Targeting Municipal Animal Shelters is Misguided


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It may be a national animal shelter crisis with more animals in shelters, and fewer being adopted. Some media reports target local municipal animal control facilities for rises in euthanasia’s. However, this is an example of targeting blame just because it’s easy – albeit not accurate.

No one I’ve ever met goes into the business of caring for animals with an intent to euthanize.

First, a word about municipal facilities. They are operated and supported by local government, which means resources are likely scare. In some cases, there’s a non-profit arm which supplements budget.

The mission of local animal control is directed by law to take in all animals that appear at their door, as well as to collect strays. It’s a simple math problem – when there are more animals than there is space, the reality is that some very nice and adoptable animals will be euthanized.

The good news is that increasingly, foster families and rescues will take in animals until a “forever home” is found, and that private shelters in a community will also pull from their local animal control to relieve stress.

Many of these private facilities identify themselves as “no kill,” which means by default that the municipal facility becomes a “kill” shelter. And sometimes not by default, but intentional attacks from shelters identifying as “no kill.” It’s old “good guys” vs. “bad guys” marketing tactic.

Over time, the public – and after all – people in the media are members of the public – have had a diminishing view of municipal facilities.

When asked, “Where did you get that dog?”
People like to say, “A kill shelter.”

Pandemic Adoptions

As the pandemic hit, shelters of all kinds hollered for help, not knowing if anyone could come to work to feed the animals. Indeed, people proved empathetic – as the shelters were just about cleared, as foster families and adoptions reached well beyond record levels across the U.S. Numbers vary, but according to American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), more than 23 million American households — nearly 1 in 5 nationwide — adopted a pet during the pandemic. These millions included many first time pet parents, among them people who thought they previously could not afford a pet but wanted to do the right thing, and people who took in one or more pets not thinking about their landlord or homeowner’s association (HOA). Or the expenses for those who now had multiple pets.

A Numbers Games

Let’s look at some real numbers, according to Shelters Animal Count. In 2023, 6.5 million dogs and cats entered shelters, that was – in actuality – only up two percent from 2022. And 4.8 million in 2023 were adopted, and that adoption number was more or less comparable to 2022.

What about those not adopted? Some animals were euthanized for medical reasons (sometimes people give up a pet because they can’t afford treatment) or behavioral explanations. Of course,  I don’t deny too many euthanized animals are perfectly adoptable.

Whatever numbers I come up with or not – the truth remains that many municipal facilities are filled. It’s been widely reported that people have gotten “tired” of their pandemic puppies (or kitties) or going back to the office; they now must give up their pet. This is mostly a fallacy.

So why are so many animals landing in shelters? And so few adopting?

In great part, it’s about numbers. There are more pets in America than ever before, so it stands to reason that more may be relinquished. There’s no data to indicate the percent of pet parents relinquishing has increased beyond the numbers of total pets. Also, it seems so many who wanted a pet did get one (or more) during the pandemic and most of those are still young animals. So the demand has substantially declined.

What’s more, the cost of veterinary medicine has risen. And many new pet parents, in particular, may have been taken aback by this cost.

Data from Lending Tree from 2022  indicates, ore than 75 percent of pet owners say inflation is making pet ownership more expensive, and 26 percent are struggling to afford the rising costs

In urban areas, housing is a huge issue. Prior to the pandemic housing was a problem and now it has only exasperated. Increasingly, landlords and HOA’s don’t allow dogs or allow big dogs or allow certain breeds (or even accept pets at all). Or they charge a premium – which may on the upside even include pet amenities – from dog washes to on-property dog parks. However, people with limited incomes may be excluded from these opportunities.

What’s more, all the reasons people have always given up animals to shelters remain, with behavior problems topping the list.

And in some parts of the U.S., as incredible as it may seem, spay/neuter for population control (and to benefit animal health) still doesn’t happen – despite availability of low cost and even no-cost spay/neuter.

Interventions

The good news is that more forward-thinking organizations (and these do include an increasing number of municipal shetlers) are working hard to address all these issues – from offering veterinary services to behavior helplines to attempting to work with the community regarding housing issues. Some states even have laws (sometimes not enforced) to prevent breed specificity, so all breeds must be accepted by the landlord or HOA.

The problems are complex – and in truth few who give up a pet want to do so. And communities increasingly are offering intervention programs to offer guidance to families. However, to lay blame solely on the local municipal shelter is vastly misguided.

Last week, was National Animal Care & Control Appreciation Week.  I, for one, say “thank you” to the dedicated employees and volunteers who profoundly care to save as many as they can. As a community, instead of attacks, help them to save more.