the No Kill Movement, most city run shelters have not instituted much emphasis on adoptions.
But this isn't the biggest problem with Clifton's data analysis.
Clifton is an advocate of breed bans. For reasons I don't know or understand he has continued to be maybe the loan torch bearer in the animal welfare community in support of breed bans. And this document appears to be no exception.
In a little sidebar on the third page of the document he pulls out 11 cities (seemingly at random) and compares the euthanasia rates for 'pit bulls' in these shelters (3 of the cities have breed specific legislation, the other 8 do not). The data also shows San Francisco's numbers before and after the city's ruling to mandate the spay/neuter all pit bulls. Here is Clifton's analysis of the numbers:
"Philadelphia appears to kill relatively few pit bulls as a share of shelter killing chiefly because it has the highest total shelter killing on the chart: 19.9 per 1,000 people. Note that pit bulls are a much smaller part of the total killing in Cincinnati (which has a breed ban) than in either Milwaukee or Indianapolis, two cities with a very similar demographic profile."
The premise here appears to be if a city passes breed specific policies, then the number of pit bulls killed goes down, and that's a good thing. But once again, Clifton has manipulated data to support his point...not developed a point based on the actual data.
Let's start with San Francisco. According to Clifton's numbers, before instituting their MSN policy for pit bulls, San Francisco killed 452 pit bulls -- making up 43% of the total dogs killed in the shelter. Meanwhile, post the MSN, they killed 304 pit bulls, making up 29% of the dogs killed.
It looks like it's working great.
However, if you extrapolate from his data the total number of dogs killed, it tells a slightly different story. If the 304 pit bulls makes up 29% of the total kills, then San Francisco killed a total of 1,048 dogs post MSN. If the 462 is 43% of the killed dogs, then a total of 1,051 dogs were killed a year prior to the MSN.
Essentially, the only thing that has changed is not a decrease in killing (as Clifton infers from the data), but a change in what type of dogs are killed. Whether this is a reflection of how dogs are classified at the shelter (were a lot more dogs classified as 'boxer mixes' vs 'pit bull' mixes in order to show "effectiveness at the shelter level) or did many of the irresponsible owners just change the type of dog they owned to avoid being harrassed by the law? It seems Clifton doesn't seek to pursue this question - or even question it at all. But it sure seems highly relevant.
Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Indianapolis
Meanwhile, Clifton uses a comparison of Cincinnati (a city with a breed ban) and both Milwaukee and Indianapolis as another example of how a city with a breed ban will kill fewer pit bulls than other cities. But is this true? From the chart, Clifton's assertion seems true as pit bulls make up a lower percentage of dogs killed than in the other two cities.
Until as recently as this past March, Indianapolis' city shelter had a policy that kept them from adopting any pit bulls out of the city shelter. While this has changed in the past year under new shelter management, it certainly was in place with Clifton's current numbers. So an increase in percentage of pit bulls being killed at the shelter would be expected as an incredibly high percentage of the dogs would get killed in the shelter because POLICY prevented them from getting out alive. Clifton isn't a dumb man, and I'd be stunned if he didn't know this information. But he conveniently leaves this out of his analysis.
Meanwhile, when you look at Cincinnati compared to Milwuakee, you may notice something else significant. Even looking at the number Clifton posts, you see that even though pit bulls make up 18% of Milwaukee's euthanized dogs, the city is still killing 37% fewer pit bulls per thousand residents than the city of Cincinnati. So what gives?
Well, again, if you extrapolate total numbers of dogs killed, you'll see that Milwaukee killed 7,988 total dogs during the timeframe available -- at a pace of 4.7 dogs per 1,000 people. Cincinnati on the other hand killed 11,210 dogs in that same time period -- a pace of 13.5 per 1,000 people*. So it appears that Cincinnati's "success" comes not from killing fewer 'pit bulls', but from the massive killing of dogs regardless of breed. This is also not something that would be a foreign concept to Clifton, who stated this exact scenerio as why the percentage of pit bulls killed in Philadelphia are so low - -and yet not only leaves this out of his "analysis" of the Cincinnati/Milwaukee comparison, he also somewhat conveniently leaves both cities out of the his overall shelter killing analysis that would make easy comparisons impossible.
* It should be noted here that I have no idea what Clifton is using for his population totals for these two cities. While I can get there mathmatically by dividing the number of dogs killed by the # killed per 1,000 people, I don't know where he got these figures. Cincinnati's population of 836,000 appears to be the population of Hamilton County. Milwaukee's population of 1.48 million is close to that of the entire Milwuakee MSA -- which they may provide service for. For the sake of this whole post, I'm just using Clifton's own data.
Meanwhile, Denver -- who has had a breed ban since 1987 -- seems to have INCREDIBLE numbers based on Clifton's report -- killing only 275 pit bulls at a rate of .14 per 1,000 people and making up only 3% of the kill rate. However, again, Denver's total numbers 9,167 killd dogs and a 4.6 kill rate are very similar to that of Milwaukee -- a city that doesn't have breed specific regulations. It would only make sense that a city that has had a breed ban on the books for 20 years would not kill all that many dogs of that breed -- but it still hasn't seemed to improve the shelter's overall kill rate. Meanwhile, it should be noted that Clifton's pit bull kill estimates seem extremely low compared to what most media reports give for the city and their pit bull kill numbers. These numbers for Denver are also conveniently left off of Clifton's overall report.
Why This matters
If we are really ever going to achieve a status of No Kill in our cities, we have to be HONEST with our numbers. We need to avoid the trickery and deceipt by people with agenda bias. We must be honest with the stats, and really look at what WORKS to create No Kill communities. No hidden agendas. No slight of hand statistics. Just open, honest, dialogue.
This is why I think it's so incredible when cities provide open access to their information. Go to cities provide open access to their information online for everyone to see -- like in Charlottesville, Va and Reno, NV. (Interestingly, Clifton doesn't include the numbers for Charlottesville even though the info is easily available).
When people like Clifton use the information to mislead the public, it hurts the animals. It hurts them by encouraging policy that is not helpful to the cause...and in fact, makes the situation worse.
It's time for everyone to put their agendas aside and to push forward with policies that WORK to make communities more livable for both people and the animals.