Why shelter vets should know about shelter statistics (Proceedings)


Shelter statistics may not seem like the most exciting topic to consider, but is in my opinion one of the most important tools you have in your belt when it comes to shelter animal health.

Shelter statistics may not seem like the most exciting topic to consider, but is in my opinion one of the most important tools you have in your belt when it comes to shelter animal health.

According to the ASPCA a shelter veterinary medical program must evaluate disease risk and develop programs that increase and maintain the health and well being of their animals; and should incorporate elements of proper husbandry, shelter design, and stress reduction. They also state that shelter medicine should not be considered the practice of small animal veterinary medicine in a shelter, but rather that shelter medicine be approached as production medicine where the goal is to prevent disease rather than treat it.

The idea of shelter medicine being production medicine with population management and herd health at the forefront of considerations is also echoed by the UC Davis Koret shelter medicine program. They state that shelter veterinarians should emphasize prevention rather than treatment of infectious disease, as this is both more effective and more humane. They also emphasize that disease prevention includes both traditional medical practices such as vaccination, parasite control, and nutrition, and less commonly considered small animal practices such as management of population density and stress reduction.

If we fail to collect and understand statistics central to the shelter's population dynamics and health, we tie our hands with respect to communicating internally and externally regarding priorities, success, and challenges in maintaining animal wellness.

Population management is the foundation for making improvements in all other areas of shelter animal health and welfare. Although every one of the preventative practices implemented in animal shelters, such as vaccination, sanitation, nutrition and stress reduction, as well as almost everything we do every day to care for shelter animals, could be considered a part of "managing" the population, there are key statistics that every shelter veterinarian should feel comfortable and familiar with for their own herd. Today we will discuss some of these statistics and why they are important.

Ask yourself, do you know the following numbers, and how they are calculated, for your shelter:

     • Annual intake

     • Annual live release, euthanasia and holding

     • Average monthly and daily intake, inventory and live release

     • Average length of stay

     • Actual and required housing capacity

     • Actual and required care capacity

     • Disease frequencies

Annual Intake

The number of animals your shelter admits will drive many aspects of population management planning. It is crucial to have a clear understanding of changes and trends in the number of animals accepted into the care of your organization in order to effective plan care. It is helpful if intake numbers are recorded in such a way as to allow you to break down the total number of animals into different categories. Different ways of considering your intake numbers include:

     • Intake over time (allows you to evaluate seasonal changes and calculate average monthly, weekly or daily intake numbers)

     • Intake by species

     • Intake by source (owner relinquishments, stray animals, returns or transfer programs)

     • Intake by age group

     • Health status at intake

Annual Live Release

Your organization's live release is the sum of all positive outcomes for animals leaving the shelter, whether it be through adoption, rescue placement, shelter transfer or reclaim by owners. Average daily intake can be compared with average daily live release as a way to evaluate and plan animal flow through and evaluate the success of programs targeted at reducing intake or increasing live release.

While one of our main goals will always be to try to improve the percentage of animals that leave the shelter alive, it is important to know the difference between intake and live release in order to be able to effectively manage the shelter population. Having a realistic picture of the discrepancies between average daily intake and live release will allow you to make good decisions in regards to the number of animals you should have available for adoption or waiting to become available, and prevent unnecessary crowded conditions. Crowding, ultimately leads to increases in disease and stress for staff and animals, which will often negatively impact the live release rate.


Many shelters report statistics based on information about live release and euthanasia without reporting or examining holding numbers. In most cases, live release and euthanasia do not give the complete picture. The sum of live release and euthanasia for a given time period rarely equals 100% of the animals who came through the system during the time period. The number of animals in holding refers to the animals that came into the organization and have not yet had an outcome. Depending on how rates are calculated, holding can have dramatic effects on the live release rates depending on how they are calculated.

For example if 10 cats were admitted to a shelter that already have 10 cats in the building, and 15 cats were adopted in a given period, the live release rate for that period could be calculated to be 150% if intake numbers are used as a denominator. A more realistic way to calculate live release would be to use what is also referred to as rolling live release where the animals in holding are included in the denominator. This would result in a more realistic rolling live release rate of 75%.

Animal Inventory (population count)

Monitoring inventory changes each month is an important tool for understanding holding patterns at your shelter and to keep an eye on potential crowding.


Your shelter's capacity to adequately house and care for your animals is dramatically affected by intake numbers, physical space, housing units, staffing, and length of stay.

Capacity for animal care and whether or not you have adequate staffing is considered relative to the number of animals requiring care at any given time.

Planning for adequate capacity requires knowledge of historical patterns of intake, holding, outcomes and clear goals and expectations for average length of stay. Capacity planning can be done for almost any critical flow through point or housing area of an animal welfare organization.

For most organizations, capacity planning should at minimum include:

     • Required stray holding capacity (RSHC): is the most basic capacity requirement for organizations in which a significant proportion of the animals admitted are strays. RSHC estimates the daily inventory of animals requiring housing in holding areas because of a required stray holding requirement. RSHC can be calculated as the monthly daily average (MDA) for stray intake multiplied by the minimum holding period. (MDA stray intake * stray holding period= RSHC). If you do not have adequate housing units to fulfill the RSHC crowding is ensured and animals must be co-mingled. If your RSHC approaches the actual housing capacity animals must be moved efficiently out of holding areas as soon as their holding periods expire to make room for new animals being admitted. Required capacity should constantly be compared with actual observed capacity since any delays in decision making, animal processing, or animal movement can have dramatic effects on the daily population numbers in holding areas.

     • Adoption driven capacity (AD capacity): is a means of establishing the appropriate daily animal inventory in an organization based on both the number of likely adoptions and the average length of stay the organization identifies as being optimal for health, welfare, and resource allocation. In an open admission shelter that does not control shelter intake of strays or surrendered animals, intake and legal holding periods define requirements for capacity needs for the holding areas of the shelter. In such a shelter AD capacity can be used to define or estimate capacity recommendations for adoption housing and length of stay in adoption areas. Days spent in holding must be added to the recommended target average length of stay in the adoption area to appreciate the total average length of stay to adoption. Adoptions are a limiting factor for animal flow-through; AD capacity will be the best guideline for total daily adoptable area capacity.

     • Staffing capacity relative to daily population: The most basic staffing capacity estimates are the number of staff hours required for basic animal care such as feeding and cleaning. Both the National Animal Control Association (NACA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) base their estimates on a minimal requirement of 15 minutes each day per animal for feeding and cleaning. This time is then multiplied by the number of animals present or likely to be present each month to get an estimate of how many staff members would be needed each day in order to meet the animals' basic needs in a reasonable amount of time. Staffing and capacity for all critical flow through points and everyday tasks can be estimated by timing how long it takes a trained staff member to do an adequate job. For example the number of animals presenting each day for intake or the number of animals needing to be spayed or neutered each day may then be multiplied by the time required for intake or surgical procedures to estimate staffing capacity requirements.

I know numbers can be intimidating, boring or just plain confusing, but I dare you to take the plunge and learn more about your organization's numbers and statistics. We strive to practice evidence based medicine, but how is that possible if we do not know what our minimum database looks like, or what we would like it to be?

     • How can we do a good job if we're constantly working above capacity?

     • How can we know if we are above or below capacity if we don't know what our basic needs are?

     • How can we know if changes we make have an impact if we don't measure the effects?

     • How can we recognize success if we don't know what to measure?


"5 KEY POPULATION MANAGEMENT FACTORS AFFECTING SHELTER ANIMAL HEALTH" Sandra Newbury, DVM, Koret Shelter Medicine Program, U C Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, www.sheltermedicine.com

"CASE STUDIES IN POPULATION MANAGEMENT" Sandra Newbury, DVM, Koret Shelter Medicine Program, U C Davis School of Veterinary Medicine




"MEASURES FOR EVALUATING HEALTH OF A SHELTER" Sandra Newbury, DVM, Koret Shelter Medicine Program, U C Davis School of Veterinary Medicine


"BEYOND LIVE RELEASE RATE: THREE DIMENSIONAL SHELTER STATISTICS" kate Hurley, DVM, MPVM, Sandra Newbury, DVM Koret Shelter Medicine Program, U C Davis School of Veterinary Medicine




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