Exercise to Reduce Stress in Dogs. Part 2
Last week, I wrote about the Italian research study that showed how daily exercise can reduce stress levels in shelter dogs. This week, I will examine the implications and possible cost savings from implementing a regular shelter exercise program.
In the U.S., somewhere near 8 million dogs and cats enter shelters during a year, and about ½ of these, or 4 million are euthanized each year. Although this number is much lower than what it was some 30 years ago, it is still way too high. The cost can be expressed not only in terms of the lives of these animals, but also in terms of the financial cost of intake, housing, and euthanasia costs directly.
Exercising Dogs to Reduce Stress- Implications for Animal Shelters and Rescues
Any animal shelter could use the Italian research to improve the outcomes of their shelter animals. By using exercise to keep the stress levels of their dogs low, they are also increasing the odds that the dogs will be better behaved. In turn, this can only increase the chances that the dogs will be adopted more quickly. Thus, it seems to me that shelters and rescues should look to set up canine exercise programs, along with proper record keeping and data collection, if they don’t already have one in place. This could be accomplished in several ways.
- Have at least one staff member in charge of the exercise program and be responsible for educating themselves on the different exercise modalities and safety tips.
- Make a targeted effort to recruit volunteers that will be willing to donate their time in the form of dog walking/exercise. This is a great option for local community members to contribute something of high value in lieu of money.
- Create a measurement process to collect actual data on the effect of the program. Nothing fancy here, but rather a simple record keeping system that documents observed behavior changes and time to adoption statistics, recidivism rates, etc., on dogs that are in the program. This data can be used to learn and reinforce approaches that are successful, be used to calculate the monetary (cost) savings of quicker adoptions, and perhaps even be used as the basis for additional funding and grants.
Estimated Benefits from Implementing a Shelter Exercise Program
With proper exercise, shelter pets are more likely to be adopted, and adopted more quickly. This means a reduced euthanasia rate, a reduced return rate, and a lower cost of housing the pets (since their stay at the shelter is shorter). I did some back of the envelope calculations to see what the impact could be on both the lives of the pets as well as the financial cost to taxpayers.
Dog Lives Saved
By lowering the stress in a shelter dog, we are also improving the chances that a dog will be adopted into their forever home. If regular exercise can reduce the euthanasia rate by just 10%, then we could save around 200,000 dogs each year from being killed.
If the estimate above is not enough to convince you that a shelter exercise program is worthwhile, then consider the possible financial impact. Assuming that it costs an average of $5 per day to feed and house a dog, that an exercised dog would be adopted on average 7 days quicker than a stressed out dog, and that the cost of euthanasia is $100, I estimate that we could save $90 million a year in the U.S. simply by ensuring that the shelter dogs are exercised each day. That’s a lot of money to go with a lot of lives saved.
All of this research and calculations leads me to believe that our communities need to start implementing and tracking shelter exercise programs. I know that many people are looking for non-financial ways to help out and volunteering to exercise a shelter pet is a great way to do so. The entrepreneur in me is also starting to envision an application that could be created to help the shelters manage and track the results of these type of programs. Imagine if there was a way to collect and aggregate data across the thousands of shelters across the country, so that the actual benefits could be quantified and best practices could be validated across a large sample size? Could this data, in turn, be used to support additional government grants as well as private donations? Might be worth investigating further…