The idea of "no kill" continues to be a misunderstood idea, and a somewhat divisive one. Now, when I talk about "no kill" it is the traditionally understood idea of shelters saving 90-95% of the animals in their care -- which allows for the euthanasia (in the true sense of the word) for very sick/dying animals and animals that are too aggressive to be adopted into homes - -however, doesn't allow for shelters to hide behind the word "adoptable".
Even with this concept, the words no kill often cause misguided haters of the idea to one of two notions: either that it is "impossible" in an open admission shelter, or that it leads 'hoarding' of animals in the shelter.
Neither is true.
Essentially, there are two math concepts that I think are essential for a shelter to understand if they want to maximize life-saving efforts and achieve a 90%+ live release rate as an open-admission. As important as these concepts are to shelters, they are equally important to rescues, and fosters, if they are intent on helping the shelter in their community become no kill as well.
When running an open admission, no kill shelter, the very first formula you must understand is simple:
Number of animals leaving the shelter safely = the number that come in
Now, obviously, there are exceptions for animals that do need to be euthanized because they are too aggressive, or due to untreatable health issues, but the bottom line is, that the number of animals going out safely has to be equal to the number that come in. If this is not the case, then no matter how big your shelter is, at some point it will end up full and there will be no room to put the incoming animals.
This is why shelters must focus on creating positive outcomes for pets.
I think this was a real eye opener for me when KC Pet Project took over the shelter. Every day at KCPP, on our volunteer page we post the names of all of our pets that got adopted, transferred to rescue, and the number of lost pets that were returned home. We also post the number of incoming animals (from animal control, or the public).
And every day, I found myself really focused on the number of intakes. "Oh, gosh, we took in 27 animals today, can we just catch a break?"
But here is the deal. We know our total intake is going to be around 10,000 animals. That means, on average, we will be bringing in 27 animals every single day. Instead of dwelling on that number, it means we need to focus our energy on the outcome number and making that 27 animals -- every. Single. Day.
This meant increasing adoptions. Increasing Return to Owners. And increasing the number of animals going to responsible rescue organizations.
And by focusing on the outgoing 27 animals, the better our morale, and better we felt about being able to control the situation. It's one reason I'm a big fan of focusing on SAVING animals and not just on "not killing" them.
Which leads to concept #2 -- managing length of stay
Often I've heard from shelters that they "can't" do better because their shelter is "too small". However, managing length of stay (the amount of time an animal is at the shelter), is essential to increasing your life-saving success.
Let's take a very small example. Let's say you operate a shelter with 5 dog kennels in it.
Now, let's say that on average, dogs at your shelter stay there for 30 days.
This means that every month, you shelter can handle 5 dogs.
But what happens if you lower your average length of stay from 30 days to 15 days? This means your same shelter, with 5 kennels, can now hold 10 dogs each month instead of 5. Doubling the number of animal lives you can save.
But what happens if you can lower your length of stay to 10 days on average? This would take the same shelter, with 5 kennels and now you can save 15 animals each month, instead of just 5.
Over the course of an entire year, this is the difference between your shelter saving 60 dogs, or 180 dogs, with no added kennels, and no added staff time. JUST BY MOVING DOGS OUT MORE QUICKLY. The focus must be moving dogs into positive outcomes, of course.
This is really cool, and very empowering -- because it enables you to not be overwhelmed, and staff to not be too busy caring for animals to actually save them.
And now think about the multiplier effect if your shelter has 100 kennels, and not 5. This could be the difference between saving 1200 animals every year and saving 3,600 animals per year - -a dramatic difference.
While this idea is essential for an open admission shelter to be successful, this is equally important for foster homes and rescues to take the same approach to saving lives and moving animals quickly. The sooner the animals get adopted, the sooner you can pull another animal from the shelter and save its life too -- which could be the difference between hundreds of lives saved at the shelter (depending on the size of your rescue).
I think if shelters and rescues (and foster homes) focus on maximizing positive outcomes, and doing so QUICKLY, it can make a dramatic impact on the number of lives saved in each and every community out there.
Tomorrow, I'll share some tips on decreasing Length of Stay at the shelter. So stay tuned.