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Pet adoptions are not keeping pace with the number of animals coming in

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Across the country, animal shelters are overflowing. Adoptions are not keeping pace with the number of animals coming in, which is leading to worsening conditions and higher rates of euthanasia in many shelters. But as NPR's Julie Depenbrock reports, shelters are finding ways to innovate.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

JULIE DEPENBROCK, BYLINE: At a Humane Rescue Alliance shelter in northwest Washington, D.C., dogs over 40 pounds and older dogs make up the majority of lengthy stays - by shelter standards, over 30 days.

MAUREEN SOSA: Hi, Bobby (ph). Hi.

DEPENBROCK: Hello, hello.

SOSA: Hero - he's a nice boy.

DEPENBROCK: That's Maureen Sosa, director of pet support.

SOSA: Oh, they took your bed, honey. Aww.

DEPENBROCK: A lot of pit bulls.

SOSA: A lot of pit bulls - it's the popular dog in D.C., so we do see quite a few.

DEPENBROCK: When I visited this shelter late last year, many dogs had to be quarantined and walked separately in an effort to slow the spread of highly contagious canine influenza.

SOSA: It's been hard for everyone, I think, in this field. But, you know, we band together. We talk. We come up with ideas - see what works, what doesn't, and do what it takes.

DEPENBROCK: Today, Humane Rescue Alliance reports that their two shelters are now free of the flu, but due to the number of animals in their care, they are still seeing cases of upper respiratory infections. According to Shelter Animals Count, a nonprofit that collects data from nearly 7,000 animal shelters nationwide, intake is up 10% from 2021.

STEPHANIE FILER: Couple that with a shortage of staffing, decrease in funding, shortage of veterinarians across the country, and it's really this perfect storm.

DEPENBROCK: That's Stephanie Filer, executive director of Shelter Animals Count.

FILER: The majority of animals arrive at animal shelters because they were either surrendered by their owner, arrived as a stray, and then a very small percentage are due to cruelty, neglect, seizures.

SOSA: Filer says that return to work, rising food and vet costs and pet restrictions at rental properties have all played a role in the surge in unwanted dogs. President and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, Lisa LaFontaine, says their organization has had to reinvent how they do adoptions.

LISA LAFONTAINE: We are putting on the calendar a lot of offsite adoptions so that people don't necessarily have to come to this facility. They might see that adoptions are happening at a bookstore that they go to, or a restaurant or coffee shop that they go to. So we're trying to bring the animals to where people are.

DEPENBROCK: That's because people are not coming to shelters the way they did before the pandemic, she says.

LAFONTAINE: So what we need to do is figure out how are people acquiring pets and how can we be there when they're ready.

DEPENBROCK: So every dog that ends up at a shelter can hopefully find its match.

Julie Depenbrock, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Julie Depenbrock
Julie Depenbrock (she/her) is an assistant producer on Morning Edition. Previously, she worked at The Washington Post and on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show. Depenbrock holds a master's in journalism with a focus in investigative reporting from the University of Maryland. Before she became a journalist, she was a first grade teacher in Rosebud, South Dakota. Depenbrock double-majored in French and English at Lafayette College. She has a particular interest in covering education, LGBTQ issues and the environment. She loves dogs, hiking, yoga and reading books for work (and pleasure).