By Kay Stout
Occasionally when the phone rings, something wonderful happens. Such was the case for me in 2019, when Lori L. Jervis, Ph.D., professor of Anthropology and a co-director of the Center for Applied Social Research at the University of Oklahoma (OU), called.
Dr. Jervis wanted to do an in-depth study of the out-of-state transport for Oklahoma’s shelter/rescue animals in 2021. She needed my help. I immediately said, “Yes.” Since then, the research process has been a marathon rather than a sprint, but the finish line is in sight.
It all began with the development of a survey that had to pass the university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), which works to ensure proposed academic research methods are ethical. After Dr. Jervis received IRB approval, then it was time for me to identify at least 50 shelters/rescues/transports to become research participants.
But recruiting these organizations to be part of the study was harder than I first thought – my first aha moment of the project. While I knew of more than 50 organizations involved in transport, many initially said “No” to participating. Thankfully, with the persistence of some gentle nudging, many of these organizations eventually came around.
So far, the OU researchers have conducted 37 interviews (31 with Oklahoma organizations) and the numbers are jaw-dropping. Combining preliminary interview findings with SAC (Shelter Animals Count) data shows that 43 organizations transported a total of 22,652 Oklahoma shelter/rescue animals out-of-state in 2021. Only 8,670 of those were reported by 29 organizations in Shelter Animals Count.* That’s a significant data gap that must be closed through shelter/transport/rescue participation in SAC.
With approximately 120 government-contract animal shelters in Oklahoma, and an unknown number of nonprofit animal shelters and foster-based rescues likely exceeding that number, data reporting, including numbers for out-of-state transport, is the only way Oklahoma will ever understand the full scope of its shelter animal population crisis.
When the findings of the OU study are published later this year, it will paint the most comprehensive and compelling snapshot to date of out-of-state animal transport as a vital short-term strategy that helps shelters tread water when it comes to the flood of animals flowing through their doors every day.
*The information contained herein was derived from data supplied by Shelter Animals Count. Shelter Animals Count specifically disclaims all responsibility for any analysis, interpretations, conclusions and opinions contained in the information presented.