When animal shelters faced very high utilization rates at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, no one knew how long the pandemic would last, or what would happen to newly adopted pets when life returned to normal.
Now, find out.
Low adoption rates
Ashlynn Clucey is working to be human, a dog rescue in Vineville. The shelter is about five years old, and has seen the same rate of adoption through the roof as other organizations in 2020.
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“It was crazy,” said Cloci. “Everyone wanted a puppy, and everyone wanted to bring a new dog into their family. We took a lot because we had more space, but now we’re seeing those prices come down. We had maybe a week’s worth of adoptions, at this point, and we have 58 dogs in our care.”
These problems are prevalent across the country, said Jennifer Self-Olgore, executive director of Harbor Humane in West Olive.
“Nationally, we’re seeing a decline in adoptions,” she said. “I think a big part of that is we’re approaching the first summer where a lot of the COVID restrictions have been lifted.
“People are taking trips, and they don’t think now is the right time to add an individual to their family. There are also concerns about the economy and inflation, and perhaps a reluctance to add another mouth to feed.”
In general, shelters in southern states are struggling more than shelters in northern states, Silv Olgor said.
“The majority of shelters in Michigan, with the exception of Detroit, can handle their residents and not have a situation where they have to be euthanized for the sake of time and space,” she said. But Southern states don’t have the same adoption pool.
“There are too many animals and not enough people who want to have them. There are shelters in Texas right now that have over 1,000 dogs. I’ve been in this business for 20 years, and those numbers are staggering.”
Whenever possible, Midwestern shelters like Harbor Humane transport animals from southern states, saving them from euthanasia.
“But when we don’t move the animals as fast as they can, it creates a block in the system,” said Sylph Olgor. “These animals cannot be transmitted.”
Even puppies, which usually “fly off the shelves,” will go without “satiated” homes.
“We have a group of puppies that came in at six weeks old and were adopted at eight weeks,” Cloci said. “They’re seven months old now. They’re growing up here. They’re still very adoptable and cute, nothing wrong with them.”
“We have other litters that were conceived four weeks ago, and we may have had two adoptions. I would have to say no to receiving dogs, and the back part of that is they end up on the streets or are not cared for properly.”
“they come back”
In addition to declining adoption rates, Cluchey has begun to see puppies adopted during the pandemic making a comeback.
“They have behavioral issues because they weren’t properly socialized during COVID, despite how much we’ve drilled that into our adopters’ heads,” she said. “They come back because they bit the people or didn’t respond well to a family coming over. We always say we’ll take the dogs back, and it’s happened 10 times this year.”
The Cheboygan County Humane Society in northern Michigan is facing a similar problem—a huge increase in pet surrenders.
“Nearly all of the dogs and cats delivered have not been spayed or neutered and do not have any vaccinations,” said executive director Marie Talaskey. “They are poor socially and have some serious behavioral problems.”
The shelter has been running at full capacity or over capacity for the past six months, due to the number of animals that have been turned over, or picked off the streets as strays.
Cluchey recommends working with a behavioral trainer before returning your pet to a shelter.
“At this point, the only thing that can correct this behavior is training and persistence,” she said. “We always highly recommend working with a coach right after an adoption, especially because, right now, separation anxiety is one of the biggest issues we see.
“Dogs that had family members at home during COVID, it’s not appropriate to leave them at home. They’re hurting themselves trying to get out, so people are turning to medication.”
The Little Traverse Bay Humane Society of Emmet County has found success with its training programs, according to communications and marketing coordinator Jessica Evans.
All dogs at the shelter go through the “Mutts with Manners” program, where they learn basic obedience. Once a dog is adopted, new pet owners receive a training grant that they can use with a humane society trainer—or a regional partner—so that dog and owner can bond.
“We find this really helps strengthen the owner/animal bond, and it kind of reinforces what we started with our training at the shelter,” Evans said. “So those are two reasons I think we may have a slightly lower rate of return.”
At its location in Harbor Springs, Little Traverse Bay has about five acres of yard, where animals are placed in playgroups and given the opportunity to run, socialize and expend energy.
“They have a patio area, and I think that definitely helps,” Evans said. “The adage is true – a tired, exercised dog is a well-behaved dog, or a well-behaved dog anyway.”
Veterinary shortages and high prices
Self-Aulgur believes that families may also struggle to afford healthcare, as more veterinary offices in small towns are being bought out by national conglomerates.
“Sometimes because of that, prices go up, and people have a harder time affording these services,” she said. “We are definitely seeing an increase in the need for our low-cost services, whether that be our vaccination clinics or spay/neuter services.”
Right now, new adopters are often stuck waiting four, five, or six weeks for their booster shots.
“The vets are exhausted,” Olgor said. “There’s not enough staff. I think that definitely creates a problem in getting the animals proper care.”
To round up three of the bad news, Cloci is also seeing donations drop.
“In the past, we’d put out a plea, saying we need dog food, we need help, and we’ll have a cellar of food by the end of the week,” she said. “But now, we’re getting a few more bags. We have to keep making appeals.”
Cluchey recommends making a small monthly donation through programs like Patreon.
“You can only donate $3,” she said. “And it comes out every month as a regular subscription. These small donations add up, and that’s what keeps our bills paid. It’s a great program, and it’s going to be our saving grace to get us through the economic downturn.”
So far, Harbor Humane hasn’t seen a huge drop in donations — but time will tell, especially as the year’s biggest fundraiser approaches.
In order to be an open human being by appointment. Learn more at facebook.com/ForTheSakeRescueAndRehome.
Contact reporters Cassandra Lebrink, Tess Weir and Courtney Hahn at [email protected]