Pet homelessness and shelter overcrowding have spiked dramatically in the last year. Why?
And what can you, as an animal lover and pet owner, do to help?
Since 2021, animal surrender rates – and in particular, the rate of surrender of dogs and puppies – have been rising at shelters all across the country due to a complex blend of factors. In the fall of 2022, we hit a breaking point when we reached 170% of our capacity for dogs and puppies. We had dogs doubled up in kennel runs and room, dogs living in storage rooms, dogs living in hallways, dogs living in our lobby. Prior to the 2020 pandemic, owner surrenders made up 34% of our intake. By the end of 2022, it had passed 50%.
At the same time, adoptions dropped 31% in 2022 – our lowest numbers in 20 years. Again, dogs and puppy adoptions have been especially low. High intake and low adoptions is a recipe for disaster, and it’s happening everywhere. The overcrowding here at Woodford Humane is the worst it’s been in over a decade. It isn’t slowing down.
At this point, many shelters are in crisis. There simply is nowhere left to put the animals that are being left behind, and no one coming to take them home. And although those shelters are not the cause of this disaster, and cannot control it, they will be blamed and vilified when they are forced to turn to euthanasia as a last resort. For their sake (and for ours…20 years ago this would have been us, and there is not a single shelter in this country that isn’t at risk right now), we are begging our community of animal-lovers to understand the problem, and help us start moving back in the right direction.
We see it all the time: when you all come together, you are powerful. You move mountains. You can make a difference here.
Causes of Increased Intake:
- Covid lockdown and the return to work. There was a huge spike in pet ownership – especially dog ownership – in 2020. Whether these new dog owners believed they would be working remotely for good, or whether they simply were not thinking in the long term, many had a rude awakening in 2021-2022 when they had to return to work. They no longer have time to care for the pets they brought home in 2020. Owner surrenders were up 20% in 2022, with most of the increase being dogs and puppies.
- Opportunistic breeding. The huge spike in pet ownership in 2020 attracted plenty of attention from folks who saw an opportunity to make some cash. Backyard breeding went through the roof. We even had someone show up to a fundraiser event, at the very worst point (so far) of our overcrowding, and bring a litter of corgi puppies to sell. $1400 each. Unfixed, unvaccinated. Meanwhile, every one of those “pure bred” dogs that doesn’t sell? Those come straight to a shelter. So not only are we inundated with surrenders from owners who bought but can no longer care for their dogs; not only are we dealing with a community in which there are just way more dogs across the board to try and find homes for; we’re also having to directly clean up the mess made by irresponsible breeders.
Causes of Decreased Adoptions:
- Inflation and an out of control housing market are crushing adoptions. Everything is far more expensive today than it was two years ago, and that has priced a whole segment of potential adopters out of pet ownership. The rental housing market in particularly out of control; finding any affordable housing, much less housing that allows animals, and even more so housing that allows, say, a dog over 30 lbs or bully breeds, is extremely difficult. That’s another entire population of potential adopters lost.
- Covid dogs are often difficult placements. So many of the dogs coming in now were raised in lockdown conditions, often by inexperienced owners. They are unsocialized, untrained, and many suffer from separation anxiety in varying degrees of severity. These dogs would be challenging to place in a normal adoption climate; in an extremely slow adoption climate, they can expect to wait months or years.
Ways to Help:
#1: Get your pets fixed immediately. Like, do it yesterday. Don’t put it off, don’t let a mistake happen, and do not breed your pet deliberately. Dogs and cats can be safely spayed and neutered at 2 lbs, well before they reach sexual maturity at 4 months old (cats) to 6 months old (dogs). There is no benefit to allowing them to have a litter, and many benefits to preventing one. If you need help with the cost of surgery, county shelters commonly offer discounted services. If you’re local, our financial need-based voucher program may be able to help.
#2: Make adoption your first option, always. 25% of pets that come through shelters are pure bred. Many rescues focus on specific breeds, types, or sizes. In many cases, you can find the pet you want at a shelter or rescue; and in doing so, you open up a space for another pet desperate for a safe place to land. If you can’t, be absolutely sure that the breeder you choose is reputable, established, and providing proper care for their animals. Visit their facility and see how their animals live. Get vaccination records. Get bloodlines and genetic health information. Talk to your vet and theirs.
Do not buy from pet stores. Do not buy online. Do not buy out of the back of a truck in a parking lot. When you do, you not only leave a perfectly good animal behind in a shelter, you also actively encourage that irresponsible owner to continue breeding their animal for profit.
#3: Donate. Shelters need your support now more than ever. Our costs are rising, too – not just because of inflation, but because our populations continue to climb. If you can set up an automatic donation, even for a small amount each month or quarter, that stability can mean the world to a shelter on a tight budget. We are an independent 501c3 non-profit. We receive no government funding at any level, which means we rely 100% on those donations, big and small, to continue to function. So when we say that every dollar makes a difference, we absolutely mean it.
And although monetary donations are critical, supporting a shelter doesn’t have to be expensive. $2 for a bottle of hand sanitizer or bleach. $1 for a bag of treats on sale. Even a toy your pet has lost interest in, or a collar they’ve grown out of. Almost all shelters keep a wish list of items they need, and in many cases used is just fine. You can see our wish list here.
#4: Speak out. So few people are even aware that shelters are struggling. Almost no one understands how bad it is right now. Encourage your friends and family to get their pets fixed. Discourage them from buying from irresponsible breeders. Remind them how many pets are becoming homeless, and that so few are adopting. And please, speak up for shelters and shelter workers. There is not a person in the world who does this work because it’s easy. We’re not out here getting rich. We’re here because we care deeply for every last one of these animals; and for the shelters pushed past the point of euthanizing for space, every heartbreaking decision leaves a deep scar.