Pet adoptions, shelters and the pandemic

By Camille Porter

TEXAS- As the pandemic continues to linger around, pet adoptions have calmed down since 2020 but shelters are now facing a different problem, understaffing and overpopulation.

From May 2020 to November 2020, shelters saw a slight increase in pet adoptions during the height of the pandemic to when it started to slow down. In May 2020, 30,038 dogs were adopted from shelters while about 28,000 cats were adopted from shelters. Towards the end of the year, shelters saw that dog adoptions only increased slightly while cats had a massive boom going from roughly 28,000 to 46,000.

Dog and Cat adoption numbers from August 2020-October 2020 and August 2021-October 2021.

Since the end of 2020 and 2021, shelters have only noticed a slight increase in pet adoptions. But comparing 2020 and 2021 to 2019, 2019 has the recent years beat in terms of numbers with 2019 being the highest year out of the three for adoptions. Christie Banduch, animal shelter supervisor of the San Marcos Regional Animal Shelter, only noticed a slight increase in adoptions.

“We have seen maybe a slight increase,” said Banduch. “We definitely haven’t seen a decrease so, it kind of varies from month to month depending on like, especially here, it’s a school town…so, those things kind of flex throughout the year as it is.”

Shelters have noticed high intakes with the animals but lower outcomes. This has led to some overpopulation within these shelters, but for Amanda Hall, adoption counselor at the Austin Animal Center, the city-run shelter in Austin, Texas, this isn’t a new issue.

“We’re a really high intake facility no matter what,” said Hall. “We were always pushing being at 100 percent or 100+ percent capacity for pets. We work with some rescue organizations and shelters in other cities and states that do have an intake problem and don’t have any pets for their adopters and we’ve never been there, that I know of. Our intake is always really high.”

Total amount of animal intakes from 2019-2021
Total amount of outtakes from 2019-2021

Because of the pandemic, shelters have faced understaffing issues and their lack of adoption events and meet-and-greets has hindered them in a significant way.

“Staffing has been a problem, for sure,” said Hall. “We lost a few people because of the pandemic just, sort of, people changing jobs, don’t wanna be in the public eye anymore. And some people have been out after contracting COVID…and that certainly does affect the rest of their team and their team morale and stuff like that.”

But despite a large number of intakes and understaffing, some shelters have been able to continue their work normally with little to no effect. Michelle Zoeller, advocate to the board of directors of the Central Texas SPCA, was able to maintain their intake numbers despite the challenges of the pandemic.

“Staff turnover has been quite challenging during the pandemic,” said Zoeller. “But we’ve been able to maintain our animal intake and adoption numbers despite that.”

Even though shelters haven’t been able to have adoption events or meet-and-greets due to pandemic restrictions, fostering has been a key factor in helping a lot of shelters find homes for the animals.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in fostering,” said Banduch. “I think we sent in 1000 animals into fostering this year so that definitely helped us. We take in about 5000 animals a year and 1000 of those didn’t even have to stay at the shelter long term because they wanted to foster so it’s definitely helpful.”

Some misconceptions have been that pet owners are surrendering their pets back to the shelters as everyone starts to go back to work and school. This is the claim of “pandemic pets” where many pets were said to be purchased in the height of the pandemic and are now getting returned back to shelters.

“We’ve seen some pets come back with owners telling us that they’re having to go back to the office,” said Hall. “More time in the office means less time at home. For pets that need people at home, that can be really difficult. We have seen some pets come back…so there wasn’t really a strong uptick in owner surrenders because of the pandemic.”

While the claim of “pandemic pets” can be attributed to some surrenders, most surrenders happen because of the reasons above.

Since more owners are returning to the office, this could be damaging, emotionally, to their pets and cause separation anxiety.

Overall, shelters have faced viable setbacks throughout the height of the pandemic until now.

For more data, visit https://www.aspca.org/ and https://www.shelteranimalscount.org/

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