Behind the Scenes… A Look at Facility Staffing
As a pet owner, you want to choose the very best professional pet care facility for your family members. Other articles on our website have given insight to touring the facility and some other items to look deeper into such as actual training and certification. A big part of your evaluation should look specifically at how a facility is staffed.
Facility staffing should include asking about dog/cat ratios to number of staff members. Industry research indicates that facilities should maintain a maximum of 1 staff member for every 10 to 15 pets. This will vary depending upon facility design, capacity, extra services offered, formal staff training and staff experience. For example, group play (doggie day camps) will sometimes have ratios approaching 1 staff member for every 5 dogs when supervising groups that are more difficult to oversee or for groups being overseen by uneducated and/or inexperienced staff. So, it is important to ask about staff to dog/cat ratios, but it is a small part of the overall staffing component. Ratios in excess of 15 pets per staff member can be warning flag. Let’s look at something equally, if not more, important.
The old staffing model consisted of hiring one or two full time employees and filling in with part time and seasonal employees. Employees are hired a few weeks before high occupancy times, such as holidays and the summertime, and then let go as soon as demand decreased. Actual training would be little to non-existent, relying on senior employees to simply “show them the ropes.” Employees often learn in this manner by “the school of hard knocks” and at the expense of pet safety. Employee hours and days of the week assigned to work would change (including the amount of hours received) every week or two in order to match the amount of pets being cared for that specific week. Many facilities still follow this model; however, upper tier facilities will offer a better solution.
Upper tier facilities for the most part have abandoned this type of model and adopted one in which their staff members are full time employees, employed year round, guaranteed 40 hours per week, and with fixed schedules that rarely change. Professional staff training and certifications are readily available and required! Part time and/or seasonal employees can rarely obtain the same level of education. Imagine trying to finish high school while only being there 20 hours per week. Now imagine attempting that at the same time as being responsible to care for 10 to 15 dogs. How much quality education are you going to realize? How much quality time will the dogs experience? Either the education or the quality time will suffer, or both!
A full time employee can be more easily trained and certified across multiple disciplines within the pet care industry. Typically, it will take a new employee a few weeks simply to go through an upper tier facility’s internal training program prior to being placed in the smallest position of caring for the pets. Formal certification then begins and can take upwards of several months to complete the most basic of certification levels. Advanced certifications such as dog communication and behavior will take longer and will include practical exercises in the field. A facility that adheres to healthy staff to pet ratios, minimizes its use of part time and/or seasonal employees, utilizes full time employees, and certifies their entire staff on an ongoing basis will most likely be a better choice for you and your family member.