Sheltering organizations serve a crucial role in animal welfare—they provide homes and services to homeless animals. However, shelters that fail to acknowledge their own care limitations may end up doing more harm than good. Overcrowding and an overworked staff can lead to a shelter’s failure, and animal wellbeing may be compromised. To prevent this unfortunate outcome, it is essential to determine your shelter’s capacity for care.
The Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters isolates three primary factors in evaluating a facility’s maximum capacity for care.
- Housing capacity
- Staffing and training
- Length of stay
Housing capacity is an easy variable to determine. This factor is defined as the facility’s total amount of primary enclosures, but the most ideal housing includes the necessary space and layout for certain species (think: larger dogs need more room to exercise). To ensure the shelter has available space for new intakes, the population should always be lower than the facility’s maximum housing capacity. If your shelter’s housing capacity is very small, you may want to consider starting a concomitant foster program, implementing strategies to increase adoption rates, or providing specialty services to potential adopters, such as pet shipping.
Similar to your housing capacity, you should consistently strive to increase your staff’s capacity for care. Limitations in staffing and training can impact a shelter’s ability to provide efficient care to its animals. Individuals should have necessary veterinary or pet sitting experience, and your shelter should employ enough staff members to provide the individual care each animal needs. If you do not have a large enough staff, consider decreasing the total animal population, starting a foster program, or opening volunteer positions.
Finally, monitoring the average length of stay for a facility’s animal population will help determine the best strategies for care. For example, if your shelter’s length of stay is long, you should strive to implement socialization programs in order to combat stress. If your average length of stay is on the shorter end, you will not need to implement such programs.
In assessing these three variables, a shelter is better able to work within its capacity. If the shelter owner or manager fails to assess the capacity for care, the space may become overcrowded and underserved, resulting in increased stress, spread of disease, and low staff retention rates. It is essential to remain mindful of a shelter’s capacity for care; in doing so, you ensure the best possible treatment for both animals and staff members.