Helping Cats Using “Capacity for Care”

As Calgary’s only cat-focused no-kill rescue, MEOW Foundation takes in almost 1,000 cats a year. We pride ourselves on our standard of care and our Adoption Centre reflects our commitment to giving cats a high quality of life during their time with us.

MEOW Foundation uses the Capacity for Care (C4C) management model in our Adoption Centre and in our processes for how we care for cats. This model outlines steps rescues can take to best meet the physical and psychological needs of the cats in their care.

What is C4C?

C4C is a model meant to create the best conditions possible for animals in a shelter environment. It sets criteria that animal rescues can use to provide animals in care with the “five freedoms”:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
  5. Freedom from fear and distress


This graphic of the five freedoms is located in our upstairs kitchen at the adoption centre!

Using the Capacity for Care criteria helps to minimize stress for cats in a rescue environment, increase comfort, improve their mental well-being and get them into a permanent home more quickly. Capacity for Care also calls for “managed intake,” or limits on how many cats can be in a shelter environment at once, in order to maintain a high quality of care and improve health outcomes.

How Does C4C Help?

The Capacity for Care model was developed to improve the quality of life for animals in rescue. But do they actually work? A Humane Canada study says yes: in six animal rescues across Canada, adopting a C4C model reduced the number of cats in their facilities at one time, reduced illness among cats and decreased the amount of time cats spent in a shelter waiting for a permanent home.

Having fewer cats in a space at once allows for more attention to be given to each cat, as well as more room for the cats to be active. Reduced illness also contributes to a higher quality of life and gets cats “adoption-ready” more quickly. And no matter how well a shelter is designed or how caring staff and volunteers are, getting animals into loving adoptive homes as quickly as possible is the ideal. These are all great outcomes!

MEOW Foundation’s Commitment to C4C

From the design of our Adoption Centre to the way we manage intake to our adoption fees, MEOW implements C4C standards wherever we can.

More Space

When cats have room to roam and explore, they are more comfortable and can better express their natural behaviours. No matter where a cat is in the intake or adoption process, we take every opportunity to increase the space available to them.

A unique feature of our Adoption Centre is our open-concept adoption rooms. Once a cat is done their isolation period with us, they move to an adoption room with natural light, toys, enrichment activities and other cats (or without, if they don’t enjoy feline company!). We have capacity limits for each room based on its square footage to ensure the cats have enough space.

While our ideal for our cats is open-concept living, being confined to a kennel is important at times – for example, during isolation or when integrating a group of cats. We use large kennels that give space between the litterbox, feeding area and resting area and use portals wherever possible to give cats in isolation and our Trap Neuter Return room more space.

We give cats in kennels lots of space. Boxer (pictured) is recovering from surgery and has access to both sides of this kennel through a porthole.

Rewarding and Predictable Time With People

One way to decrease levels of discomfort, fear or distress in cats is to give them a routine. This not only includes meal times, but also applies to human interaction. When cats are in a home environment, they learn what time of day to expect members of the family to come home from work or school. We give our cats a schedule by having volunteers come by for set shifts. Having a predictable routine reduces stress for cats and familiar volunteers provide the cats with the same faces and voices, increasing their comfort.

Our volunteers take the cat’s lead and provide as much (or as little!) affection as the cats desire.

That doesn’t mean that all interactions are scheduled. On the contrary: even though our staff are busy, they spend as much time as they can with cats to give them some playtime or just get to know them.

Newly admitted cats have many opportunities to interact with intake staff and volunteers, from scheduled cleaning shifts for volunteers to intake staff making rounds to see how cats are doing and address any concerns. The first few days here can be very stressful, so while we give the cats many opportunities for contact, we respect their space and give them time to decompress and adjust to the new environment.

Quick Transition to Adoption

C4C encourages holding regular adoption specials or adjusting fees for cats who may take longer to be adopted. While MEOW will occasionally reduce adoption fees for all adult cats when we are nearing capacity, we also always offer a “name your own fee” for senior, shy and other select cats (we set the minimum at $50). This makes adopters more likely to consider cats who might otherwise be passed over, making a difference for the cat up for adoption and for the cats that MEOW can then take in once space frees up.

We also do everything we can to reduce barriers to adoption. Our application form is short and to the point and we get back to prospective adopters for an interview within one business day whenever possible. Rescues with overly restrictive adopter criteria and complicated processes often keep animals in care for longer, plus they risk missing out on some wonderful adopters.

A Leader in Cat Welfare

Through our 22 years of experience, MEOW Foundation has stayed true to our guiding principles and our model of animal welfare. We’re proud to adhere to as many C4C criteria as we can and we are always looking for ways to improve the experience of the animals in our care.

More information on C4C is available at the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program.