Every shelter has a number of animals it can serve with its available space and other resources. That number is known as its "Capacity for Care," and it's one of the five key life-saving initiatives of the Million Cat Challenge. When a shelter goes beyond that number, not only do animals suffer, but the total number of animals who can be helped goes down, and animals that require extra care often get the least, or none at all.
However "illogical" it might seem, when shelters reduce the number of animals they help at any one time they can actually help more of them throughout the year. Not only that, but the reduction of resource-drain and stress on the cats makes it possible for the shelters to provide better care to all and specialized care for those who need it.
Want an example? Meet Candy Hearts!
Before Chicago's Tree House Animal Shelter started implementing the Capacity for Care initiative, they had 350 cats in their shelter, most very long-stay cats with a poor chance at adoption. At the time, they did around 300 adoptions a year.
In 2014, having lowered their ongoing capacity to just 150 cats, they did 1,400 adoptions, and were able to triple total annual intake. And just like the Million Cat Challenge promises, working within their Capacity for Care meant they were not only able to help more cats, but also to provide better care for cats like Candy Hearts.
Admitted to Tree House this past frigid February, tiny Candy Hearts was found immobile on a snow bank by a good Samaritan. When she was brought to Tree House, it looked like she was hardly holding on by a thread. She was dehydrated, underweight, hypothermic and had difficulty using her back legs. It was discovered that both her hips had been broken, one side being an older injury, the other side being a newer injury. She spent most of her time in an oxygen tank her first week, to assist her belabored breathing, but one night she took a turn for the worse.
Dr. E, the Tree House veterinarian, had already settled in at home that evening when she received a call from the shelter technician saying Candy Hearts had begun gasping for air. If something was not done that night she was not going to survive. Dr. E came in after midnight to perform surgery and was able to correct the diaphragmatic hernia that was preventing Candy Hearts' lungs from expanding.
Candy Hearts began the slow process of recovering from her injuries, but it was her unwavering spirit that won over the hearts of staffers and volunteers! It wasn't long before she was running around the shelter, tackling any resident that was willing to engage in her rambunctious play. Her sweet side had charmed a previous Tree House adopter and quick as a wink, Candy Hearts was adopted!
Before the implementation of a Capacity for Care program, not only would the resources not have been available to help Candy Hearts, it's doubtful there would have been room to bring her into the shelter at all. Determining a shelter's capacity for care, and staying within it, saves lives!