The number of animals awaiting adoption is integrally tied to length of stay (LOS). In general, the more animals are waiting for adoption, the longer the average length of stay will be. This is another way of thinking about the “odds of adoption” described above.
If 10 animals are waiting at any given time for adoption, and one is adopted each day, the odds of adoption for each animal on any day will be one in 10, and the average length of stay to adoption will inevitably be 10 days. If 20 animals are waiting at any given time for adoption and one is adopted each day, the average LOS will be 20 days. The only way to decrease LOS would be to increase the number of adoptions or decrease the number of animals waiting.
In some cases, the number of adoptions will be increased by making a greater number of animals available. On a short term basis, this can occur with big adoption extravaganzas, where a large number of animals are presented in the context of major publicity, special pricing or other promotions.
In between times, animals should wait in foster care or in homes (via managed intake LINK TO OUR MANAGED INTAKE SECTION) rather than waiting for prolonged periods in the shelter in preparation for big adoption events.
On a longer term basis, having more animals for adoption will lead to increased adoptions only when the reason adopters are not coming to the shelter and going home with a new pet, is that there is not an adequate variety of animals available from which they can choose.
Consider species, age, breed, color, behavior, and special characteristics when evaluating the need for variety. While many adopters are seeking friendly, healthy, young animals, some will seek out hard luck cases, older animals, and those with special challenges. Ideally, survey potential customers to see if they were considering adoption that day, and if so, why they did or didn’t choose a pet.
The ASPCA refers to the frequency with which visitors become adopters as “transition rate,” and has instructions for creating a customer survey to help understand determinants of transition rate in your shelter.
Beyond the number that ensures adequate variety on a daily basis, fewer animals for adoption at any given time will automatically decrease LOS while maintaining live release: If one animal is adopted each day, the annual adoption number will be 365, whether 10 or 100 animals are waiting for that adoption at any given time.
Finding that perfect “adoption number” is made both more critical and more complicated by the fact that length of stay is not neutral for shelter animals. Some animals will benefit from the opportunity to stay longer in the shelter, particularly those who will receive active treatment or rehabilitation while awaiting adoption, or those who have a unique characteristic (e.g. very large dogs, animals with conditions requiring special care) that makes them suited for a limited number of adopters that come along relatively rarely.
However, for most animals that enter the shelter healthy and friendly, increased length of stay tends to be detrimental rather than beneficial. The more stressful the conditions in the shelter and the less optimal the housing, the more this will be true.
Multiple studies have documented time in the shelter as the single greatest risk factor for illness in shelter dogs and cats [1-3]. In turn, illness contributes to yet longer stays – a detour within the shelter system with substantial cost and yet more challenges for care. An animal who is depressed or develops stereotypic behavior from prolonged confinement sees his or her chances for adoption further decrease.