Animal shelters say again that more dogs and cats need to be adopted

Among the many strays taken in this year from the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, was a lively 8-year-old black Labrador weighing nearly 90 pounds.

He was the kind of dog the shelter would have once considered easy to adopt — social and handsome, with “just a phenomenal personality,” said shelter administrator Mindy Naticcioni.

“Before the pandemic, he would have been there for a short time,” Naticcioni said. “People would line up to get it. But he was with us for nearly two months. It’s just atypical to have a Lab, regardless of age, stay with us this long.”

Cuyahoga County’s shelter situation illustrates the ongoing boom in shelters across the country. Nearly a quarter of a million more pets are in shelters than at the same time last year, according to an animal welfare agency, worsening conditions at facilities already experiencing a pet population crisis.

Shelter Animals Count, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that maintains a national database of shelter animal statistics, says about 245,000 dogs and cats are in shelters awaiting adoption or fostering this holiday season, marking the third year in a row. in which their number is increasing.

“The number shows that shelters are managing larger populations for which they have the capacity,” said Stephanie Filler, executive director of Shelter Animals Count. “This is not a sustainable gap. This is something that needs to be resolved quickly or we will see a reduction in services or an increase in euthanasia.

The Cuyahoga County shelter is designed to house a population of 111 people, but has reached or exceeded that total several times this year, Naticcioni said. Before the pandemic, dogs typically stayed at the shelter for 15 to 18 days before being adopted or fostered, she said; that range is now 28 to 30 days.

At the same time, the number of animals at the shelter per day has jumped from about 90 or 100 before the pandemic to nearly 140 now.

“We’re out of space,” she said. “It’s not so much that we take more. They just stay significantly longer.”

Among the dogs for adoption: Puppies and purebreds

The estimated number of pets taken in by animal shelters annually ranges from 4 to 6 million.

Although cats are “doing pretty well,” Filler said, dog adoptions are down 1.2 percent from 2022, Shelter Animals Count reports. Meanwhile, 5% more animals entered the facilities in 2023 than left.

Shelters are seeing an unprecedented number of puppies, Filler said — not to mention scribbles, scratches and poop — as more small-breeds, purebreds and so-called “designer dogs” end up in such facilities for the same economic, logistical and behavioral reasons that others dogs do. Nearly four out of five shelters responding to a national Shelter Animals Count survey said people “would be surprised” by the types of dogs in their populations.

“There are a lot of puppies,” Filler said. “And dogs of all breeds. What was once considered a rarity in shelters is now commonplace – purebred dogs, intentionally bred mutts. Some shelters have dozens of Labradoodles and Goldendoodles.”

Naticchioni said the Cuyahoga County shelter has seen similar trends.

“We’ve seen a lot more graffiti this year,” she said. “An 11-month-old ewe has just arrived.”

“It will require a community solution”

Shelter Animals County blamed the growing side hustle of domestic breeding and the ongoing problem of puppy mills as among the reasons for the increase. More than half of the shelters that responded to the agency’s survey said they took in dogs from owners who bought puppies at a high price that they then couldn’t keep, and from breeders who disposed of unsold puppies that no longer are desired or unnecessary.

Filler said that while the number of owners surrendering their dogs hasn’t necessarily increased, the number of homeless has.

“When you combine that with the reduction in stray animals returned by their owners, it would indicate that these are animals that are likely to be surrendered,” Filler said.

The overcrowding issues come as shelters face budget cuts and staff shortages, competing with the service sector for potential employees.

“Shelters have always relied on robust volunteer programs to fill those gaps, and those programs have not returned to pre-pandemic levels,” Filler said.

Meanwhile, staff cuts and a shortage of veterinarians in the country make it difficult for shelters to maintain adequate health care. A national study estimated that about 2.7 million spay and neuter surgeries were not performed as a result of the pandemic because animal shelters suspended services deemed non-essential, “which is why we’re seeing more shelters with puppies,” Filler said.

Shelter Animals Count encourages potential owners looking to adopt dogs to visit local shelters and rescues or use adoption databases like to find animals that need to be rehomed. Pets adopted from shelters and rescues usually also have the advantage of having already been spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped.

“Shelters have to make tough decisions every day that aren’t a reflection of the shelter doing something wrong, but rather a reflection of something going on in the community,” Filler said. “So because it’s a community problem, it’s going to require a community solution.”

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