Tips for Managing Capacity Challenges from Oregon Humane Society
This is a challenging time for animal shelters. As animal welfare organizations take in and care for more animals with medical and behavioral needs, we must routinely reassess our capacity for care to ensure these needs are met.
“Capacity for care is fundamental to the care of our animals and staff,” says Chase Patterson, Vice President of Operations at Oregon Humane Society (OHS). “Understanding what resources are available and how to allocate them appropriately allows us to remain nimble, efficient, accountable, save more animals, and prevent burnout of staff and volunteers.”
At all OHS facilities, Chase says his staff always follows these guidelines for maintaining capacity for care:
Monitor indicators that relate to capacity for care. OHS refines staffing levels and efficiency, capacity utilization, and balances of slow- and fast-track pets for adoption. “Closely monitoring these indicators across operations ensures a holistic approach to capacity for care and how one area impacts another,” Chase says. “We continually update our models with consideration of new activities and enrichment, how long tasks take to complete, or other unique needs of our population and facility.”
Maintain a population below maximum housing capacity, when possible. OHS sets its capacity maximum at 80% to ensure flexibility to increase when needed or for seasonal fluctuations like kitten season. This enables daily intake as well as flexibility when choosing appropriate enclosures.“If capacity is high and we don’t anticipate a drop within the next 3 to 5 days, we have several levers we can pull,” Chase says. “We will promote adoptions, transfer animals between campuses, reach out to fosters, or utilize our Behavior and Rescue Center” (described below).
Monitor length of stay regularly. “We calculate average length of stay by including the day of arrival through the day of disposition—adoption, transfer, euthanasia, or return to owner,” Chase says. “This includes time in foster care or protective custody.”
Tracking length of stay helps OHS create a predictive model for incoming animals. “If we see an unexpected increase, we’ll analyze and perhaps implement our options: send animals to other areas of our operations, reduce intakes, transfer to foster, or hold an adoption event or promotion. LOS is an indicator that we’re always evaluating and adjusting.” In 2022, the average length of stay at OHS for felines was 15.2 days for cats and 20.3 days for kittens; for canines, it was 16.9 days for dogs and 13.9 days for puppies.
Engage volunteers and fosters. “This frees up staff time, engages our community in our mission, and gets more challenging animals adopted more quickly,” Chase says. We also make onboarding easy with virtual, self-guided orientations and by recruiting through social media. We get to know our foster caregivers, answer their questions, provide supplies, and we’re there to help if they’re having trouble with their foster animals. We also establish social media groups where fosters can share tips—and cute pictures—which also helps grow the community.
Aside from their creative approaches and resources to capacity for care, OHS opened a new Behavior and Rescue Center in November 2022 and a new campus in Salem. The Center has a capacity for 15 dogs and 15 cats in the behavior modification area and 24 kennels (two pods of 12) in the rescue area that can flex to house different species.
“Understanding what resources are available and how to allocate them appropriately allows us to remain nimble, efficient, accountable, save more animals, and prevent burnout of staff and volunteers.”
“This facility was built to help animals overcome behavior challenges,” says Chase. “And it's currently making these animals adoption-ready 40% faster than when we ran these programs out of our main building. Before, cats and dogs in our Behavior Modification Program were housed in less-than-ideal areas of our main shelter. The environment was often loud, very busy, and not conducive to the special behavior needs of these pets. In the new Center, kennels are larger and more spread out, and there are numerous ‘real-life’ rooms to help dogs decompress, plus a specific training area. The cat area of the Center has a sunroom, larger kennels, lots of natural light, and enrichment opportunities.”
The Rescue Center has also been critical for receiving large transports of animals, especially during crises like the Maui wildfires. In August, 92 shelter cats and kittens from Maui Humane Society were transported there to free up local space and resources to help lost and injured pets directly affected by the fires.
In July 2022, OHS opened a campus in Salem, the result of a merger with Willamette Humane Society. According to Chase, the campus has significantly increased the number of animals they can serve. Adoptions are up 31% overall, with the Salem campus instrumental in large intakes from neglect cases. Chase says the OHS Salem campus moved to a walk-in model for adoptions at the beginning of 2023. “By moving to a walk-in model, we became more accessible to the public,” he says. “We also updated how adoption profiles are written—still a work in progress—to align more with our Portland campus. We’ve put more of an emphasis on taking better pet profile photos and engaging more volunteers to help catch the eye of potential adopters.”