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The Need For Capacity Planning

By Darlene Duggan

One of the greatest challenges facing animal shelter staff is the effective management of their animal population. Making sure the needs of the animals are met—feeding, cleaning, vaccinating, rehabilitating—is a constant and dynamic process for shelter workers. Since most shelters are revolving doors (one animal out, and another ready to replace its spot in the kennel), the job is never ending. One tool that animal shelters can utilize to better manage their population is capacity planning.

Capacity refers to the volume of animals a particular shelter can hold, and capacity planning is the process shelter managers utilize to help facilitate more efficient management of its animal population. Defining capacity can be accomplished in a few different ways:

Physical Capacity—The amount of appropriate kennel spaces available in a shelter. For rescues that rely on foster homes, physical capacity is defined as the number of foster home placements available. Considering this type of capacity is straightforward—if my shelter has 100 cages, then my capacity is 100 animals.

Care Capacity—Animal volume the shelter can effectively manage based on their resources, such as staff, volunteers, budget; or in-shelter resources like spay neuter services, and medical care.

This type of capacity planning is more difficult to define or understand, as the components are more of a moving target. At the most basic level, The Humane Society of The United States and The National Animal Control Association recommend that each animal in a shelter should have 15 minutes of hands-on care each day. A shelter can use this standard to calculate how many animals they can handle—if Shelter XYZ has 10 animal care staff, they therefore can care for a maximum of 320 animals (8 hrs/day X 10 staff = 4800 minutes total staff time per day à 4800 staff minutes/15 animal care minutes = 320). This standard can also be used in the reverse—if a shelter’s current staffing does not equal 15 minutes of attention per animal per day, then it could be used to justify adding staff or training more volunteers.

Adoption Driven Capacity—Shelters can use the average adoptions they process in a period of time to determine how many animals to make available for adoption, as well as how many animals to intake (if limited admission).

Active population management via capacity planning is an essential and foundational component of shelter animal health and well being. A capacity for care has limits for every organization, just as it does in private homes—what I would consider to be just the right blend of animals for my lifestyle, might be way too many for my neighbor.

When the shelter’s population is not managed within the capacity for care, other standards of care become difficult or impossible to manage. Think of the animal hoarders—most have good intentions of rescuing animals, but having too many to care for limits their ability to appropriately provide for even the basic needs of the animals. For shelters, this is when disease rates increase, stress levels increase (both animals and staff), and animals suffer. Having a capacity plan in place reduces the chances that the animal population will swell to limits above what they are able to handle, thus creating a more productive environment in which to care for their animals.

Animal shelters with active capacity plans in place can actually care for more animals than those without plans. An animal shelter is a dynamic environment, and it is advised that shelters re-evaluate their capacity plans on a continual basis to accommodate this regularly changing environment.

For many years, Darlene worked behind the scenes at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago–overseeing volunteer programs, problem solving shelter issues, and laboring tirelessly for the welfare of animals. Her bi-weekly column, The Shelter Voice, will explore the complex concepts surrounding animal rescue and welfare usually reserved for discussions amongst those at the very front lines of the industry. She hopes to broaden the understanding and education of shelter supporters so they can act as well-informed advocates for the cause and help spread the adoption and rescue message throughout their community.

To read more from Darlene, check out her Blog–Shelter Report.

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