Published on:  
Dec 30, 2015

We’re still at a point where we’re either euthanizing some cats or turning some away that need care. How will Capacity for Care fix that?

Dear Million Cat Challenge,

You say that to reach Capacity for Care, you don’t have to take in fewer cats, just shorten the length of stay for each one. But we already take in more cats than get adopted back out and we don’t have the resources for Return to Field right now. As a result some cats currently end up getting euthanized either because they get sick or just because we need to make space for more incoming. I don’t see how housing even fewer cats is going to fix that! Can you help me understand? – Show me the numbers

Dear Million Cat Challenge,

I watched the Maddie’s Institute webinar on Capacity for Care, and one of the shelter directors mentioned that sometimes they won’t take in cats or they’ll ask people to wait when the shelter is full. My question is, shouldn’t we be worried about what will happen to those cats? Maybe they will meet a fate even worse than being admitted to a slightly crowded shelter! I do want to provide good care for every cat, but how do we balance that with all the cats in danger out there? – Wondering about the Others

Dear Numbers and Wondering,

I combined your questions because I see them as really two sides of the same coin. Here’s a slide from the very first shelter medicine talk I ever gave, and it’s still true, right? Numbers in have to equal numbers out eventually, no matter the size of the shelter, how high the cages are stacked, or how long each cat stays in between.  That’s just a law of physics. If you keep adding to a finite container without removing an equal amount, eventually it fills to maximum capacity. 
 
Capacity for Care Illustration

So it’s not the number of cats in the shelter that matters as much as the balance between intake and outcomes.

If more cats come in than leave alive over time, that’s a problem. It’s not a problem that will be solved by keeping an extra 10 or 20 or even 1,000 cats in cages or condos or rooms. Not even in really nice condos or spacious rooms. It certainly won’t be helped by keeping more cats in ever-worsening conditions.
But don’t despair! Although Capacity for Care alone may not be able to eliminate all euthanasia, it should never lead to more euthanasia. Likewise, for a limited intake shelter, it doesn’t mean you can suddenly open your doors to every needy cat in your community, but it shouldn’t mean turning more cats away over time either.

What Capacity for Care can do is keep cats happier and healthier for however long they’re in our care. That’s worth something in itself. Whether a cat is adopted, returned to field, or even euthanized, her time in the shelter shouldn’t be spent in discomfort or fear.

The benefit of C4C doesn’t stop there, however. If you’ve perused our website much, you know the drill: Happy, healthy cats cost less to care for and take less staff time. Volunteers and the public respond positively to cats that are comfortable and contented. With more time, resources, and public support, there’s not only a better chance at a happy outcome for the cats in the shelter, there’s more for the ones in the community too.

That’s where the other four of the five initiatives come in. Ultimately, sheltering is a balancing act: Regulate the number of cats entering with Alternatives to Intake and/or Managed Admission, and turn up the outflow with Removing Barriers to Adoption and/or Return to Field.

Make the numbers in match the number headed out the door alive and you win the whole ballgame. Or rather, the cats do!

Dr. Kate Hurley