How is running an animal shelter like having a checking account?

Money in, money out, money in the bank. That’s how it works with finances, and the same can be true for animals, said Million Cat Challenge co-founder Dr. Kate Hurley at the 2014 Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Conference. Here’s how she explained it:

When we have totally uncontrolled intake, it’s like spending without regard to your income. So we have to figure out how to make those numbers balance.


This is what chronic debt looks like. A few more cats are being admitted than are released alive within a reasonable period of time. That’s not all the cats that are going to come in this year, so all those cats are eventually going to have an outcome, but they got a little ahead, their intake got a little ahead of their outcome, until there were cats in wire crates, there were cats stacked three high, there were cats on the floor.


And what’s that doing? It’s costing them more every single day in care, in stress, in illness, and it’s probably costing them some adoptions because the cats are not presented well, they’re not able to show their best behavior in this environment, so they’re getting less good stuff over time.


The staff also is overwhelmed by the number of cats and the housing situation, so instead of helping adopters, they’re screwing around trying to catch cats that escaped. They’re making compromises in their cleaning, and letting cats wander around during cleaning time when all the dirty stuff is going on, not because they’re bad or lazy, but because they just don’t have time to get through it otherwise.


And so they’re having to see more disease in their cats. Then they’re having to pay for the treatment, and the disease problems that result.


You can have chronic debt in a group cat housing situation also where it’s just overpopulated, the cats are stressed, potential adopters are overwhelmed, it doesn’t smell good when you go in there, the cats’ coats are sticky from stress, from not grooming, and being on high alert all the time. And again, adoptions slow down, ability for community outreach decreases.


And then in the worst-case scenario where you progress from a state of chronic debt to bankruptcy. And what that looks like varies by shelter from the dramatic terrible headlines that hopefully none of you will ever be a part of, to an outbreak of disease that’s not manageable by any other means than depopulation, to dropped balls in terms of following procedure.

Learn more in Capacity for Care Parts One and Two, below:

You can also read the transcripts here and here.