Ah, the magic of math…
Wait! Please keep reading!
Seriously, math can help you do amazing things in the shelter. And the good news is that it’s fairly simple—no need for calculus or trigonometry here! With a little data and some quick calculations easily done on paper (okay, your phone, but still), you can arm yourselves with powerful knowledge to help you plan for the year to come.
In the first installment, How to Survive Kitten Season This Year, Part 1, I talked about what we can start doing now to prepare for the busy spring and summer months. First on that list was to estimate how many cats and kittens you are likely to see this year. These critical details form the foundation of your planning, and let you accurately estimate what resources—housing, staff members, volunteers, foster homes, vaccinations, medications—you’ll need. From there, it’s important to evaluate the shelter’s capacity for care and compare available resources to the population of cats in your shelter in order to eliminate any gaps.
Estimating how many cats and kittens I’m likely to see… How exactly do I do that?
To get the most bang for your buck, you’ll want to look at intake numbers a few different ways:
- Separate strays from owner surrenders, because in most cases you’ll have different holding periods. If that doesn’t apply in your jurisdiction (e.g. there is no holding period for cats) or if you don’t accept strays, don’t worry about this step.
- Separate kittens from adults. I usually use a cut-off of 5 months unless I’m working with a shelter that handles different populations of kittens differently.
- Look at the real number for each month, rather than using annual intake and assuming it’s equal across every day of the year. It’s always a good idea to look back at several years—particularly if your shelter is seeing a trend of increasing or decreasing intake.
I like to put this information into Excel—it’s easy to organize, and you can use calculations in the spreadsheet to make the math easier. (Bonus, it makes nice graphs!)
Here’s an example of one shelter’s cat intake* over the course of a year, for cats and kittens. This is a pretty big shelter that takes in approximately 10,000 cats annually:
Great, now what do I do with that?
For starters, it’s always interesting to take a step back and look at the numbers—maybe even make a graph to help you visualize the highs and lows and what the year actually looks like. Now we’re focusing on the numbers, but looking at all the info is crucial. For example, what programs might you add or change to better support people and animals in your community when you consider how many come in as strays and how many are brought in by their people?
We can use these numbers to drill down and come up with some other numbers that will be even more helpful for you in planning. Our next step is understanding what the numbers mean on a daily basis, so take each month’s intake and divide by 30. I know some months have 31, 28, or even 29 days, but for the sake of the math and the nominal difference it makes, I just use 30 for each month.
Here’s what this looks like, using just the stray cats and kittens as an example:
Now we’re getting somewhere! At a glance we can see that this shelter generally takes in 7-10 adult cats every day, with some variation depending on the time of year. But check out the difference for the kittens! They typically handle only 4 kittens a day in the winter months, but a whopping 21 kittens a day at the peak of Mount Kitten.
Determining this ahead of time followed by some key action steps—proactively adding or modifying programs and appropriately allocating resources—puts the organization in a much better position to be able to meet the needs of the animals in their care and to find positive live outcomes for as many as possible.
Perhaps best of all, it helps provide a context for the organization to brainstorm and consider some “What If?” scenarios to dream, believe and achieve those shifts that can make all the difference to the impact of our work.
Stephanie Janeczko, DVM, MS, DABVP, CAWA
ASPCA Senior Director, Shelter Medical Program
Dr. Stephanie Janeczko is board certified in both shelter medicine and canine/feline practice through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners and is a certified animal welfare administrator. She is a past president and former board member of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians and currently serves as a committee member and board member for several animal welfare and veterinary medical organizations. Dr. Janeczko has a particular interest in infectious disease as well as in the welfare of cats.
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