10 Common Questions on FSA Equipment & Process
1) What type of equipment or space do we need to implement the FSA?
The assessment is designed for a standard type of individual housing cage and demands little in the way of special equipment. Tools needed for the assessment include:
- White noise machine (also called a sleep machine) or white noise app to mask outside noises
- Stopwatch or wall clock
- Clipboard and pen
The room where the assessments will be done should be quiet, free from distractions and house only cats. Ideally, this room should not have windows. If the room does have windows, cover them with thick white paper or blinds on the outside of the window. That way, the cats cannot see through them or be distracted by what is happening outside the room.
2) When do cats need to complete their first assessment?
The first assessment session will depend on when the cat arrives at the shelter. Assessments should begin after the cat has been through your intake process and has had at least an hour to settle. If the cat arrives in the morning, the first assessment will be in the afternoon. If the cat arrives in the afternoon, waiting until the morning to begin an assessment is recommended. Ideally, all cats should have their first session completed by the morning of their second day in the shelter. Assessing after this time is not recommended because we don’t know how it will affect the predictability of the results.
3) When should we assess strays when we have a hold period?
In most facilities, the vast majority of pets are reclaimed within the first 24-48 hours of entering the shelter. If this is the case in your facility, we strongly recommend assessing cats by the morning of their second day at the shelter—even if it is during their stray hold period. Cats who are not reclaimed can move through your system immediately once the holding period is over.
4) How can we coordinate cleaning and doing the assessment?
Cleaning after morning assessments and before afternoon assessments gives cats at least an hour to rest and recover without disturbances before the next assessment session.
5) When do we feed the cats who are enrolled in the FSA?
The cats are fed in the late afternoon or evening of all three days while enrolled in the FSA and the evaluator will remove their food during their morning assessment session. Feeding in the late afternoon or evening is especially important because the evaluator will need to score whether or not the cat ate as part of the morning assessment session.
6) Are there situations where we need to repeat a cat’s assessment?
If the cat is reasonably healthy, no. If the cat develops a health problem that could change the cat’s behavior then the assessment may not be valid. It is likely that by the time the cat has recovered, it is too late to have a valid assessment. Otherwise, the assessment tool is specifically designed to be used up to four times per cat across three days. If, during one of the assessment sessions the cat does not show any of the 15 unique behaviors you are watching for, that’s OK. Scoring is cumulative and you will be observing and identifying “one and done,” “four or more” and “point behaviors” during the four different sessions.
7) What about cats who are identified as “unlikely” or “extremely unlikely” to be socialized on the points scale?
Cats who score in these ranges are not ready for traditional adoption into a home. You may want to consider additional enrichment or behavior modification, or placing them in a foster home or office for a while to determine if the cat was one of the rare cats who are accustomed to people but don’t show us that in a shelter environment.
8) We have a very small staff; how can we work FSA into our schedule?
Here are some strategies that other shelters have used successfully with limited staff:
- Some have adjusted staff schedules around to facilitate one or two staff members being available as primary evaluators
- Some have identified FSA as an opportunity to bring in reliable volunteers to become evaluators
- Another approach is to identify some staff who are not currently handling the cats but who have interest in interacting with them, and schedule them to do one or two days of assessments per week.
9) What are the characteristics of a good evaluator?
The FSA tool requires a basic understanding of feline behavior and communication, objective observation and recording skills, as well as some coordination and physical ability; however, we have not received feedback to indicate that the assessment has been challenging to learn and conduct correctly. With that said, finding a person with good feline handling skills and an objective aptitude is ideal.
Is Your Shelter Ready for FSA?
The most successful shelters in implementing Feline Spectrum Assessment (FSA) are ones that work through logistics before going live with it. If you answer all the questions below "yes!" you may be ready to go.
Does your shelter:
- Use separate housing for cats with minimal disruptions?
- Have feline-knowledgeable staff and volunteers?
- Have timely intake processing procedures? Have good internal communication?
- Have a plan for FSA cats who need adoption alternatives?
- Operate within its maximum capacity for care?
- Manage intake by appointment?
FSA is a joint project of Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and the ASPCA.