Shelters all over the nation are at full capacity as pets keep coming in at a rate faster than they are being adopted. Local shelters are also feeling the effects of this overpopulation.
Catherine Gupton, executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County SPCA, theorizes that the overpopulation of shelters is due in part to people surrendering animals they got during COVID.
“During the COVID shutdown, a lot of people adopted animals because they were lonely. Now that everybody’s returning back to the workforce, they’re finding they’re not able to care for those animals the same way and they’re returning them to shelters,” Gupton said.
She added that spay and neuter surgeries drastically slowed during the COVID shutdowns, causing a boom in dog and cat populations.
Jayme Clark, shelter manager of the Martinsville Animal Shelter, agreed.
“Their jobs have picked back up. They’re spending more time at work, they’re spending less time at home. We’re beginning to see a lot more surrenders of people bringing in dogs and saying, ‘Hey, I just can’t care for it anymore,'” Clark said.
He also believes that money and the ratio of pets to adopters are issues leading to the overpopulation issues confronting shelters.
“We’ve got more dogs in our area than we have adopters. On a daily basis, we’ve got dogs coming in, but we don’t have people coming in to adopt dogs. And that’s a sign that people don’t have time for them and it’s not something on their priority list of having a companion animal, or they just don’t have the money,” he said.
Pet owners also find that keeping up with the maintenance of their pets is a challenge, combined with the consequences for failing to abide by related city ordinances.
“People get flustered with the care of their animal and being held accountable with the responsibilities of it,” Clark said. As a result, “they just sign them over.”
Both shelters have taken measures to try and cut down on the numbers of pets in the shelters.
“We did open a spay and neuter clinic in house to help promote some spay and neuter for our community” last year, Gupton said. “That’s the number one goal to bring down population, is to spay and neuter and prevent more from coming into the shelters.
“We are offering discounted adoptions. We’ve run adoption specials almost every month this year to kind of remove barriers for people who are interested in adopting, but can’t necessarily afford the full adoption fees,” she said.
The reduced adoption fees have encouraged adoptions, and although spay and neuter efforts take longer to take effect, Gupton is hopeful the shelters will start seeing results soon.
The city shelter has implemented more drastic methods to keep numbers down.
“We have recently had to go from completely a no kill shelter, they’ve had to send me to euthanasia training. We’ve had to begin euthanizing because we’re unable to get dogs back into their home or we’re unable to get dogs re-homed to new adopters,” Clark said.
However, Clark has also been using other methods to try and get dogs adopted and relieve the overpopulation.
“I’ve tried to build relationships with other shelters in the area where we can work together. I’ve spent a lot of time on our social media, you know we have a Facebook page that I post our stray animals and the dogs that are available for adoption,” he said.
There are always ways for the community to help, as well. Adoption is always the goal, but short-term help, such as fostering, helps.
“Providing foster homes for the animals or adoptive homes if they’re looking for a new friend instead of going out and buying a designer breed. Adopting one of the shelter animals is a huge way to help the overpopulation. And helping support spay and neuter endeavors. Helping to control feral cat colonies through spay and neuter, things like that are huge for the community to do,” Gupton said.
Donations are always one of the biggest things community members can do to help. Money is always helpful, as it can be hard to come by for shelters, but it is not the only donation that is appreciated.
“Donations are always helpful for us. I know in the city, we work off a very, very small budget that not only operates our shelter, but also works our animal control as well. Vet bills that happen because of cruelty cases come out the same budget that keeps the lights on at the shelter. If you want to donate some food, we’re always open to take dog food or cat food, wet or dry, and we’re always open for leash and collar donation as well,” Clark said.
At the SPCA, many non-money donations are also appreciated.
“We are always in need of basic supplies like canned dog food, canned cat food, bleach, paper towels, blankets, regular bath towels, things like that. And we do have a full wish list on our website that can be accessed with more items: dawn dish detergent, high efficiency liquid laundry detergent, dish washer detergent, dog collars, dog leashes, dog harnesses, things like that,” Gupton said.
But the biggest thing is for adopters to understand the responsibility they are taking on when they adopt a new pet.
“The biggest thing for the community, I think, is to remember that we still exist and to also remember, when you take on the responsibility of a companion animal, it’s really nice, especially a puppy when you first get them. But you need to remember that it’s also a commitment long term,” Clark said.
Clark said that despite some of the measures implemented at the shelter, the wellbeing and happiness of each pet is always the goal.
“Even in this time of overpopulation for dogs, we’re still doing everything we can to make sure these dogs live a good life. I’ve partnered with several organizations in our community where folks come by and they walk the dogs, I’ve even opened it up to community service hours for our court system. We really care about the wellbeing of the companion animals here in our community and we want to see them live good, long lives with their families,” he said.
Officials with the Henry County Animal Shelter could not be reached for comment.
The Martinsville-Henry County SPCA is experiencing overpopulation issues, just as many other shelters across the nation.