Data-driven animal lifesaving

Data analyst Ron Burd researches and compiles statistics on animal shelters' save rates for dogs and cats, helping the country get closer to no-kill.
By Nicole Hamilton

Best Friends in New York works collaboratively with city shelters, local animal welfare organizations and individuals to save the lives of pets in shelters in New York City and the surrounding tri-state area. As part of this work, Best Friends has a national lifesaving concept space and pet adoption center in SoHo, hosts adoption and fundraising events, and runs a foster program in partnership with Animal Care Centers of New York City. Together, we will Save Them All.

Ron Burd is doing important work as a Best Friends volunteer, but you probably won’t find him at an adoption event or at the Best Friends Adoption Center in New York City. That’s because Ron is helping save homeless pets from his home in Philadelphia, where he compiles animal shelter data.

“Ron’s expertise and passion for using data to help the region become no-kill has helped us make an even greater impact on the lives of homeless animals in the Northeast, especially those in shelters that need help the most,” says Elizabeth Jensen, Best Friends regional director.

One of Ron’s first volunteer projects involved looking at an extensive list of animal welfare organizations in Pennsylvania. While there was good data about dogs, there was no comprehensive information about shelter’s save rates for cats. Good data is essential to creating no-kill communities, because it identifies which types of pets are most at risk in a given area. It may be large dogs or kittens or adult cats. Looking at that data helps pinpoint where help is most needed.

That’s where Ron came in. “He was tasked with going through the list of organizations provided by the state and identifying if they were taking in and adopting out cats or not,” says Elizabeth Adams, Best Friends in New York research assistant. “Based on his work, we have realized that many more organizations are dealing with cats than originally hypothesized. What Ron found changed the way we look at Pennsylvania and what we can actually do to help the local organizations.”

In the following interview, Ron describes what motivates him to use the power of data to help Best Friends Save Them All.

Why did you decide to volunteer to help animals?

I was sitting on my couch scrolling through Facebook and kept seeing animals being “time-stamped” due to overcrowding or inability to care for certain things. It made me sad enough to the point where I wanted to do something about it. I did some research and found Best Friends to be the most in line with my goals. The first words I saw were “Save Them All” and that’s really all I needed to see. I wanted to be a part of that.

Our goal: no-kill nationwide by 2025

What would you tell others who are thinking of volunteering?

If you can, do it. It is tremendously rewarding and you don’t need to make a huge time commitment. You help how you can, when you can.

Since becoming a Best Friends volunteer, what have you learned and do you see anything differently now?

I have learned good things and bad things. I have learned that there is a concerted effort to help animals everywhere and tremendous progress is being made; however, I have also learned that it is worse out there than I thought for a lot of animals. I do think, though, that it continues to get better and better every day.

In terms of your volunteer work with Best Friends, what are you most proud of?

I’m honestly just most proud of doing something. I think we all see some things that we think can and should be better; however, we sometimes just accept them as they are and continue on with our daily routines. I’m glad I decided to break the monotony — even if just in a small way.

What does volunteering mean to you and why do you do it?

Volunteer Ron Burd working on the computer with a dog in his lapVolunteering to me is simply service above self. I think we are taught at an early age by our circumstances, the media, advertising, and by other ways to look out for ourselves and be more individualistic and materialistic. I think this is good to a point, but there is so much more to be achieved if we work together. One of my coaches growing up always used to say, “Many hands make light work,” and that has always stuck with me.

Please tell us something about you that we might not know.

I have lived in eight different places in the last six years.

What are you doing when you’re not volunteering with animals?

I’m really into sports. I play soccer and grew up playing baseball and basketball as well. I love going to games and cheering on a USA team whenever possible. I’ll even cheer for USA badminton and make a day of it.

Do you have pets?

I have two pups: Breezy and Luna. I adopted Breezy in Fredericksburg, Virginia, about two years ago and she quickly morphed into my best friend. I wasn’t sure about her story. She came from a very rural area, but what made me realize she was “the one” was when I walked into her room and she was wagging her tail so hard that her entire backside was moving. She ran up to me and immediately sprawled out on her back with all four paws in the air. How could I not?

I recently moved to the greater Philadelphia area with my girlfriend and we were in a position to take on another pup. We had been talking about it for some time when one of my best friends kept sending us Luna’s picture, because she looks like she could be related to Breezy.

She had been with a rescue family in Fredericksburg that does really fantastic work. She had been there for eight months or so and still wasn’t adopted. She didn’t really know how to be a dog. She didn’t know how to play, avoided human contact and mostly kept to herself.

Breezy and Luna, Ron's dogs

Volunteering for Best Friends opened my eyes to the plight of animals everywhere. Even two years ago, I wouldn’t have given this incredible pup a chance.

Do you have a super power and if so, what would that be?

A lot of my friends call me the dog whisperer. I find it easy to connect with dogs that others have trouble with.

Besides volunteering for Best Friends, how else do “give back” to your community?

Any time an opportunity presents itself, whether it’s helping a friend out or holding the door for a complete stranger, it’s the little things that I think can go a long way to helping your community.

Volunteer to make a difference for pets in your community

Ron Burd holding his two dogs, Breezy and Luna

Photos courtesy of Ron Burd