‘Capacity For Care’ As A Cat Shelter Management Model
This study aimed to determine the effects of implementing a shelter management model known as Capacity for Care, or C4C. Shelters often deal with both too many and too few animals. Having too many animals increases the spread of disease and stress among the animals; while having too few animals available for adoption may decrease the number of animals who are adopted. And this may then increase euthanasia rates. The C4C model was formally implemented by the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—BC SPCA—to help shelters calculate the ideal number of animals to house at any one time. Results of implementation were positive (increase in adoptions and decrease in average length of stay and the number of cats housed in isolation) and suggestive that these results could be replicated in other shelters.
The C4C model deems high-quality housing for animals as essential. This is because poor housing is linked to several negative mental and physical health outcomes. As most shelters do not have the capital or real estate to expand housing, staff and management must focus on lowering the animal population within shelters. Researchers tested the efficacy of the C4C model at three Canadian animal shelters over the course of two years. And there was a specific focus on cats. The study originally used four shelters, but one was unable to participate. Two of the remaining shelters each had an annual cat intake of around 1,000 while the other had an intake of 2,500.
Each shelter provided the researchers with at least two years’ worth of data pre-C4C implementation and at least one years’ worth post-implementation. The data included the size, number, and type of housing units, as well as the population of cats in the shelter. The researchers collected the data from each shelter every Thursday from August 2012 to October 2016. The researchers defined the implementation of C4C as a shelter maintaining the recommended population, completing the recommended housing modifications, and achieving the recommended husbandry standards. C4C calls for 8 square feet ideally incorporating two compartments per cat in caged housing—with open access to each cage—and at least 18 square feet per cat in group housing.
Prior to implementing C4C, it was common for these shelters to house cats in temporary housing, such as crates, or in staff offices at times of high intake. Such practices were not necessary after implementing C4C. Also, the number of cats who were housed in isolation—due to infectious disease—decreased in all three shelters by an average of 56% post-implementation. The average length of an animal’s stay decreased in all shelters as well, by as much as 31%. And C4C increased the probability of adoption for all animals in every shelter by an average of 15%. The total number of adoptions increased in two shelters and decreased in one. But, the one shelter with decreased adoptions also reported a sharp decrease in intake, meaning there were fewer animals available for adoption.
Many are concerned that the requirement to lower shelter capacity will lead to an increase in euthanasia. But, this study showed the opposite to be true; euthanasia rates decreased in all three shelters. And the least significant reduction was 13%. This is likely due in part to the decrease in the average length of stay. Also, the reduction in population density led to a healthier population. This reduced the number of animals placed in isolation. Yet, this reduction may also be due to changes in management techniques; the C4C recommends that carers should only move cats into isolation in circumstances when treatment is needed. Attributing positive outcomes to any particular policy implemented as part of C4C is difficult. And it is most likely the case that all changes work synergistically to positively affect animal welfare and outcome.
Limitations of this study include the small sample size, the inconsistent implementation of C4C policies across the shelters, and the lack of a control group. The researchers also did not assess the broad socioeconomic and climatic factors as possible contributors to the shelter outcomes. Also, the shelters surveyed were in different conditions pre-implementation. For example, one shelter was already compliant with many of the C4C guidelines prior to the study. This means that their results were less dramatic than those of the other shelters.
Ultimately, implementing C4C in these three shelters was associated with a reduction in daily shelter population, lower euthanasia rates, shorter average lengths of stay, and increased probability of adoption. More comprehensive studies are likely necessary to more conclusively establish a causal link between the policies and outcomes. Such studies could also eliminate possible confounding variables. However, in the meantime, hesitation to implement C4C out of fear that housing fewer cats may result in increased euthanasia should be mitigated by the results of this study which suggest the opposite is true.
[Contributed by Owen Rogers]