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“We are flooded”: animal shelters are overflowing in the United States

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In the lobby of the Inland Valley Humane Society & SPCA shelter in Pomona, Nikole Bresciani pointed to rows of kennels erected a few months ago to accommodate an influx of stray cats. In another area, pop-up dog crates were stacked on wheels.

For Bresciani, the shelter’s president and CEO, it was further evidence of the flood of animals entering the facility since the COVID lockdown.

“We’re inundated,” she says of her organization, which provides shelter services to a dozen towns in the region. “We never had cat kennels in the lobby.”

An overpopulation crisis has gripped animal shelters across the state and across the country, exacerbated by a shortage of veterinarians, the high cost of caring for animals and the overburdening of rescue organizations, which traditionally take care of the surplus from shelters and rely largely on volunteers to welcome the animals. Their houses.

New York City Animal Care Centers, which runs the city’s public animal shelters, announced in October that it was closing for most dog abandonments because it was too full. Earlier this year, shelters in North Carolina and Texas also temporarily suspended most admissions for similar reasons.

“We are running out of space for new arrivals,” the New York City organization said on its website, asking people to take stray dogs into their homes rather than to a shelter.

Bryant Salas, left, gives a dog a break in his stacked kennel at the Inland Valley Humane Society shelter while fellow animal care technician Eric Lopez cleans it.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Adoptions are not keeping up with the number of dogs arriving, leading to higher euthanasia rates, according to Shelter Animals Count, a nonprofit organization that tracks shelter statistics at national scale. In California, 9% of dogs housed in government-run or contracted shelters and rescue organizations were put down between January and October of last year, and 13% were put down through October of this year. according to the group’s online database. The numbers are similar nationally.

“We can’t get the animals out fast enough,” said Cynthia Rigney, board president of the San Gabriel Valley Humane Society, which shelters homeless animals from Temple City, San Gabriel and Duarte. “We are all under fire. It’s a mess.”

At the seven shelters run by the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, pandemic and “managed admission” protocols that limited dog admissions This led to a drop in the number of dogs in kennels and euthanasias in 2020 and 2021. But these numbers have since increased.

Many clinics considered animal sterilization non-essential during the height of the pandemic and reduced the performance of these procedures. Now, shelters say they are seeing more pregnant dogs and more puppies.

Rigney said backyard breeding also increased after the pandemic began, particularly that of larger dogs that require a higher level of maintenance.

“Adorable little huskies grow up to be big husky dogs – they need to be trained and walked,” she said, adding that they are among the dogs that end up in shelters. “We’re mostly filled with big dogs.”

To address overpopulation, the Los Angeles City Council recently decided to suspend new dog breeding permits until the six shelters it runs are reduced to 75% capacity for three consecutive months.

Cats available for adoption in temporary kennels in the lobby of the Inland Valley Humane Society shelter.

Cats available for adoption in temporary kennels in the lobby of the Inland Valley Humane Society shelter. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Two cats available for adoption sit in temporary kennels in the lobby of the Inland Valley Humane Society shelter.

Two cats available for adoption sit in temporary kennels in the lobby of the Inland Valley Humane Society shelter. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County considered doing the same thing, but in a recent report, Marcia Mayeda, director of the county’s Department of Animal Care and Control, advised against it, saying breeder litters did not lead to the shelters. Mayeda said that over the past decade, the department has issued a maximum of two breeding licenses per year. Meanwhile, the city of Los Angeles issued 2,152 licenses to breed dogs last year.

The city of Los Angeles has set itself the goal of saving at least 90% animals impounded. It has reached the benchmark for dogs in recent years, but not for cats, according to statistics published on its website.

His approach, however, attracts criticism who claim that keeping animals alive but locked in kennels in overcrowded conditions is inhumane and worse than peacefully euthanizing them.

In contrast, at the seven shelters run by LA County Animal Care and Control, the number of dogs put down nearly doubled between 2020 and 2022, surpassing pre-pandemic levels, even though there were fewer admissions l last year than before the pandemic.

Mayeda said her department is doing a better job offering resources to help owners keep their pets, and that animals arriving now are more likely to have medical or behavioral problems.

“The percentage of animals that come in with problems is higher,” Mayeda said. “It’s more likely that they will be euthanized – for very legitimate reasons.”

But records show more dogs are being put down in the county’s shelter system because of limited space and a lack of interest from adopters, particularly at shelters in Palmdale and Lancaster, where euthanasia rates are highest.

To address overpopulation, staff at the Inland Valley Humane Society have offered incentives to adopters and foster families, including waiving adoption fees, hosting adoption parties, and even giving away cards -$200 gifts to convince people to adopt animals.

“We constantly feel like we have to be very creative,” said MaryAna DeLosSantos, the organization’s director of operations. “This is uncharted territory.”

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