Memphis Animal Services Intakes and Weather

  1. Homeless animals struggle to survive during cold winter months, which lowers MAS intake numbers.
  2. About 70% of MAS intakes are 'Strays/At Large' while 20% are 'Relinquished by Owners.'
  3. Intake numbers are consecutively lowering year over year.

In February 2018, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced Memphis would be joining the Open Data Initiative, which promotes city governments to provide easier access to public services data. Some data sets are released now and some are pretty interesting: number of potholes being filled within 5 days, number of 911 calls answered within 20 seconds, active police officer count, and dozens of other metrics. You should really check them out (see link at end of post for portal). Major kudos to Mayor Strickland and the City of Memphis.

Memphis Animal Services and Weather - Albrecht Analytics

Figure 1: Logic Flow

After browsing some of the data sets, one really caught my eye: the Memphis Animal Services (MAS) Intake data. Or, in more blunt terms, the monthly number of dogs and cats that are admitted to the Memphis pound. It caught my eye for two reasons: I'm an animal lover and the dashboard clearly showed something seasonal going on with intake numbers. Long story short, I had a hunch that weather was influencing intake numbers. So, I wrangled the MAS data together with weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and did some basic analyses.

Memphis Animal Services and Weather - Albrecht Analytics

Figure 2: Annual MAS Intake Totals

Here are some findings:

  1. Over the last few years, there have been consecutively fewer intakes each year. This could simply mean there are fewer homeless animals, but that's being pretty optimistic! This may be due to operational capacity. The budget for 'Animal Shelters' has increased from $3M in FY13 to over $4M in FY2018.

  2. Weather is clearly correlated with intake numbers despite overall annual decreases. Intakes increase when temperature increases. Intakes decrease when temperature decreases. A very rudimentary statistical model indicates every 1 degree warmer temperature is associated with roughly 8 more intakes.

  3. Roughly 70% of intakes are categorized as 'Strays/at Large' while 20% are categorized as "Relinquished by Owner." This would imply large changes in intake numbers are greatly related to increased numbers of homeless animals being picked up. There were 8,273 MAS intakes during 2017: 1,555 (19%) cats and 6,718 (81%) dogs. 1,660 pets were 'Relinquished by Owner': 426 (26%) cats and 1,234 (74%) dogs. 5,901 homeless intakes were 'Stray/At Large': 1,099 (18%) cats and 3,640 (62%) dogs.

  4. The grim writing on the wall is homeless animals simply don't survive during cold months, which subsequently lowers MAS intake numbers. This means hundreds of homeless animals are at risk during months with wild temperature drops. I wondered why extreme heat didn't influence intake numbers, but studies have shown that extreme cold is much more likely to kill than extreme heat (see study link below). I wonder if it's the suddenness of temperature change that is lethal, not necessarily the temperature itself.

Memphis Animal Services and Weather - Albrecht Analytics

Figure 3: Calculated Daily Average Temperatures

Let me be clear: I'm not attacking, blaming, or even trying to portray MAS as the bad guy in any way. I'm literally saying cold weather is the bad guy... and is a much bigger bad guy than I had previously thought.

So, this coming winter, maybe put in some extra effort to take care of that homeless pup or kitty you see in the parking lot or wandering around the street. And, of course, please donate to your local animal shelter and spay/neuter your household pet!

Click here for a high resolution version of the main chart.