Do you know the actual number, physical description, and animal ID numbers of cats on your adoption floor? What about the dogs in stray holding? How many kittens are in foster care right now?
Much like maintaining a balanced checkbook, keeping an accurate inventory of the animals in your care allows you to know where you stand on a daily basis. Even with shelter software to manage your animal data, it's still important to check your computer records against the actual animals in each kennel and cage, in foster care, and at offsite adoption locations.
Savings from Daily Counts
Eliminating confusion over where a specific animal resides in your care and which animal is which offers big savings. Accurate animal data:
- Saves time: Time spent tracking down animals or sorting out a problem caused by mix-ups takes staff and volunteers away from providing animal care.
- Saves money: Wasted time costs you precious dollars. You can be wasting money in other ways, too, by providing treatments to the wrong animal, or at the wrong time.
- Saves goodwill and professionalism: Frequent confusion over animals sends a discouraging message to staff, volunteers, potential adopters, owners trying to reclaim their pets, and the public.
- Saves animal care days: Having the right animal in the right place at the right time means that animals are vaccinated, assessed or altered as soon as they are ready, that they move to the adoption floor when space is available, etc. A daily physical count also provides the opportunity to visually inspect every animal in your care so that you stay on top of emerging medical or behavioral issues.
- Saves lives: Accurate animal IDs and counts can prevent the horror of possibly euthanizing the wrong animal. The efficiencies that come with accurate inventories can also reduce length of stay, which decreases the chance that animals get sick or become behaviorally at risk in your care.
- Saves more lives: When you decrease length of stay and increase animal turnover, you have the opportunity to take in more animals and find them homes, too.
How to Take a Daily Count
Consider working in pairs: one person counts and the other checks animals against the computer report.
- Run an inventory report from your shelter software.
- With the inventory report in hand, walk through every animal housing area in your facility.
- Count every animal in each area, checking them against your inventory report as you go.
- Count each animal in group housing.
- Count individual puppies or kittens in a litter.
- As you count, make note of animals in need of care or a change in housing so that you can follow up after your walkthrough.
- If you have animals in foster care and at off-site locations, verify these counts daily, too.
- Immediately after the walkthrough, update your records to match the count, location, and animal ID, and description.
- If you identified animals in need of medical care or a housing change during your inventory, notify the appropriate staff before you move on to another task.
Six Strategies to Prevent Inaccuracies
The best way to have reliable animal data is to avoid circumstances that make it easy for mix-ups to occur. Here are six strategies that help ensure accurate animal inventories:
- Designate the appropriate staff members, such as your kennel manager and your feline manager, to do the daily counts.
- Assign each animal a unique animal ID, and use a collar or tag to identify each animal. Include each puppy and kitten in litters.
Most shelter software generates an animal ID number at intake. The animal ID does not change from intake to outcome, which makes it a more reliable way to identify animals than description or name only. (How many dogs named Max have you sheltered? Cats named Max? Have you ever taken in a look-alike litter like the one at right?)
- Include both the animal ID and the kennel/cage assignment in the animal's computer record.
- Maintain an accurate inventory of animals in foster care, including those born in foster care.
- Immediately update the animal inventory when the location of an animal changes, including moves to and from:
- a different cage or group housing
- foster care (including staff fosters)
- an offsite adoption location
- an offsite event, such as an adoption event
- a spay/neuter clinic or veterinary hospital
- Train staff and volunteers who work with the animals to update the computer records for a change in location or status of every animal. A delay between moving animals and updating their computer records is often the culprit in animal mix-ups.
- Bonus strategy: Consider the day's inventory done only after you've updated the computer records and followed up with appropriate staff if you've identified new changes to animal locations.
Photo courtesy PAWS puppies (c) Maggie Swanson.