Epidemic adoptions have slowed, but intakes are increasing

DALLAS — At the start of the pandemic, in the spring of 2020, families and individuals who had been cooped up at home during quarantine flocked to municipal shelters and rescue agencies looking for pets to adopt.


What you need to know

  • As the United States slowly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, animal rescue organizations are seeing a return to pre-pandemic numbers of animals being brought to shelters.
  • Animal shelters in Texas and across the country say their data shows not an increase in pets being returned to shelters, but rather a seasonal increase in intakes of cats and dogs at levels seen before the pandemic.
  • Many animal shelters, such as Dallas Animal Services, open their doors for in-person visits to potential adopters and foster parents

So great was the search for companionship from four-legged friends—sometimes less limbs—that the animals were adopted, sometimes within hours of posting their photos on the shelter’s virtual adoption pages.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, one in five families, or about 23 million, have adopted a dog or cat during the pandemic.

Texas and California led during the pandemic in the number of dogs and cats housed in shelters as well as the number of adoptions, adoptions or other positive outcomes. A positive outcome could be either a pet reunited with its family or a transfer from the shelter to another rescue group.

In April 2020, just one month into the pandemic, 161 animal welfare organizations in Texas reported that they had taken in 20,234 dogs and cats, while 17,889 were adopted, fostered, or otherwise tested positive in the same month, according to Shelter Animals Count , which is a national cooperative. From animal welfare organizations that collect data from across the country.

The following month, in May 2020, the number of intakes at Texas shelters and animal welfare organizations increased to 26,749, while the number of applications was 21,655.

Nationally, in 2020, about 2.7 million dogs were boarded, compared to 3.5 million in 2019.

Now, as the United States slowly begins to emerge from the pandemic and return to “normal” life, animal intakes and rescues are also returning to pre-pandemic numbers. Intakes of dogs and cats are once again increasing, while adoption and adoption numbers fail to keep up the pace. In Dallas, that means shelters and rescue services are putting out the call to find more adopters and sponsors.

Intakes in the spring and summer are usually higher than other parts of the year, said Leah Paco, public information coordinator for Dallas Animal Services. This is especially true of cats, Paco said, who have “cat season” during this time.

But intake versus intake rates for this year are quickly showing a gap. Animal shelters and animal welfare organizations in Texas have taken in 17,086 as of February 2021, the most recent data available. Of those, 15,281 went to foster homes, were adopted, or had other positive results.

Paco said the call to sponsors and adopters is “extremely urgent.”

Dallas Animal Services has returned to pre-pandemic intakes of about 100 pets per day.

“We haven’t had to make an appeal since last year,” Paco said. The Dallas Animal Services Large and Medium Dog Shelter reached its maximum space in late May, prompting a public call for potential sponsors and adopters to take action and help provide more space for incoming dogs.

“We now receive 100 pets a day, but we only see half as many pets. That rate is not sustainable. We want to avoid making space decisions at all costs,” Paco said. Dallas Animal Services has an emergency euthanasia and overcrowding policy.

Dallas Animal Services recently resumed in-person shelter visits to potential adopters and parents after nearly a year of working virtually to get dogs and cats out of their shelters. Paco said the first few days of visits inside the shelter saw a positive increase in adoptions, but more is needed.

From October 2019 to September 2020 Dallas Animal Services for the City of Dallas Fiscal Year pursued and exceeded the 90% Direct Issuance rate goal This is the number of dogs and cats and the highest in its history – during the acquisition 22,812 cats and dogs . Currently, the direct release rate for cats and dogs for fiscal year 2021 is 88.8%, but DAS is confident that with increased community support, they can once again hit the 90% milestone.

Animal welfare agencies across the country have warned against letting rising numbers handled lead to the conclusion that families are returning animals adopted during the pandemic to shelters.

“None of the data we see supports that,” said Mary Abudanza, director of data and technology for Shelter Animals Count.

“What we can see is that there has been no increase in revenue nationwide,” said Abudanza.

Tracking Humane data and statistics is important to many outcome players, particularly municipal governments and donor groups.

“It’s an emotional field that people get involved in because they care about animals,” said Abudanza. “Collecting this kind of data helps with the kinds of conversations shelters can have with their community when they can point to facts and figures.”

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