Performing a Shelter Self-Assessment

Anyone who has held a supervisory position is accustomed to completing annual employee evaluations. But is your team familiar with shelter assessments?

While shelters make routine evaluations of their employees a priority, they often fail to perform structured evaluations of their building and operations.

A comprehensive shelter evaluation is an excellent tool for operations managers and directors alike. Here’s why:

  • Annual examinations of shelter practices keep the organization from becoming stagnant, while eliminating  reactive, poorly researched changes.
  • Many states adjust shelter regulations annually. A yearly facility evaluation gives management the opportunity to ensure compliance with any changes.


Designing Your Shelter Evaluation

Because shelters vary in size and scope, there is no one-size-fits-all shelter evaluation tool. Fortunately, designing a personalized assessment for your organization is a simple process.

The following steps illustrate how to create and complete your own evaluation form.

1. Select general categories for evaluation.

What helps you fulfill your mission? Your building, animal care practices, adoption/intake policies, and staff often come immediately to mind, but any aspect of your organization is fair game. Don’t forget to consider outreach efforts, such as volunteer programs, vaccine clinics, and pet pantries. In the beginning, it may be helpful to focus on the basics.

Example: Adoption Policies


2. Identify indicators of success in each category.

Once you decide what it means to do well in a given category, it is easier for someone performing the assessment to rate shelter performance. When you use standard indicators each year, it’s easy to compare the assessment results.

Example: Adoption Policies:

Policies are adopter-friendly: they make reasonable requests and allow for flexibility.

Policies place pets in appropriate homes, support new adopters, and allow denials. Open hours are reasonable.


3. Define your rating system.

If your shelter already uses a scale to rate employee performance, it’s easiest to use the same system in your shelter assessment, as your staff already understands it. Numerical systems are most common.


(3) Excellent: Exceeds all established standards and objectives.

(2) Adequate: Meets standards and objectives. Current status produces largely positive results; room for improvement exists but may not be a priority over improvement in other areas.

(1) Needs improvement: Falls short of requirements. May not be in keeping with industry standards or competitive compared to other area organizations. Alternatives to current practices should be investigated and implemented.


4. Appoint an evaluator.

In most cases, this will be an operations manager or shelter director. Encourage this individual to do some research on new trends in sheltering prior to the evaluation using resources from SAWA, ASPCA and HSUS. S/he should have a strong understanding of state shelter regulations in order to identify any areas of non-compliance.In addition to an internal evaluator, some shelters may appoint an external evaluator, then compare the results. Asking an experienced shelter employee from a nearby organization can strengthen local partnerships while bringing a fresh eye to the evaluation.


5. Perform the evaluation.

When identifying problems, the evaluator should be as specific as possible and make notes of potential solutions to problems. It is best for the evaluator to walk through the shelter building/campus while performing the evaluation rather than working from memory only.


Shelter Item Score Comments
Adoption Policies
Policies are adopter-friendly: they make reasonable requests and allow for flexibility.Policies place pets in appropriate homes, support new adopters, and allow denials. Open hours are reasonable.
2 Application is brief and asks for appropriate details but adds time to adoption process. Taking one application at a time may lead to longer length of stay for pets. Text on adoption paperwork complies with legal requirements. Little support in place for new adopters outside of front desk. Open hours include weekends but end early during the week.

Make application available online for completion ahead of time. Consider taking back-up applications on pets. Look into feasibility of behavior hotline or provide more behavior resources at time of adoption. Investigate staffing cost for adding evening hours one or two days per week.

Once your evaluation is completed, discuss the results with your leadership team, and use this opportunity to brainstorm solutions and create goals for the upcoming year.

As you are working through the assessment, prioritize items that affect human/animal safety or do not meet legal requirements. Once you have identified potential solutions, assign an appropriate staff member to see that solution through to completion, and hold them accountable for those results.

Finally, be sure to celebrate what you have done well and share your techniques with other shelters!

Good luck!


Alison Fechino, SAWA, Operations Manager, Chesapeake Humane Society, has been volunteering and working in animal shelters since age thirteen. She graduated from Virginia Tech with a B.S. in Animal and Poultry Sciences, and her interests include shelter quality improvement and food animal welfare. Alison currently lives in Chesapeake, VA with Addie and Colin (her two dogs), where she serves as the Operations Manager at Chesapeake Humane Society.

2020 Copyright The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement