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After record adoptions at start of pandemic, animal shelters report overcrowding

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Posted at 12:05 PM, Nov 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-23 15:45:24-05

If you are an animal lover, you might be able to understand the difficult position animal shelters are in right now.

After record adoptions in the first year and a half of the pandemic, shelters are now overflowing with animals, and they have few options to unload them.

Since animal shelters do not receive any federal funding, there is not a database that compiles information regarding shelter capacity, but hundreds nationwide have put out calls for help due to a large number of intakes.

Fayetteville Animal Services in Fayetteville, Arkansas, is just one of them.

“You know, we were seeing for a long time only 10 dogs on the adoption floor and now it’s 22 and that’s a full house for us,” said Ryan Gutierrez, the shelter’s program administrator. “It’s consistently been 22. As soon as we adopt a dog out, we’re moving [more] dogs back up [from the kennel to the shelter floor].”

Gutierrez says the capacity at Fayetteville Animal Services really started picking up in mid-September and the reasons why are confounding.

If you look at intake numbers at many shelters, they are similar to where they were pre-pandemic, but the economic strain COVID-19 has brought has meant monetary donations, which largely consist of philanthropic giving, have been far down. It has led to layoffs at shelters, and fewer dollars for operations: things that have made caring for the number of animals at these shelters much more difficult.

“I know a lot of the calls I’ve been fielding lately have been people who have lost their home or apartment,” said Gutierrez. “They’ve been evicted, and they don’t know what to do. They can’t live on the street with an animal; they want to do the right thing.”

“It’s tough being this close to the public because you don’t have a lot of people come through,” added Luis Vazquez, an employee at Fayetteville Animal Services. “When you do meet new people that want to take [animals] home with them, [the animals] tend to attach to us so it can be pretty difficult sometimes.”

To tackle the problem, some shelters have turned to social media. Posting about animals on the shelter floor has always been commonplace, but Fayetteville Animal Shelter has started “courtesy posting,” where it will post about owners who are looking to offload their pets in hopes a potential owner will see it and take the animal directly, allowing these pets to bypass the shelter system.

The process involves risk as there is not the same ability to vet potential owners the same way shelters do, but Gutierrez says he has not heard of any bad actors since his shelter has been doing it.

“Luckily, the courtesy posting got a lot of those owner surrenders rehomed before they even came through the shelter door,” said Gutierrez. “It’s better that way because the owner is going to know this animal best. The shelter environment is scary for animals.”

For now, the tactic has allowed Fayetteville Animal Services to scrape by and keep these animals safe. At-home services that offer euthanasia report being busier than ever before, but staff like Gutierrez and Vazquez hope anyone who has the capacity and ability to care for a pet to come forward so these animals can find the homes they deserve.

“It’s been pretty intense, but we’re doing the best that we can with all the dogs that we have,” said Vazquez.