The HASS budget calculator offers a new way for animal welfare agencies to understand how to estimate costs; and it provides a means for negotiating operational budgets that will support the amount and quality of services that their communities expect them to provide.
Animal shelters have long been severely underfunded and this situation persists despite a fairly radical evolution in what shelters are expected to provide. Once little more than catch-and-kill facilities, shelters are now assumed to be agencies for the support of animals that our society has come to recognize as family members—yet their budgets are still founded on the expectations of a now defunct model. Lacking the data to support requests for funding that is more appropriate to their needs, allowing them to meet higher expectations for in-shelter quality of care, responsive customer service, and for lifesaving adoption, return to home, return to field and transfer programs, shelters have been left struggling with inadequate budgets year after year and with few effective means for changing the situation.
The cost of this situation is considerable, and it falls on both people and animals. With animal services chronically understaffed, shelter workers are left suffering high turnover, excessive stress, compassion fatigue and even high rates of suicide. People in the community are frequently outraged by the conditions of animal shelters and do not understand that the cause is not lack of caring, but a severe lack of resources. Just as critically, the persistent underfunding of shelters has been a root cause in high levels of needless euthanasia.
Recognizing that little will change without a data-backed means for convincing decision-makers to consider more appropriate funding, a HASS Government Budget Working Group was formed to address the issue. The group was made up of participants from a wide range of professions (including CFOs, data specialists, businesspeople, as well as animal welfare leaders). It spent over a year gathering data from industries with similar functions. For example, to calculate more appropriate budgeting for daily animal care, the working group looked in part to private pet boarding facilities that—like all good businesses—must calculate the leanest expenses that will meet the expectations of their clients for the care of beloved pets. They looked to various types of field response industries, such as appliance repair services, to consider the staffing levels and time allowed per call for field officer programs. And so on.
In the current first iteration of the calculator, agencies will be able to figure appropriate costs for daily care, treatment of medical or behavioral issues, and adopting out animals in their custody. It should be noted that many of these costs can be applied alternatively to support the same number of animals kept out of the shelter and with their families, through support for veterinary and rehoming costs, etc., without impounding the pet.
For shelters developing the HASS model of animal services: Costs calculated by the budget tool for community engagement and behavior and safety departments can also be shifted to alternate uses to help lower the cost burden for in-shelter care. If an agency is active in also using resources for cases outside the shelter to provide the same outcomes of lives saved and treatments given, they can reduce their overall kennel load and thereby saving a significant amount of in-shelter expenses.
Users of the HASS calculator will input data related to critical factors in budgeting and that will allow results tailored to each shelter’s circumstances, such as the size of the human population to which each is responsible, levels of animal intake, local base pay, and typical annual number of calls from the public for animal-related issues.
On the backend, the calculator factors in the wide range of data gathered by the HASS working group, such as appropriate staffing levels for each shelter function, time spent per task, average vet time per animal, etc. It also incorporates assumptions, based on known expectations of a nation that has come to think of companion animals as family members: It budgets for lean but ideal shelter operations. For each agency using the calculator tool, calculated results are likely to be significantly higher than its current annual operating budget.
Note that once all input fields are filled and you have clicked on “Calculate Your Budget,” you will be taken to a blank page. Click on the “back” button on your browser and then scroll down on the calculator page to see your results. Results may be downloaded to a PDF to keep a record of your inputs and calculated budget.
Wherever a numerical value is entered in the calculator, use only numbers. Users should not enter dollar signs ($), nor the % symbol, nor commas in numerical input fields (100000 not 100,000 for example, 10 not 10%). This will cause the calculator to reject the value you input. You may include decimal points where appropriate.
Data entered into the calculator tool will be collected on the backend. This will allow further refinement of the calculations. While development of the calculator included testing with several shelters of various types and sizes, we anticipate opportunities for refining it further as more shelters use the tool. No individual shelter’s data will ever be shared unless as part of an anonymous, aggregate analysis.
The email collected in the calculator is solely for contacting the shelter using the calculator if issues arise and will never be shared.
In this first iteration of the calculator, the main benefit for shelters is raising awareness about the severity of shelter underfunding. The calculator offers an alternative based on the way that businesses budget and it is intended to inspire shelter directors to not simply tweak their existing budgets but to start afresh and plan like a business would, based on a breadth of expense data more in line with community expectations for the care and lifesaving of shelter pets. HASS’s budget calculator is the first step in a process intended to break the cycle of underfunding. Users are likely to find calculated results that are far higher than their current budgets. By instituting better budget planning based on data, shelters are likely to arrive at more appropriate budgets through a multiyear plan.