Shelters Struggle with Overcrowding

By Susan Spisak

Stephanie Kelley, Marketing Communications Manager at Animal Welfare Society aka AWS in Kennebunk, mentioned to Downeast Dog News that the same dogs they submitted last month for the “Dogs for Adoption” page are still available. In fact, there have been more adoptable dog submissions from Maine shelters, humane societies, and rescues because, as she put it, everyone’s full.

She hoped that we could shed light on the situation, prompting those in a position to adopt, foster, volunteer, and/or donate. “It's a national issue right now, affecting not just Southern or urban shelters, but all shelters, including here in Maine,” said Kelley. So, what is the crux of the problem?

In a word, inflation. Housing changes are contributing to relinquishments. For some, there’s an inability to keep up with rising monthly rates or they have been evicted due to late mortgage or rent payments. For those forced to move and cannot secure a pet-friendly place, dogs and cats are sent to rescues or shelters if a friend or family cannot take them in. Those lucky enough to find housing that accommodates small dogs must sadly relinquish any big dogs. Kelley added that big dogs are the most common type of intake now.

Kathy Bissell, founder of the BISSELL Pet Foundation, agreed in a recent blog that the inflation issue is resulting in owner surrenders, creating overcrowding and struggles for understaffed shelters. Other factors she cited for relinquishments include significant hikes in the overall costs of living, dog food, and veterinarian services. She expanded on Kelly’s big dog’s intake numbers, noting that they’re slower to be adopted, leaving them in the shelters longer.

The lack of adoptions and available foster homes in shelters across the country equal many animals awaiting homes. For example, Cincinnati Animal CARE (OH) took in six hundred animals in May of 2022. While two hundred animals went to foster care, they resorted to crating the others due to space. Part of the overflow problem was because college students who fostered and volunteered moved home. Texas’ Harris County Pets Animal Shelter (TX) reported being overcapacity and understaffed, with factors including fewer adoptions as people returned to work as the pandemic subsides.

Kasey Bielecki, Marketing and Public Relations Manager for Pope Memorial Humane Society of Thomaston said recently that they had thirty-three dogs currently in their care. “We have quite a few dogs that require specific homes,” she said, meaning this also increases shelter stays.   

Additionally, Bielecki said they worked with eight other state shelters and rescued about one hundred Beagles from the thousands pulled from the breeding facility in Virginia by HSUS in September. This may add to overcrowding, but they will not turn their backs on dogs in need. The other groups involved are the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston, the Animal Welfare Society in Kennebunk, the Franklin County Humane Society in Farmington, Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta, the PAWS Animal Adoption Center in Camden, the Responsible Pet Care of Oxford Hills in South Paris, Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, and Tall Tails Beagle Rescue in Mechanic Falls.

AWS’s Kelley summed up the problem: “Adoptions are down all over, yet the need for shelter services continues to increase as Maine's housing issues and looming economic instability become more apparent, increasing the number of people who cannot afford their pets' medical care or cannot have a pet in their home.”

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