2.1. Data Collection and Study Design
Data were sourced from the RSPCA’s Sheltermate© database and a retrospective single cohort study of all dogs entering Queensland RSPCA shelters in 2014 was conducted. Data obtained encompassed all first admissions of dogs from 1 January 2014 to 31 December 2014 into nine RSPCA-QLD shelters, and their associated outcomes from the nine shelters, adoption centers and associated pet shops. RSPCA-QLD operates four adoption centers where RSPCA animals can be adopted, but the full services of a shelter are not offered. The RSPCA also has contracts with selected pet shops to stock only RSPCA sheltered dogs and cats. Of the nine shelters, six had municipal council contracts and three did not accept strays from the general public (except under exceptional circumstances). Councils are local government bodies (similar to US counties) and are responsible for animal control and pound management. Pounds are council run facilities where stray, seized or surrendered dogs are kept for a set period of time until an owner comes forward or a dispute is resolved (e.g., licensing). If the dog remains unclaimed, it is transferred to a shelter facility (such as the RSPCA), rehomed or euthanized. Shelters are operated by welfare groups, and may or may not accept stray dogs, depending on government by-laws and shelter policies. Details of dogs accepted by the shelters were entered into the Sheltermate© system. All dogs were scanned for a microchip on admission, and most were assessed by a veterinarian within 24 to 48 h of admission.
Raw data were imported from the RSPCA’s Sheltermate© program and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census 2011 population data, and were manipulated in Microsoft Excel. Further clarification on definitions of data categories and shelter procedures was obtained through verbal and email communication with RSPCA-QLD staff. Data categories obtained included RSPCA allocated animal identification number, primary breed, estimated mature size (small/medium/large/extra large), crossbred status (crossbred/purebred), source of admission, postcode of source, date of entry, date of birth, age group on admission (puppy/juvenile/young adult/mature adult/senior), reason for surrender (if applicable), sex, previously desexed (yes/no), outcome, date of outcome, reason for euthanasia (if applicable), and human population by postcode. For dogs with multiple admissions in 2014 (identified by their allocated shelter identification number), only data for their first admission were used in the analysis. For the purpose of this study, the terms “dog” and “dogs” refer to dogs collectively, regardless of age. Puppies are dogs ≤6 months of age, whilst adults (>6 months) include juveniles (>6 months to 12 months), young adults (>12 months to 2 years), mature adults (>2 years to seven years) and senior adults (>7 years). Allocation to age category was based on their estimated birth date, and where this was not recorded, the age category allocated by the RSPCA was used. If no history of desexing status was obtained on admission, desex status was allocated based on external signs of sterilization (e.g., ear tattoo, abdominal scar or absence of testes). It was assumed that all dogs not listed as desexed prior to admission, or did not have a desex date prior to their admission date were entire. All dogs made available for adoption were desexed, and if it was noted during the procedure that there was evidence of prior desexing, this was updated in the database. Dog size was allocated by comparing a dog’s estimated mature height to a person of average height. Small dogs were defined as being less than knee height, medium dogs were approximately knee height, large dogs were thigh height and extra large dogs were approximately hip height.
For the purposes of this study, the sources of admission for each dog were organized under seven categories: owner surrender, stray, council admission, offspring of sheltered animals, euthanasia request, humane officer admission (employees of the RSPCA tasked with rescuing animals from situations where their welfare may be compromised), and other (Supplementary Materials, Table S1
). Council admissions were mostly stray and some owner-surrendered dogs received by municipal councils and transferred to the RSPCA after a holding period of three to five days, or immediately under a pound management agreement (owner surrenders were transferred within 24 h). Surrender reasons were organized under human or dog related reasons, and a series of categories and subcategories (Supplementary Materials, Table S2
). The outcomes for the dogs entering RSPCA shelters were allocated into eight categories: reclaimed, adopted, euthanized, in shelter, in foster, unassisted death, transferred out and other (Supplementary Materials, Table S3
). Off-site euthanasias and adoptions recorded by the RSPCA (for example, adoptions through pet shops) were included in the data. Dogs with a date for outcome in 2015 were assumed to be “in shelter” on the conclusion of 2014, unless their outcome was “in foster”, whereby they were assumed to have already been “in foster” at the end of 2014. The RSPCA allocated reasons for euthanasia were organized into six categories, and a series of subcategories (Supplementary Materials, Table S4
), for the purposes of this study.
Postcodes were recorded for where the animal was presented from (“lost/found postcode”), and for the person presenting the animal (“person postcode”) (i.e., dogs which were presented as strays may have been found in a different postcode to the address of the finder). For the purposes of this study the “lost/found postcode” was used. If no “lost/found postcode” was recorded, the “person postcode” was used. No postcode was recorded for 348 dogs, and these animals were excluded from the postcode analysis. Intake per 1000 residents within a postcode was calculated using data from the ABS 2011 Census. The Socio-Economic Index For Areas (SEIFA Rank) was used to identify the relative socio-economic status for all postcodes from which two or more dogs were received [20
]. The index is a relative measure. A low score indicates relatively greater disadvantage and a lack of advantage in the area, and a high score indicates a relative lack of disadvantage and greater advantage in the area.
Data excluded from analysis included repeat admissions (n = 1212), entries with missing age data (n = 770), dogs deceased prior to arrival (n = 82) and duplicate or erroneous data (n = 4). A total of 11,967 initial dog admissions were used for the analysis. For each analysis, entries with incomplete data relating to the categories studied were excluded.