What Happens When Shelters Are Overcrowded — And How You Can Help!

Shelters across the United States do important work of keeping animals off the streets. But what happens when those shelters are filled to capacity and must otherwise turn animals away?

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), over 6 million dogs and cats are put in shelters every year. Hundreds of thousands of them don’t make it out alive.

Early on during the pandemic, shelters saw record adoptions. However, people who now are returning to the office and taking long-awaited vacations are surrendering those pandemic pets, Fortune reports.

Over 6 million dogs and cats are put in shelters every year.

Photo: Adobe Stock / Halfpoint
Over 6 million dogs and cats are put in shelters every year.

At the same time, many shelters helping dogs, cats, rabbits, and other pets in need have been hurt by staffing shortages,” National Geographic reports, resulting in reduced operations, fewer animal intakes, and fewer major adoption events.

The pandemic has also broken key links in the transport chain that takes animals from the streets to their new homes.

“You’re not providing the service that you used to be able to provide. And in our terms, that means getting animals out of the shelter alive,” Julie Castle, the CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, an organization that keeps track of euthanization data across the U.S., told the New York Post.

Many shelters helping dogs, cats, rabbits, and other pets in need have been hurt by staffing shortages.

Photo: Adobe Stock / kegfire
Many shelters helping dogs, cats, rabbits, and other pets in need have been hurt by staffing shortages.

A survey by Best Friends Animal Society found that 87% of 187 U.S. shelters polled were understaffed. Coupled with a shortage of veterinarians in the U.S, these conditions are putting serious pressure on underserved communities like those in rural areas. Spay and neuter services in many U.S. regions were ruled non-essential during the pandemic, further extending the backlog of animals that must be treated before they can go to families.

The spay-neuter backlog prevents shelters from getting animals ready as efficiently.

“Demand is exceeding the medical supply, so it’s really slowing adoptions down,” PAWS Atlanta’s Labriola told National Geographic.

The spay-neuter backlog prevents shelters from getting animals ready as efficiently.

Photo: Adobe Stock / Okssi
The spay-neuter backlog prevents shelters from getting animals ready as efficiently.

Hundreds of thousands of animals will face euthanization this year if action is not taken to find them foster or forever homes, or move them to no-kill shelters. According to the Oklahoma Animal Alliance, It is not only possible for individuals like you to help being shelter pet euthanization rates down by taking action, it is also the most humane solution to these unnecessary deaths.

A growing number of communities around the nation have gained the “no kill” classification by achieving a 90% live release rate at their municipal shelters, Best Friends Animal Society reports.

A growing number of communities around the nation have gained the “no kill” classification by achieving a 90% live release rate at their municipal shelters.

Photo: Adobe Stock / isavira
A growing number of communities around the nation have gained the “no kill” classification by achieving a 90% live release rate at their municipal shelters.

Here are 5 ways you can help your community reach the same level of care for animals:

5. Spay and Neuter Your Pet

Spay or neuter your pet to help bring down the homeless pet population.

Photo: Adobe Stock / hedgehog94
Spay or neuter your pet to help bring down the homeless pet population.

Spaying and neutering your pets will reduce the number of animals that enter municipal shelters by reducing the number of unwanted pets, Pawesome Advice reports. It also prevents undesirable behavior and health risks which can shorten your pet’s life.

4. Adopt, Don’t Shop

Support your local animal shelter the next time you look for a pet.

Photo: Adobe Stock / Robert Hoetink
Support your local animal shelter the next time you look for a pet.

You can typically find any breed of dog at an animal shelter, many who have already been house-trained. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 25% of the dogs that enter shelters are pure bred and there are breed specific rescues for every type of dog imaginable.

When you adopt a pet from a shelter, you also make space for another animal, saving two lives in the process.

3. Support Flights to Freedom

Help Greater Good Charities fly shelter pets to freedom!

Photo: Adobe Stock / Robert Hoetink
Help Greater Good Charities fly shelter pets to freedom!

On December 12th, Greater Good Charities is conducting a Drive to Freedom, transporting dozens of pets out of overcrowded shelters in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana and driving them to The Humane Society of Broward. Once they arrive, these precious pets will quickly be adopted into loving homes.

Most of these are at-risk pets and without this opportunity, might never find their forever homes because of the overcrowding that often happens in shelters during the cold winter months.

You can help caravan these pets into new loving homes AND keep them happy and healthy during their shelter stay by covering the cost of a trip for $5.

2. Spread the Word

Share what you know about shelter pet euthanization rates with your family and friends.

Photo: Adobe Stock / hedgehog94
Share what you know about shelter pet euthanization rates with your family and friends.

Informing your community can lead to a much bigger impact than one individual can accomplish alone.

Share facts about shelter pet euthanization rates, and the importance of adopting animals from shelters. Share what you have learned about the shelter pet overpopulation crisis with your friends and loved ones, and explain how their personal actions can help change the situation.

1. Be a Responsible Pet Owner

Along with providing food, shelter, exercise and loving attention, always make sure your pet has proper identification in case it is lost.

Photo: Adobe Stock / Евгений Бахчев
Along with providing food, shelter, exercise and loving attention, always make sure your pet has proper identification in case it is lost.

Owning or fostering a pet is as much a privilege as it is a responsibility. When you bring a pet into your home, you are making a promise to provide for its needs.

Along with providing food, shelter, exercise and loving attention, always make sure your pet has proper identification in case it is lost.

Life events like divorce, the birth of a child or moving can have an impact on this situation. If you are put in a place where you can no longer care for your pet, it is important to make the humane decision and rehome the animal with another loving human, foster parent or a no-kill shelter.

Take the Pledge to Support Shelter Pets!

Photo: Adobe Stock / New Africa
Take the Pledge to Support Shelter Pets!

Help shelter animals find new, loving homes. Click below and take the Pledge to Support Shelter Pets!

Don't Let the Cold Weather Harm Your Furry Friend: Tips for Keeping Pets Warm and Comfortable: Click “Next” below!

Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.
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