The next segment of length of stay to consider is “pre-adoption.” This encompasses any required holding time between admission and when an animal becomes actively available for adoption – most commonly, stray holding periods or intake quarantine. Whether this takes place in a physically separate location from adoption areas is dependent on individual shelter layout and policy.
Every effort should be made to minimize LOS in pre-adoption except as needed to ensure that owners have a reasonable opportunity to be reunited with lost pets. Of course, mandated holding periods must be followed. However, voluntary holds beyond legal mandates should be carefully weighed.
When evaluating stray holding periods, check the median time to owner reclaim – at many shelters, the vast majority of dogs that are ever reclaimed, are reclaimed on the first or second day in the shelter. Extending holding periods beyond a few days for unidentified dogs may not result in increased reclaims and may jeopardize other options for live release, especially if this results in overcrowding of the shelter.
In California, for instance, extending the stray holding period from 72 hours to 4-6 days failed to correspond with a significantly higher rate of return to owner for cats or dogs, yet resulted in substantially greater demands for housing and care .
Remember that animals with ID and those who will be euthanized rather than made available for adoption or rescue can always be held longer. Because unidentified cats are rarely reclaimed, mandatory stray holds of any length tend to be detrimental. Ideally, all un-owned cats without ID will be moved through the shelter to live release (adoption, rescue, or return to location of origin) as quickly as possible.
Likewise, routine intake quarantines should be carefully evaluated. For shelters transferring in animals from very high risk locations/source shelters, intake quarantine may be justified to avoid animals breaking with severe illness on the adoption floor or after adoption. In that case, time to onset of disease should be carefully tracked and a quarantine period selected of the shortest length that permits the majority of cases to be caught.
Keep in mind that prolonged intake quarantines also carry risks that outweigh benefits much of the time. True quarantine requires an “all-in-all-out” system, whereby a group of animals is segregated from all other animals for the duration of quarantine.
For shelters, the added challenge exists of providing sufficient enrichment and interaction during this time to maintain behavioral as well as physical health. If an all-in-all-out system can’t be maintained, quarantine will actually tend to increase risk, as animals with unknown health backgrounds are constantly added to the mix. It is rarely helpful, and often harmful, to hold animals in such a circumstance simply waiting for multiple vaccines to be given.
There may still be logistical reasons for holding newly admitted animals back from adoption, such as need to evaluate behavior or complete medical or surgical procedures. This length of time should be minimized, for example by scheduling more frequent, shorter periods when these procedures are completed (four hours of surgery every other day versus six hours twice a week, for example), training additional staff to perform the procedure to the extent possible (e.g. training kennel attendants, field officers and/or front office staff to perform behavior evaluations), and/or making the animal available for adoption prior to completing the procedure (e.g. allowing animals to be selected for adoption prior to surgery, which is then completed before the animal is released).