Shelter standards (Proceedings)


So you have the standards, but now how do you implement them?

So you have the standards, but now how do you implement them?

The ASV standards were written to help shelters assess their facilities and strive to make positive changes to better the lives of those animals in their care.  Many shelters already meet the requirements, but there may be challenges faced with maintaining some of these standards. This may occur when a shelter is beyond its capacity to care for its populations.  For this reason, I will discuss some basic concepts in shelter population management. 

Calculating shelter capacity

Understanding and maintaining shelter capacity is fundamental to provide humane standards of care, maintain animal health and maximize live release. Given the great number of homeless pets in need of care, it can be difficult to imagine defining, let alone providing, “sufficient” capacity for this seemingly infinite population.  However, the problem of homeless animals is not really one of holding capacity, but one of flow through capacity.

f course we know this already: if a shelter simply admitted all animals that came through the door and never released them, virtually all facilities would soon be impossibly overcrowded. We know that ultimately the problem must be largely solved by reducing the number of animals in need of shelter through preventive programs, and by ensuring that the remaining homeless animals pass through shelters successfully to a positive outcome. Fortunately, sufficient capacity is a much more attainable goal once we realize that we do not need to “house our way out of overpopulation” but simply provide humane conditions for a finite number of animals as they pass through our care.

The basics for calculating capacity are given below; for more information please visit the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program at

Capacity basics

While the notion of calculating capacity can seem overwhelming, in fact a few basic calculations combined with data available from commonly used shelter software systems can provide a solid foundation.  Even rough estimates based on annual data can be valuable if that's the only information available, and can provide the impetus to collect more detailed monthly data in the future.

The most important capacity calculations are listed below. These can all be calculated using monthly reports of intake numbers by type (e.g. stray, surrender, transfer), outcome number by type (e.g. reclaim, adoption, transfer, euthanasia) and some means of estimating daily population. In general, it's helpful to calculate capacity based at least on species, and if possible, by age (juveniles < 20 weeks versus adults). Housing, daily care and flow-through staffing requirements may differ between puppies and kittens, dogs and cats. In some cases it's also helpful to calculate breed- or condition- specific capacity if special housing or handling are required or if outcome options are different than for other animals of that species (e.g. feral cats may be candidates for spay/neuter/release but not adoption). With the exception of daily population, these are numbers many shelters are already collecting, and only a few straightforward calculations are needed.

Basic capacity calculations

·         Physical holding capacity: this is the physical space required for animals in stray hold, quarantine or other required/desired finite holding periods prior to being made available for adoption. This includes animals that can be viewed for adoption but are not currently ready to go home.

·         Adoption driven capacity: this is the optimal number of animals to have actively available for adoption, or for shelters where animals are viewable for adoption throughout their stay, the number of animals actively moving towards adoption. While this defines a physical space requirement at the low end, it is defined at the high end by the number of adoptions and the optimal length of stay.

·         Staff capacity for daily care: this is the number of animals that can be adequately cared for, based on national and/or internal standards, on a daily basis. Even if physical capacity is sufficient, staff capacity may limit the number that can be provided adequate care.

·         Staff capacity for flow through: each animal will require specific services at several points during their shelter stay, e.g. intake, behavioral evaluation, spay/neuter surgery, and processing for reclaim, adoption, transfer or euthanasia. If staff capacity for flow through is inadequate for any of these points it can lead to a backlog that in turn creates problems with capacity in other areas.


Monthly daily averages

Although rough estimates can be obtained using annual numbers, it's generally helpful to look at capacity on a monthly basis. This is especially true for cats, which tend to be more seasonally variable than dogs, and in communities with substantial seasonal effects such as a large student or vacation population.  Monthly daily averages (MDA) for intake and outcomes are obtained by obtained monthly totals (commonly available from all software systems), and dividing by the number of days in the month.

Actual and average daily population

In addition to intakes and outcomes, actual and average daily population (ADP) are needed in order to monitor and predict housing and staffing requirements for animal care.  Population reports (often called “inventory” reports in shelter software) aren't always as readily available and easily manageable as intake and outcome reports. This is particularly true for historical daily population by age, species and area of the shelter (e.g. holding, adoption, isolation), which is needed for some of the calculations and graphs below. Of course, it's fairly easy – and highly advisable – to walk through the shelter each day and simply count the number of heads and paws in the building, but getting this into a spreadsheet for planning purposes will take an extra step.

Required physical holding capacity

The Required Physical Holding Capacity (RPHC) refers to the number of housing units required to hold animals for any necessary period prior to making them available for adoption.

What is the “necessary holding period”?

To calculate RPHC you need to know the necessary holding period. Most commonly, this refers to stray holding but may also refer to other pre-adoption holding requirements. For instance, a shelter that routinely transfers animals in from another high risk shelter and holds them for a 14 day parvo quarantine would require sufficient physical holding capacity to carry this out. If holding periods are variable, calculate or estimate the average:

Example:  Strays with ID are held ten days, strays without ID are held 5 days. You estimate (or know from your records) that 40% of dogs and 5% of cats come in with ID. So the average hold for dogs would be 0.4 x 10 + 0.6 x 5 = 7, and for cats would be 0.05 x 10 + 0.95 x 5 = 5.25 (so, basically, 5).

RPHC: the actual calculation

When monthly daily average intake and required holding period have been established, RPHC can be readily calculated:

Required physical holding capacity (RPHC) = Monthly daily average intake x required holding period

Adoption driven capacity (ADC)

For most organizations, the ideal number of animals for adoption, or “Adoption Driven Capacity” (ADC) is calculated by determining the target average length of stay, and multiplying that by the monthly daily average number of adoptions. For animals basically “ready to go” upon admission (old enough and not requiring any treatment or rehab other than the usual vaccines, spay/neuter and other wellness care), the total length of stay should generally be about 2 weeks. If animals are held for stray or quarantine in areas where they can be viewed and selected for adoption , this total time can be included when calculating  ADC with a goal of ~ 14 days total in holding and adoption (so for example if the time in stray hold is 7 days, the target time in adoption would be ~ 7 days). If holding areas are cut off from public view, the target average length of stay in adoption should  generally be at least 10 days to be viewed for adoption (to span two weekends, if that is the time of peak adoptions). 

Adoption Driven Capacity = Target Average Length of Stay* Monthly Daily Average Adoptions

Staff capacity for daily care

At the most basic level, sufficient time for daily care must be available to provide for the daily cleaning, feeding, any needed medical care and monitoring of each animal. (Throughout this document, when I say staff, I include skilled, reliable volunteers that can be counted on for daily care activities.)  Required staff capacity for daily care is calculated by multiplying the number of animals present on a daily basis by the number of minutes required for basic care per animal per day:


Required Staff for Daily Care = Minutes per animal* average daily population/60 to give the numbers of hours required for care.The inverse can also be calculated: Staff Capacity for Daily Care is calculated by dividing the number of staff minutes available for basic care activities per day by the number of minutes required per animal, to get the total number of animals that can be humanely cared for at any one time.

Staff Capacity for Daily Care (SCDC) = Minutes of daily staff time for care/minutes required per animal per day

So, how many minutes per animal per day are required?

As with the definition of “adequate housing units” this number can vary by species, age and housing type. It will also vary depending on the needs of the population – a shelter that has mostly healthy juveniles and adults can plan to spend fewer minutes on basic care per day than one with the same number of bottle babies or animals with significant medical or behavioral rehabilitation needs. As a general guideline, NACA and HSUS recommend allocating 15 minutes per animal per day for basic cleaning and feeding.

Staff capacity for flow through

Average daily staff hours required for intake or other flow through procedure = minutes per intake/60*MDA intake #

The Association of Shelter Veterinarians Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters can be obtained in its entirety at   

** Many thanks to Dr. Sandra Newbury and Dr. Kate Hurley, also of the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, for development of many of the concepts contained in these notes.


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