Sheltering organizations serve a noble and necessary role in animal welfare by providing sanctuary for homeless animals. However, a shelter that is not mindful of its own limitations may ultimately fail to provide its animal population with humane care due to overcrowding. To be certain that adequate care is provided, it is necessary to consider a shelter’s capacity for care and be mindful of it when implementing policies and procedures throughout the organization.
The Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters offers the following factors in evaluating a facility’s maximum capacity for care:
- Housing capacity
- Staffing and training
- Average length of stay (LOS)
Maximum housing capacity is defined as a facility’s total amount of primary enclosures: ideal housing is accommodating in terms of both space and layout for a particular species. In order to ensure that there will be available space for new intakes, the animal population must always be lower than a facility’s maximum housing capacity.
Limitations in staffing and training can affect a shelter’s ability to provide efficient and humane care to its animal population. Caretakers and veterinary staff have only so much time available to them, and each individual animal needs a quantified amount of time put into their daily care. Additionally, providing staff and volunteers with sufficient training, both in orientation and on an ongoing basis, is essential to ensuring the meeting of standards for disease prevention and handling.
Actively monitoring and reporting the average length of stay (LOS) of a facility’s animal population can help to determine policies for care and enrichment. Animals’ requirements for enrichment and housing change as their LOS increases, calling for increased socialization to combat stress accumulated in the shelter environment.
Exceeding the maximum capacity for care can spell disaster for a sheltering organization. Overcrowding can raise stress and increase the spread of disease throughout the animal population; consequently, emotional fatigue among staff and volunteers can lead to lower retention rates. Through being mindful of their own capacity for care, sheltering organizations can take preventative measures to avoid the consequences of overcrowding altogether.