Central Texas Animal Shelters Struggle with Litter Overpopulation Post COVID-19 Pandemic

When the pandemic caused spay and neuter services to close across the nation in 2020, many shelters did not anticipate the consequences of large litter intakes of kittens and puppies in the year to follow. Shelters in Central Texas had to work together to find new solutions to the overpopulation of animals throughout Texas.

Animal shelters across the nation didn’t expect the high adoption rates in 2020. According to Chewy research, 891, 482 homeless animals were able to find new homes in 2020. Quarantining made many people feel isolated, and adopting a companion was on many people’s minds during the lonely months. The Animal Services Annual Report for the San Marcos Regional Animal Shelter (SMRAS) reported the adoption rate in 2020 increased by 6.4% from 2019.

Despite the adoption turnaround, COVID-19 still negatively affected shelter pets during the 2020 quarantine. Many spay and neuter clinics closed down temporarily until 2021 and even 2022. The University of Florida Health found that an estimated 3 million neuter/spay clinics closed temporarily or permanently due to financial complications from COVID-19. These pop-up services provided low-cost surgeries to help animals get fixed to prevent the overpopulation of cats and dogs in dense city areas. With the clinics closed, stray animals had about a six-month period in 2020 to reproduce rapidly. By 2021, puppy and kitten litters had filled the shelter’s doorways.

SMRAS is one of the many Central Texas shelters facing a high intake of young kittens and puppies from bottle-fed ages to around six months old. Animal Services Manager, Christie Banduch, and her team have worked hard the past two years placing litters in foster care, adoption services, and local rescue organizations.

One of the biggest problems shelters face is an overpopulation of animals in dense city areas. Stray cats and dogs roam around the city streets fully intact, looking for a mate to breed. Both dogs and cats can have up to three litters per year, each litter giving two to eight offsprings. While the females can only get pregnant about two to three times a year, the males can jump from one female to the next immediately, spreading themselves fast around the city and becoming one of the major contributors to overpopulation.

“Have your animal spayed and neutered. You save more lives by fixing one animal than you do by doing anything else, whether that is your animal or a stray cat in your neighborhood. If everybody in Hays County went out and fixed one animal, we would be done,” Banduch said.

Thirty-two states, along with Texas, have a mandatory spay/neuter law requiring all shelters and animal organizations to spay/neuter their animals before adoption. This law was passed hoping to decrease the number of homeless animals on the street.

SMRAS faces high kitten intakes around March to October every year. According to SMRAS’s animal monthly services statistics, the kitten intake doubled from February to March this year, going from 48 to 96 total kitten intakes. Unlike other states, Texas’s warm weather typically lasts longer than September and sometimes well into November. This extended warm season can also extend the kitten season, keeping the intake rate high for longer.

The SMRAS has a solid staff and team of volunteers that help with kitten and puppy seasons. When the shelter experiences overflow, Banduch and her team organize strategic plans for each animal that comes through the shelter. They have a foster program for animals too young or sick to be in a shelter environment. SMRAS also collaborates with small animal rescues that are breed oriented to filter out heavy breed populations in shelters like labs and poodle mixes.

Behind the Doors of the San Marcos Regional Animal Shelter

While shelters and vets highly recommend spaying and neutering, not everyone feels that it is necessary or humane for the animal. The American Kennel Club (AKC) association argues that spaying and neutering animals negatively impacts the diversity of dogs. AKC believes the decision should be left to the individual and their dog rather than at the state level. The AKC board of directors found under research that fixing an animal before it reaches its full maturity can cause health issues in the future for that animal.

If a person adopts their animal through a breeder, it is ultimately up to the adopter whether to get their pet fixed. However, not everyone feels informed enough to make such a permanent decision.

The PAWS Shelter in Kyle, Texas, educates new adopters on the benefits of spaying and neutering pets before leaving the shelter. Kennel Manager, Maria Romero, calculates that about 90% of animals that come through the shelter are not fixed or spayed.

“Talk to your vet. They will tell you if you need to wait,” Romero says.

In 2021, the Kyle PAWS Shelter had 1,465 animals go through their door, with 1,192 or 81.1% of the animals fully intact. The shelter collaborates with spay and neuter clinics across Texas to perform low-cost surgeries for the high intact rate.

Animals adopted through the PAWS shelter and other Texas shelters receive medical checkups and up-to-date shots for vet records. Texas’s spay/neuter law requires animals adopted from shelters to receive basic medical treatment, including rabies and distemper/parvo vaccines. The state anticipates that the more animals that go through the shelter process and possibly return to the street, the less likely they are to breed with other strays and carry diseases.

Kyle PAWS Shelter’s Contributions to Homeless Animals

While it may not be possible to find a home for every stray cat or dog, the public can do their part to help shelters prevent overflow. Clinics like the Chisholm Trail Veterinarian Clinic find that spaying and neutering helps control the pet population and eases stress on local shelters. The public can also help local shelters by donating supplies and volunteering for charity events. However, the best help that can be brought to an animal is giving them a home.

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