When animal shelters were faced with exorbitant application rates at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost no one knew how long the pandemic would last, or what would happen to newly adopted pets when life returned to “normal.”
Now they find out.
Falling adoption rates
Ashlynn Cluchey runs For The Sake of Being Humane, a dog shelter in Fennville. The shelter is about five years old and has seen the same rate of adoption through the roof as other organizations in 2020.
“It was crazy,” Cluchey said. “Everyone wanted a puppy, everyone wanted to bring a new dog into their family. We took in a lot more because we had more space, but now we’re seeing those rates drop. We may have had a adoption per week, at this point, and we have 58 dogs in our care.”
Jennifer Self-Aulgur, executive director of Harbor Humane in West Olive, said these issues are nationwide.
“Across the country, we are seeing a decrease in adoptions,” she said. “I think a big part of that is that we’re approaching the first summer where a lot of COVID restrictions have been lifted.
“People go on trips and don’t think it’s the right time to add a member to their family. There are also worries about the economy and inflation, and perhaps a hesitation to add another mouthful. to feed.”
Self-Aulgur said shelters in southern states, in general, are having more difficulty than shelters in northern states.
“The majority of shelters in Michigan, minus Detroit, can manage their population and not find themselves in a position where they have to euthanize for time and space,” she said. “But the southern states don’t have the same pool of adoption.
“There are too many animals and not enough people who want them. There are currently shelters in Texas with literally over 1,000 dogs. I’ve been in this business for 20 years, and those numbers are staggering.”
As often as possible, Midwestern shelters like Harbor Humane transport animals from southern states, saving them from euthanasia.
“But when we don’t move the animals as fast as possible, it creates a blockage in the system,” Self-Aulgur said. “These animals cannot be moved.”
Even puppies, who normally “fly off the shelves”, find themselves without homes “forever”.
“We have a litter of puppies who arrived at six weeks old and were adopted at eight weeks old,” Cluchey said. “They’re seven months old now. They’re growing up here. They’re still adoptable and super cute, and there’s nothing wrong with them.
“We have other litters that were set up four weeks ago, and we’ve had maybe two adoptions. I have to say no to fostering dogs, and the flip side of that is whether they end up on the streets or not being taken care of properly.”
“They come back”
In addition to declining adoption rates, Cluchey is starting to see adopted puppies return during the pandemic.
“They have behavioral issues because they haven’t been properly socialized during COVID, despite everything we’ve drilled into our adopters’ heads,” she said. “They come back because they bit people or they weren’t reacting well to the arrival of the family. We always say we’ll take the dogs back, and that’s happened 10 times this year.”
The Cheboygan County Humane Society in northern Michigan is facing a similar problem: a significant increase in pet abandonment.
“Almost all of the dogs and cats that are returned are unspayed or spayed and have no vaccinations,” said Executive Director Mary Talaske. “They are poorly socialized and have dangerous behavior issues.”
The shelter has been operating at or above capacity for the past six months due to the number of animals that have been abandoned or picked up from the streets as strays.
Cluchey recommends working with a behavior trainer before bringing your pet back to a shelter.
“At this point, the only thing that can correct this behavior is practice and perseverance,” she said. “We always strongly recommend working with a coach right after adoption, especially because right now separation anxiety is one of the biggest issues we’re having.
“Dogs that had family members at home during COVID, they’re not okay with being left at home. They get hurt trying to get out, so people turn to meds.”
The Little Traverse Bay Humane Society of Emmet County has had success with its own training programs, according to communications and marketing coordinator Jessica Evans.
All dogs at the shelter go through the “Mutts with Manners” program, where they learn basic obedience. Once a dog has been adopted, new pet owners receive a training grant that they can use with the humane society trainer – or a regional partner – so that the dog and owner can create links.
“We’ve found that really helps strengthen the owner/pet bond, and kind of reinforces what we started with our training at the shelter,” Evans said. “So those are kind of a couple of reasons why I think we have maybe a bit of a lower return rate.”
At its location in Harbor Springs, Little Traverse Bay has approximately five acres of land, where animals are placed in playgroups and given the opportunity to run, socialize and expend energy.
“They have space in the yard, and I think that really helps,” Evans said. “The old adage is true – a tired, exercised dog is a well-behaved dog, or a better-behaved dog anyway.”
Shortage of vets and rising prices
Self-Aulgur thinks families may also struggle to afford healthcare expenses, as more small-town veterinary practices are bought up by national conglomerates.
“Sometimes because of that, prices go up and people find it harder to afford those services,” she said. “We are certainly seeing an increased need in our low-cost services, whether it’s our vaccination clinics or our sterilization services.”
Right now, new adopters are often stuck waiting four, five, or six weeks for booster shots.
“Vets are overwhelmed,” Self-Aulgur said. “There are not enough staff. I think that definitely creates a problem in getting proper care for the animals.”
Abandonment of donations
Rounding out a trio of bad news, Cluchey is also seeing donations plummet.
“In the past, we would do a plea, say we need dog food, we need help, and we’ll have a basement of food by the end of the week,” he said. she declared. “But now we are getting a few bags. We have to keep making pleas.”
Cluchey recommends making a small monthly donation through programs such as Patreon.
“You can donate as little as $3,” she said. “And it comes out every month like a normal subscription. These little donations add up, and that’s what pays our bills. It’s a great program, and it will be our saving grace through economic decline. “
So far, Harbor Humane hasn’t seen a significant drop in donations – but time will tell, especially as we approach the organisation’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
For the Love of Humanity is open by appointment. Learn more about facebook.com/ForTheSakeRescueAndRehome.
— Contact journalists Cassandra Lybrink, Tess Ware and Kortny Hahn at [email protected].