Let's do some maths : capacity of care in animal shelters

Sometimes. we need a bit of inspiration. That’s what I find when I attend to great lectures. That’s what I look for when I sit at a conference. And earlier this summer I was lucky : I attended to the 2015 OSPCA Educational Conference. I was particularly moved by the talks of Dr Cynthia Karsten on capacity of care in animal shelters. I’m always looking for new options to better face the risks associated with infectious diseases in animal shelters. In her talks, I found new ways - at least for me ! - to approach the concept of « capacity of care » in animal shelters, and that’s definitely something I believe I need to share ! 


To quote her : « Every shelter organization has a maximum capacity for care, and the population in their care must not exceed that level ». 


#1 What you need to start with : have a realistic definition of what your capacity of care is. Your building capacity is obviously your upper limit, but that might not be a good reflection of your reality. An essential thing to take into account : your number of staff and volunteers. 


#2 Define what the most reasonable amount of time (in hours) one person should spend per day taking care of the animals is (it could be 1, 2, 3,…, 8 hours/day, it might vary depending on the structure - let’s call it T) and then go from there and do the following maths :

Nb: In the equation,15 is the recommended amount of time in min for performing basic care to a single animal.


This will give you what the real maximum capacity of care is for your structure. 


#3 Your goal is always to operate BELOW this maximum capacity of care. If you are above, time and ressources are quickly gonna lack : you will be dealing with overpopulation, which is a predisposing factor for infectious diseases outbreak to occur. 


#4  Another equation to consider when it comes to capacity of care : 

Nb : Daily intake = number of animals arriving at the shelter on a daily basis  

Length of Stay = average time it takes ( in days ) those animals spend at the shelter before being adopted


Yeah, I know; more maths but this is when it becomes interesting. If you know what is realistic for your structure and you keep track of those two parameters ( Daily Intake & Length of Stay ), you will be able to determine at anytime if you operate above or below your capacity of care. 


#5 The previous equation also tells us how Daily Intake and Length of Stay can influence your capacity of care. 


Scenario 1 : Let’s say that the average length of stay for an animal inside your shelter is 14 days. If 10 animals are taken in on a daily basis, it means it will take 14 days for them to be adopted. Your capacity of care here is 140 (= you have 140 animals on a daily basis inside your structure).


Scenario 2 : Let’s say now you found ways to reduce the average length of stay to 7 days. Those 10 animals you receive on a daily basis will therefore be adopted twice faster. In 14 days, you would double your adoptions. And your capacity of care here would be only 70 (=now you have only 70 animals inside your shelter on a daily basis). In many aspects, it will make management of your structure way easier.


Scenario 3 : And there is another way to tackle the problem of capacity of care. Since you were able to reduce length of stay to 7 days, you could then decide to decrease the amount of animals taken in to 5 per day. Over a 14 days period, the number of animals adopted would be the exact same than Scenario 1. But your capacity of care would only be 35 (=you have 35 animals inside your shelter on a daily basis). Sounds even easier compared to Scenario 1, isn’t it ? For the exact same results. 


This is a zootechnical approach based on mathematical models that in my opinion totally makes sense in structures like shelters. Give them some thoughts, I am sure they can help. And stay tuned for our next posts : there are still few things we need to discuss !

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