Pet adoption has skyrocketed during the pandemic. But now shelters are reporting overcrowding: NPR

Many animal shelters say they have too many cats and dogs in need of homes. NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro asks Cornell University’s Elizabeth Berliner what is behind the complaints.


Remember, at the start of this pandemic, how many of us rushed to adopt pets so much that animal shelters almost emptied? Well, now there may be too many dogs and cats with too few permanent homes. Here is one of those shelters in Ithaca, New York.

JIM BOUDREAU: Hi. This is Jim Bouderau, the executive director of the Tompkins County SPCA. Today we have 128 animals in our care – 62 kittens, 27 dogs available for adoption and 101 cats.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what’s going on? Dr. Elizabeth Berliner is Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University. And she’s joining us now. Welcome.

ELIZABETH BERLINER: Thanks, Lulu. I am delighted to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We are hearing numerous reports from shelters in different parts of the country that as the COVID crisis appears to be easing, people may be making their puppies and kittens pandemic. But are they?

BERLINER: I have to say that if we look at the actual data, it doesn’t support this trend. What seems to be happening is that the admission levels that were present before the pandemic – so if we look at the data for 2019, for example, for April and May, shelters revert to that admission level. I think it sounds potentially more overwhelming as there are so many other challenges at this point as well. But as with other industries, recovery from the pandemic is also having an impact on animal shelters. So this has an impact on animal shelters in terms of staff and volunteer support, who – they depend heavily on volunteers. This affects them in terms of funding. The vast majority of animal shelters are funded by philanthropy and raise funds for their operations. There are no federal and state dollars supporting shelter operations. So, the economic insecurity that plagues so many industries also weighs heavily on animal shelters.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So they have capacity issues, essentially. They don’t have the money and they don’t have the people to really help the same number of dogs because of what happened during the pandemic.

BERLINER: In our ideal world, we always run shelters at our level of care capacity. And it’s a term we use in shelter medicine to say that we only want to accommodate the number of animals that we can provide effective, efficient and humane care.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It was also mentioned that because we have seen so many people adopt pets during the pandemic, there is also no capacity for homes forever. Much of it has become saturated because people first became pet owners.

BERLINER: Some statistics show that one in five pets adopted a new pet during the pandemic. And so we have concerns about what this adoption season will look like in 2021. That said, the first indicators are that we are placing animals. Certainly, pet owners seem to have an increasing ability to bring pets home. I myself acquired pets during the pandemic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what do you think needs to happen now to help some of this overpopulation? Because I’ll say just a quick glance – I’ve seen calls in Houston, Indianapolis, and Kentucky, I mean, shelters saying, we need help. We need people to adopt pets. We have too many animals.

BERLINER: Absolutely. And first and foremost, this is one of the ways people can help their local shelter. If they are able to adopt a new pet, then please now is a good time to do so. Likewise, we need foster care providers. So the way animal shelters weathered the pandemic, both in terms of caring for their staff, staff and the animals they care for, has been the use of foster families. But we hope to see this kind of level continue.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He’s the veterinarian and professor of shelter medicine at Cornell University, Dr. Elizabeth Berliner. Thank you so much.

BERLINER: Thanks, Lulu.

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