Length of Stay and Capacity for Quality Care

Length of stay (LOS) is increasingly recognized as a critical factor in shelter management, with implications for animal health, well-being, sheltering costs, and ultimately a shelter’s capacity to save lives. Multiple studies have identified length of stay as the most significant risk factor for illness in U.S. shelter dogs and cats.[1-4]

With illness comes the need for treatment, reduced welfare and a yet more prolonged stay. The longer an animal is confined, the greater the demand for sufficient space, interaction and environmental enrichment to prevent confinement-related stress and behavioral disorders. However, longer stays also mean more crowded shelters, reducing the availability of space and care for each animal.

Ultimately, the longer the stay per animal, the higher the costs as well. Shelters are a resource-limited environment: higher costs per animal mean less available for each animal and perhaps even more importantly, less to invest in preventive programs that keep animals safe in their homes and out of the shelter to begin with. Conversely, for any given outcome, shortening the length of stay to that outcome will reduce costs, lower risks for behavioral and health problems for each animal, and provide better conditions for shelter animals and people alike.

The concern is often raised that shortening the length of stay means hastening to euthanize. This should never be the case. For an animal certainly destined for euthanasia (e.g. for behavioral or medical reasons), shortening the length of stay to that outcome will reduce stress for the animal as well as lowering the cost of care and leaving more space and time available for animals that have a chance at live release.

However, euthanasia should never be substituted for a live outcome as a means of reducing length of stay. Rather, systematic efforts should be made to minimize length of stay to an appropriate outcome for every animal, whether that is return to owner, rescue, transfer, adoption, return to location of origin, or in the case of managed intake, perhaps never entering the shelter at all.

  • Length of stay and capacity

  • Breaking down length of stay

  • Pre-intake length of stay

  • Managed intake

  • Ready-set-go and finder/foster

  • Pre-adoption length of stay

  • Open selection: waiting for adoption while waiting for reclaim

  • Adoption length of stay

  • Fast track/slow track: speeding up the trip to adoption

  • Adoption promotion: Turning up the flow

  • Bonus length of stay

  • Notes