Shelter statistics may not seem like the most exciting topic to consider, but is in my opinion one of the most important tools
you have in your belt when it comes to shelter animal health.
According to the ASPCA a shelter veterinary medical program must evaluate disease risk and develop programs that increase
and maintain the health and well being of their animals; and should incorporate elements of proper husbandry, shelter design,
and stress reduction. They also state that shelter medicine should not be considered the practice of small animal veterinary
medicine in a shelter, but rather that shelter medicine be approached as production medicine where the goal is to prevent
disease rather than treat it.
The idea of shelter medicine being production medicine with population management and herd health at the forefront of considerations
is also echoed by the UC Davis Koret shelter medicine program. They state that shelter veterinarians should emphasize prevention
rather than treatment of infectious disease, as this is both more effective and more humane. They also emphasize that disease
prevention includes both traditional medical practices such as vaccination, parasite control, and nutrition, and less commonly
considered small animal practices such as management of population density and stress reduction.
If we fail to collect and understand statistics central to the shelter's population dynamics and health, we tie our hands
with respect to communicating internally and externally regarding priorities, success, and challenges in maintaining animal
Population management is the foundation for making improvements in all other areas of shelter animal health and welfare. Although
every one of the preventative practices implemented in animal shelters, such as vaccination, sanitation, nutrition and stress
reduction, as well as almost everything we do every day to care for shelter animals, could be considered a part of "managing"
the population, there are key statistics that every shelter veterinarian should feel comfortable and familiar with for their
own herd. Today we will discuss some of these statistics and why they are important.
Ask yourself, do you know the following numbers, and how they are calculated, for your shelter:
• Annual intake
• Annual live release, euthanasia and holding
• Average monthly and daily intake, inventory and live release
• Average length of stay
• Actual and required housing capacity
• Actual and required care capacity
• Disease frequencies
The number of animals your shelter admits will drive many aspects of population management planning. It is crucial to have
a clear understanding of changes and trends in the number of animals accepted into the care of your organization in order
to effective plan care. It is helpful if intake numbers are recorded in such a way as to allow you to break down the total
number of animals into different categories. Different ways of considering your intake numbers include:
• Intake over time (allows you to evaluate seasonal changes and calculate average monthly, weekly or daily intake
• Intake by species
• Intake by source (owner relinquishments, stray animals, returns or transfer programs)
• Intake by age group
• Health status at intake
Annual Live Release
Your organization's live release is the sum of all positive outcomes for animals leaving the shelter, whether it be through
adoption, rescue placement, shelter transfer or reclaim by owners. Average daily intake can be compared with average daily
live release as a way to evaluate and plan animal flow through and evaluate the success of programs targeted at reducing intake
or increasing live release.
While one of our main goals will always be to try to improve the percentage of animals that leave the shelter alive, it is
important to know the difference between intake and live release in order to be able to effectively manage the shelter population.
Having a realistic picture of the discrepancies between average daily intake and live release will allow you to make good
decisions in regards to the number of animals you should have available for adoption or waiting to become available, and prevent
unnecessary crowded conditions. Crowding, ultimately leads to increases in disease and stress for staff and animals, which
will often negatively impact the live release rate.