New Shelter Management Program Results in Improved Adoption Rates

February 6, 2018
Natalie Stilwell, DVM, MS, PhD

Dr. Natalie Stilwell provides freelance medical writing and aquatic veterinary consulting services through her business, Seastar Communications and Consulting. In addition to her DVM obtained from Auburn University, she holds a MS in fisheries and aquatic sciences and a PhD in veterinary medical sciences from the University of Florida.

On average, cats were adopted 5 days sooner with new Capacity for Care program.

While approximately 1.3 million cats are adopted from US animal shelters every year, 40% of shelter cats in the country are euthanized.

In response to this statistic, several North American shelters have implemented Capacity for Care (C4C), a new management program that aims to maintain shelter cat populations at or below capacity to reduce illness and average length of stay.

The C4C program includes several steps to improve the adoption process:

  • Each cat is housed in a double-compartment cage.
  • Cats are provided with enrichment, such as toys and hiding spots.
  • Separate litter and feeding areas are established to minimize stress and disease transmission.
  • Fewer cats are placed on the adoption floor at one time to avoid overwhelming prospective adopters.
  • Cats that are feral or behaviorally unsuitable for adoption are instead re-released after sterilization or homed as barn cats.

C4C also uses appointment-based surrenders to ensure that the shelter stays under capacity and staff can discuss alternatives to relinquishment with pet owners. A more efficient adoption process includes fast-tracking adoptable cats to the adoption floor and providing shorter forms, fewer restrictions, and more attractive prices for potential adopters.


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The Guelph Humane Society in Canada became a pilot site for C4C beginning in 2014, and researchers at the University of Guelph performed a retrospective study comparing cat adoption statistics at the shelter before and after C4C was implemented. The results were recently published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine.

The Study

Records were examined for cats admitted to the Guelph Humane Society from 2011 to 2016. Data included date of admission, age, sex, neuter status, intake type (stray vs. owner-surrendered), breed, coat color, outcome, and adoption location.


Complete records were available for 1600 cats, 1479 of which were adopted by the end of the study period. After implementing the C4C program, the median length of stay for cats at the Guelph Humane Society decreased from 37 days to 32 days. The average length of stay throughout the study for cats placed into the barn cat program was 48 days.

Several variables significantly affected length of stay throughout the study, including age, coat length, breed, and sex. The average length of stay was 13% longer for kittens (less than 6 months old) than adult cats, most likely because time prior to weaning was included in the length of stay for kittens. Exotic breed cats were adopted 64% sooner than domestic shorthair cats, and male cats were adopted 20% sooner than female cats. While not significant, average length of stay was longer for black cats than for cats with other coat colors, and stray cats experienced a longer median length of stay compared with owner-surrendered cats.


As a pilot site for C4C, the Guelph Humane Society experienced significantly faster cat adoption rates after implementing the program; however, factors including breed and sex continued to affect adoptability.