The professor’s research measures the economic impact of animal welfare activities


Problems such as rising health care costs and rising obesity rates usually fall on physicians, policy makers and government officials. But Oklahoma City’s unlikely superheroes in human health may just be dogs.

As part of a larger plan to redesign the downtown area and reconnect residents with nature, Oklahoma City has proposed creating a “Compassion Center” to include a new concept of animal shelter. Rather than simply serving as a way to address animal homelessness in the city, the shelter would integrate animal health with human health through initiatives such as community events and a dog walking program using the new green spaces. Urban Compassion Center.

This is just one example of a shift towards what Kevin Morris of DU and a team of researchers have dubbed “human communities,” which bring together leaders, institutions and policies for the well-being of humans, animals and the environment.

“We are starting to see that animal policies are stronger if we can better integrate them into overall human and public health policy making and general legislative issues,” says Morris, associate research professor at the Graduate School of Social Work and director of research for its Institute for the Human-Animal Connection (IHAC).

The idea of ​​human communities arose out of three economic impact studies Morris conducted in recent years, including research at the Oklahoma City Compassion Center. As the studies came together, Morris and his colleagues noticed some commonalities. “It’s something we just put our arms around, but pretty much everything in our institute – our teaching, our research and our advocacy for programs – fits into that bucket of building human communities,” Morris explains.

The wheels began to turn when Morris joined with an economist to study the benefits and consequences of the proposed Compassion Center. Their hope was to “speak the language of policy makers,” Morris says. This study, published in early 2017, found that while the initial cost of building the Compassion Center was high, the financial impacts far outweighed the costs.

“With the construction of this new concept in Oklahoma City, you have to hire staff; you create an economic activity, ”he says. “You buy supplies from local suppliers. If you hire someone, they have to live there, so they do the grocery shopping; they pay rent. There are direct economic impacts and indirect economic impacts, and they are all calculated using standard modeling.

Late last year, Morris and his team released another study – this one examining Austin’s “no-kill” resolution, which imposed a 90% live release rate for animal shelters. hosted in the city of Texas. According to Morris, the legislation sparked controversy, in large part because residents feared animals would be turned back to full shelters, abandoned animals would languish in kennels for too long, and surrounding counties would be inundated with animals. unwanted.

Morris’s research found that the measure ended up costing Austin more than advertised. In addition, the direct economic impacts were not sufficient to cover the high expenses. But his research highlighted a significant benefit: “When Google opened its campus in Austin, one of the executives cited progressive animal welfare policies as one of the draws for them to be there. This millennial generation tends to choose a place they want to live, then move there and find a job. … Tech companies want to hire this younger, highly educated workforce, so they are driving that population out, ”he says. “This concept of brand equity for a city has become more important than ever.

With this in mind, Morris and his team expect the indirect economic impacts of the legislation, calculated at $ 116.6 million over six years, to be significant enough for the city to continue to support and sustain its efforts. humanitarian. “Being part of a human community is a decision to say that you are ready to support this and maintain it even if it costs you more than before,” he adds.

Recently, Morris brought the new concept from the IHAC back to Denver to study the city’s ban on pit bulls, enacted in 1989. The ban grew out of the breed’s reputation for aggression and a few high-profile incidents involving dogs in the Denver area.

Morris says outside of the ban, the city is a model for a strong human community, with a high rate of pet ownership, a 90 percent live release rate for dogs, and services. integrated around animals. The only scourge on Denver’s status within the animal welfare community stems from this controversial ban.

“In Denver, with this study, we see that we have invested a lot of money in this ban, and it has questionable effects on public safety,” Morris said. “It created brand equity issues for the city. There are conferences Denver could host that don’t take place here, and that has consequences for the bad neighbors. We don’t euthanize all these pit bulls. We send them to other shelters in the surrounding communities that don’t have the ban, and then they find themselves forced to adopt these dogs.

Additionally, Morris, along with researchers from DU’s Sturm College of Law, found that the economic impacts of the law, both direct and indirect, amounted to a loss of $ 43.2 million over its years. 28 years of application. Despite this, supporters of the ban remind critics that the number of dog bites each year has declined during this time. Whether this relates to the ban or other laws regarding dangerous dogs remains unclear, according to the study.

When considered together, Morris says these three studies shed light on important messages about how animals fit into our society and how they might move forward.

“What we’ve learned and what these studies illustrate is that if you’re smart, you can start to have impacts in your community that are more positive than you think,” he says. “If you have good policies [around animal welfare], they can contribute to your economy in a positive way.

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