Capacity for Care

Capacity for care (C4C), considered holistically, means meeting the needs of each cat admitted to a shelter, whether feral or friendly, stray or owner surrendered, young or old.

The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare provide a framework to define what it means to meet the needs of any animal in confinement. In shelters, as in the farm animal context in which they were developed, meeting all five freedoms for all sheltered animals at all times is not possible. Indeed, individual freedoms may conflict with one another at times (the stress of vaccination to prevent disease, for instance). However, as goals for most animals most of the time, the Five Freedoms can help assess systems and guide strategic improvements.

Assuring capacity for care also supports success in meeting a Sixth Freedom, the freedom from euthanasia for cats that are neither terminally ill nor dangerous. Providing high quality housing and minimizing length of stay through pro-active management are two key factors in assuring capacity for care for every cat in the shelter.

The Association of Shelter Veterinarian’s Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters warns:

Every sheltering organization has a maximum capacity for care, and the population in their care must not exceed that level.

On the surface, this seems like a simple and logical statement. Operating within an organization’s ability to provide care is the foundation on which all other guidelines for care must rest. If the facility is insufficient to provide appropriate housing, if staff members don’t have time to keep animals clean and well fed, if the environment is barren of enrichment due to limited resources, inevitably some elements of animals’ mental or physical well-being will be compromised.

However, what exactly are the required elements of care that define an organization’s maximum capacity? And knowing these, how can an organization ensure that the number of animals in their care does not routinely exceed this capacity, while still serving the community, meeting their mission, and saving as many lives as possible?

These are critical questions. Fortunately the answers are not as complex or elusive as they might seem.

  • Defining Capacity for Care

  • Numbers, Capacity, and the Sixth Freedom

  • Bringing Capacity for Care into Balance

  • Benefits of Reducing Length of Stay

  • Housing, Length of Stay, and Capacity for Care

  • Start with Housing

  • Getting the Numbers Right: How Much Capacity is Enough?