Here are six ways to help.
Adopt a pet.
The national pet adoption network depends on a steady supply of humans to adopt cats and dogs other humans have given up. Surveys suggest only 25 to 30 percent of American households acquire pets from shelters. If that figure rose by even a few percentage points, animal advocates say, the current crisis would ease.
Shelter pets ran in short supply in the early months of the pandemic, which led many families to look elsewhere. That shortage seeded a misguided notion that rescue animals are hard to find: They’re not.
“We’re actually seeing that from millennials, which is concerning,” said Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society.
Or, don’t adopt a pet.
Many pets sitting in shelters today belonged to families whose lifestyles changed dramatically when the COVID-19 pandemic receded, forcing millions of Americans out of their homes and back into offices.
Adopting a pet is akin to becoming a parent. Before you adopt, “take an honest stock of your own life,” said Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, a veterinarian near Toronto who serves as medical adviser to Rover.com, the pet-sitting and pet-walking service.
Adopting a pet and then surrendering it to a shelter is “worse than not adopting them,” she said.
Donate money or time to a shelter.
The nation’s animal shelters have suffered chronic staffing shortages since the start of the pandemic, owing to COVID-19 outbreaks and economic forces. Nonprofit shelters also tend to run short of funds.
Volunteering time or donating funds can help a shelter weather the overcrowding crisis.
“There are many jobs beyond helping strictly within a shelter,” said Hannah Stember of Best Friends. Crucial tasks include posting information on animals ready for adoption and arranging transport from overcrowded shelters to facilities with available space.
Overcrowded shelters rely on a network of foster parents to provide crucial extra space for animals awaiting adoption.
“Most people have a spare bathroom or spare room in their house,” said Castle, of Best Friends. “Just two weeks where you can have those kittens in your bathroom, caring for them and feeding them, I can’t tell you how much that helps the organization. If every American did that, it would solve the issue tomorrow.”
Neuter and spay.
Not all pet owners choose to neuter and spay, but the procedure prevents overpopulation in the dog and cat kingdoms.
Consider dog-walkers and pet-sitters.
In the peak pandemic years, pet owners “inadvertently raised a generation of puppies and kittens who know nothing other than 24-7 togetherness,” Greenstein said.
Now, humans are being prodded back to the office, a shift that can be disastrous for a pet. Despairing owners may feel they have no choice but to surrender the pet to a shelter.
“It really makes pet ownership much more realistic for people who are going back to work,” Greenstein said. “And these options didn’t exist many years ago.”