How animal shelters are coping with a crisis of abandoned cats and dogs.
Article from VOXpublished
Lonely and stuck at home, millions of Americans turned to animals for comfort in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, adopting and fostering cats and dogs from shelters at record rates. Videos of empty animal shelters went viral; Wired called it “the feel-good pandemic story you need right now.”
“It was a really fun time to be in animal welfare,” said Bobby Mann, chief programs officer of the Humane Rescue Alliance, the largest animal shelter in the Washington, DC, metro area. “We did absolutely see an uptick in adoptions.”
But starting in 2021, shelters began filling back up as there were more animals entering than leaving, and now many are packed to the brim. From Rhode Island to Seattle and everywhere in between, shelters are reporting they’re at capacity, forcing an increase in the number of dogs killed due to space constraints. Earlier this year, almost half of shelters surveyed reported an increase in euthanized dogs, while only 10 percent reported a decrease.
“Perfectly adoptable dogs are losing their lives and it is a crisis,” said one municipal shelter that was surveyed. “We need volunteers, fosters, and adopters.”
“By and large, shelters are screaming from the rooftops that they’ve been in crisis for a while, and it’s not letting up,” said Stephanie Filer, executive director of Shelter Animals Count, an organization that collects and publishes data from thousands of animal shelters and conducted the euthanasia survey. The group predicts the situation will continue to worsen this year.
The trend threatens the immense progress that animal shelters have made to reduce the number of animals put down since the 1970s, when 13.5 million of the 65 million dogs and cats in the US — more than one-fifth — were euthanized. In 2019, fewer than a million dogs and cats, about 0.7 percent of the country’s 135 million, were put down.
It’s one thing for, say, Peloton bikes to pile up in some warehouse as Americans return to normalcy and consumer demand rebalances in response. But when the product is an animal — and make no mistake, we treat animals as products — the rebalance of demand and supply can result in mass suffering, as shelters are forced to make the hard choice between packing more and more animals together in crowded, noisy environments, euthanizing them, or turning them away.
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