As part of the Capacity for Care (C4C) program, optimising cage space at shelters has found to be a very important component in improving the health and behaviour of shelter cats leading to lower deaths at shelters and increased adoptions. There is an optimum cage size and it has been found that increasing the size of cages has an overall beneficial effect despite automatically reducing the number of cats in the shelter. There is a greater throughput which more than compensates for the lower numbers.
That is my interpretation of an observational study on the relationship between Capacity to Care as an animal shelter management tool and cat health, euthanasia rates and adoption rates.
Essentially, the researchers stated that if a shelter optimises the capacity for animal housing it can improve the functionality of the shelter. It’s about optimising the number of animals. Either too few or too many can present barriers to adoption rates. For example, crowding can contribute to increased risk of contagious diseases spreading.
They state that “Contrary to concerns of helping fewer cats with a reduced number of housing units [because they are larger units], key outcome measures reportedly improved such as adoptions increasing by 15% and the average length of stay decreasing from 40 days to 22 days.
High quality housing of shelter cats is a major component of Capacity for Care which is a management model helping shelters to better meet the needs of their cats and dogs. It provides conditions to meet five essential freedoms which improve the welfare of the animals. The five freedoms are: freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from fear and distress, freedom from pain, injury or disease and freedom to express normal behaviour (my thanks to the Humane Society of Canada).
The researchers worked with three shelters. The number of animals at the three shelters was reduced by 44%, 28% and 17% respectively. The average overall length of stay decreased by 31%, 11% and 9% respectively. The average length of stay to adoption decreased in all three shelters. Cats had a higher probability of adoption after implementation of Capacity for Care. And there was a lower probability of the cats being euthanised or dying after the implementation of these changes.
In all they made 17,634 observations across the three shelters during the study. They were all Canadian shelters, private, non-profit open admission with a contract with at least one municipality to provide animal control and sheltering services.
Housing that is considered to be correct provides at least 18 ft² (1.67 m²) per cat in group housing rooms with two portal doors open with two compartments per cat.
The conclusion of this observational study is that an increased individual housing size i.e. the cages are larger with a commensurate lower daily population size shortened the length of stay to adoption of the cats and increased the probability of adoption and also lowered the probability of shelter death through euthanasia or other cause.
I have summarised the study as I see it. If you want to read the study then please click on this link.
P.S. the accommodation facilities of rescue cats are one factor in their welfare and therefore their adoptability. There are other aspects such as consistent handling by the same staff as opposed to inconsistent handling by various staff in relatively barren cages. Enriched single cages with opportunities to perch and hide and enriched communal housing to encourage play and cat-to-cat interaction, results in less stress and less stress results in better health which in turn leads to a higher rate of adoption.
Below are some more articles on studies.