Shelter Health

Calculating Your Humane Capacity

Your shelter's capacity is not defined just by the number of cages you have – it encompasses your overall ability to provide humane care.

Knowing your unique humane capacity helps you calculate staff needs, the number of medical procedures you can handle and housing units you need – and then make the best decisions for the animals in your care.

According to Sandra Newbury, DVM, UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, calculating your humane capacity begins with planning the pathways in your shelter. Think of intake as a train platform with many different trains an animal can get on: holding, foster, transfer, adoption, etc. Your job is to figure out how many spaces you have on each train, and you can do that by taking into consideration three things: housing, staffing and procedures.

General Housing

When determining how many animals you can humanely hold in your shelter, first look at:

A) how many different types of housing you have


B) how many individual housing units you have of each type. Keep in mind that a housing unit can also include a foster home.

Your shelter's housing types/areas may differ slightly, but here are some common ones:

  • Adoption
  • Stray holding
  • Other live release holding such as transfers
  • Medical/behavioral treatment
  • Sanctuary (housing for animals in lifetime care)

Sometimes calculating humane capacity is counterintuitive. For example, just because you have empty kennels, you shouldn't necessarily fill them. If your adoption or transfer numbers are not going up, adding more animals will only increase your length of stay.

Group Housing

In general, Dr. Newbury recommends housing animals singly. However, there may be cases when it is appropriate to house two or more animals together:

  • Litters of puppies or kittens (if  weaned, two or three animals per housing unit is recommended in order to give each animal individualized care)
  • Bonded pairs (consider the possibility of increased LOS by requiring bonded pairs to be adopted together)
  • Small dogs (no more than two who are carefully matched)
  • Single orphans

When pairing animals, it is important to do so only after any legal holding period/health quarantine period has passed. Additionally, it is best if the animals can be separated during feeding so you can determine that both animals are eating and eliminate any negative interactions surrounding food. Lastly, you should double up animals only if the risks outweigh the benefits and serious thought has been put into creating good pairings.


The staffing component of your total humane capacity calculation can include anyone who has the appropriate skills and supervision, even trained volunteers.

Here's the basic calculation for determining your staff hours:

How long a task takes


How many times the task needs to be done in a day


Daily staff time for that task

Here is an example of that equation:

Let's assume it takes 20 minutes of staff time to process each animal at intake. That 20 minutes could (and probably should) involve two staff members for 10 minutes each. If your average daily intake is five animals, you would need to allot 100 minutes of staff time for intake each day.

20 minutes x 5 animals = 100 minutes (1 hour 40 min)


Necessary procedures like spay/neuter can help guide your staffing choices, but the number of staff you have also dictates how much you can get done.

If your staffing hours are limited, you can manipulate the staffing equation above to help you determine how much work you can reasonably take on. For example, let's say you only have one veterinarian for five hours and it takes her 15 minutes to perform one spay. Here's how to determine how many spays can be performed in one day:

5 hours (300 minutes) x 15 minutes = 20 spays

All the other tasks involved with surgery (set up, exams, animal preparation for surgery, cleaning instruments) must be included in your detailed staff time calculations. In the case of spay/neuter, the total number of surgeries that need to be done is an important figure to have, but equally important is the timing of the surgeries.

More Lifesaving Resources

Dr. Sandra Newbury's webinar on Calculating Your Humane Capacity

Reducing your Length of Stay

Adoption Driven Capacity Calculator

Saving Lives at Intake section

You Might Also Like

Shelter Health Animal Care Tips