Tuesday 11 November 2014

Kennels and catteries

Kennels and catteries are commercial businesses where owners can leave their cats or dogs while they are away from home. They are part of a wider category of animal boarding that also includes donkey sanctuaries, and organisations that take in domestic strays, pets whose owners are no longer able to cope; and wildlife, such as hedgehogs. These are more likely to be run by charities.

In England and Wales animal boarding establishments (including kennels & catteries) are controlled by the Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963. They have to be licensed by the local authority. The situation is similar in Scotland, but controlled by a different act.

Because they have to be licensed I thought it would be straightforward to find statistics on how many kennels and catteries there are in the UK. I was mistaken. Published government figures on the business population don't go down to that level of detail, local authorities don't seem to publish any statistics, and I can't find figures from trade bodies. However, the Valuation Office Agency does publish figures for different types of property, including the numbers of kennels and catteries there are in Wales and the English regions. These figures are a bit old (2010), but broadly in line with the numbers that come up on a search of Yellow Pages. Unless anyone can come up with a better figure, I think we can be fairly confident that there are just short of 5,000 kennels and catteries in the UK.

Of these I've been able to find just over 200 in the OSM database. Contributors have tagged roughly half of those as a kennel or cattery, and the other half can be identified (with reasonable confidence) as a kennel or cattery by the name.

Mapping these clearly hasn't been a high priority for OSM contributors.

I reckon that the data on kennels and catteries is too incomplete, and the tagging is too inconsistent for it to be of great practical use for rendering or other forms of data presentation (at present). The point of this post isn't to argue that things should be any different. These establishments are not particularly prominent features in the landscape. Dog and cat owners (in my experience, at least) will either have chosen their a preferred animal boarding service already, or they will find one through personal recommendation rather than searching a database. This isn't quite the same for animal rescue, where I could see a need for an application to find the nearest hedgehog sanctuary (for example). But it's hard to see how pressure from data users is going to create a surge of interest in data on animal boarding. One day we may see enthusiasts kick of an "Animal Boarding Mapping Project". But my guess is that these are more likely to be added by non-specialist contributors who are working on mapping a wide range of different features within their local area.

In any case, the community will decide on priorities. My interest in looking at this is not to push for action on kennels and catteries. I'm more interested in seeing what we can learn about how contributors approach less commonplace features.

We find three different models for tagging kennels and catteries.
  • The usual approach is not to label these as a kennel or cattery at all. Examples of kennels and catteries can be  picked up fairly easily through the contents of the "name" tag. There may be other, similar techniques that I haven't tried. In other words these features have been mapped, and named, but there is no further detail to indicate that they might be of special interest. In the chart they appear as "Name only"
  • The second most common approach is to use simple "amenity" tagging. This makes use of user-specified values of the "amenity" tag: "amenity=kennels" and "amenity=cattery". These aren't documented, but nevertheless, they represent more than half of the examples of kennels and and catteries that have appropriate tags attached in the database. In the chart these appear as "Simple"
  • The third approach is more structured, and follows the tagging recommended in the documentation. This is based around "amenity=animal_boarding"  with more detail added under "animal_boarding=...". This approach represents almost half of the examples of kennels and catteries that carry specific tagging. Although it is the documented approach it is not yet the most widely used. It appears in the chart as "Structured".
As always, there are a few variants on both of the structured models. By the look of it most of these are a mix of typing mistakes, and misunderstandings. They don't make a significant difference to the totals. There are an even smaller number of intriguing examples, though, where a contributor has used tagging based on "pet=". There are only a few of these, and it looks as though this might be an experiment that didn't go further, but it suggests that at least one contributor sees boarding kennels and catteries in terms of how they relate to other facilities for pets, rather than as a type of amenity, or as a service for animals.

The blindingly obvious conclusion is that there are serious limitations in the current data. Inconsistent tagging might be a deterrent for users who want to render or process this data: but the real blocker is the very limited coverage.

In the case of kennels and catteries, it seems likely, as things stand, that anyone using this data is unlikely to be interested in rendering or presenting the data within an application.Simply because there isn't (yet) enough coverage to make this viable.

There is no shortage of similar examples in the database, outside the mainstream,  where coverage is low.

To my mind this raises some interesting questions.

When the community is debating about best how to tag features that fall outside the mainstream:

  • Who is using this data, and what are they using it for?
  • Do current approaches meet the needs of data users, can they be improved, and if so, how?
  • Could contributors be encouraged to add more useful data?

Presumably we think that one day coverage of these features will become sufficient to make rendering or application processing viable. If we don't think that, then why are we collecting this data at all?.

  • Will the needs of data users change at that point?
  • If needs do change, how will that affect the data?
  • How will we tell when we have reached that stage?
Obviously I wouldn't be raising these questions if I held the view that the needs of data users were the same for all types of feature, and that they were unchanging as the contents of the database evolves. 

To me, the key question is "how do we tell when we have reached the stage that rendering or data presentation becomes viable?". But this might touch on some contentious issues. It's probably best to stop at that point, and see what others think.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Interesting questions, to which I do not have an answer unfortunately.
I think an app (website, smartphone app) might be an accelerator for adding certain data, regardless of how much data was added before. I have the impression that people always want to see what they have added.
Furthermore one need support from the editors, because most people don't look into the wiki.

Maybe I should update my map http://umap.openstreetmap.fr/en/map/een-hondse-kaart_17687#12/51.1456/4.3861 (in Dutch) with kennels.
At the moment it displays several dog related POIs (dog parks, pet shops, dog schools, race tracks, waste bins) and path where dogs are not allowed. As far as I know none of this information is displayed in other maps and this there is a good amount of schools and parks mapped.
I don't have an explanation for that.