Few adoptions, no fosters, full rescues: Ky. animal shelters struggle to find space amid ‘perfect storm’
Leaders at the Morgan County Animal Shelter in eastern Kentucky say it’s the worst they’ve seen it.
MIZE, Ky. (WKYT) - “Spay and neuter your pets” was the mantra of Bob Barker and remains the message preached by animal welfare advocates everywhere.
But some say that a growing struggle for space in animal shelters across the country shows that far too many pet owners are not listening.
Add in a number of other factors keeping shelters full - including increased intakes, decreased adoptions, and ongoing struggles to find willing fosters and rescue organizations with space - and the result is a situation in which some shelter workers fear they may have to make tough choices if things do not change.
“It’s just very mentally challenging to think, ‘Are we going to have to go in here and euthanize some of these awesome dogs to make room for more?’” said Kathy Sexton, director of the Morgan County Animal Shelter outside West Liberty. “We just don’t want to do it.”
The kennels are full, and so are the crates that line another one, as the shelter takes in more dogs and has fewer finding homes.
The staff has gotten to know the dogs well - “We know everything about them,” Sexton said - as the durations of their stays have also lengthened.
Maverick, for example, has been there since June 13. Murphy, since April 4. And Buster? He arrived September 15, 2021 - the first time the shelter has ever had a dog stay for more than a year, Sexton said.
For shelters like the one in Morgan County, the struggle for space is not necessarily a new one. But something - or some things - has changed.
“[Before] we would have waves of a lot of dogs coming in, but we could get a lot of dogs out,” Sexton said. “For the past six months, we keep getting them in, but we can’t get them out.”
Not only are they seeing more owners surrender their dogs, and maybe double or triple the number of strays they once found, Sexton said - a number that could also include owners “unofficially” surrendering their dogs - but over the first three weeks of September, Sexton’s shelter saw only eight dogs leave: four pulled by outside rescue groups and another four adopted.
The number is so low that Morgan County is currently keeping a waiting list for owners wanting to surrender their pets and for other folks trying to turn in found strays.
“I will ask these people, ‘Will you please hang on to this stray or these puppies?” Sexton said. “’We’ll even give you some dog food if you’ll give us time to move a few out and then I will send the animal control officer out right away to pick them up.’”
Part of the problem is that many of the out-of-state rescues Sexton often worked with and relied on to get dogs out of the shelter environment and improve their chances of getting adopted are now full, too, proof that the problem goes well beyond the borders of Kentucky.
“It’s no one thing that is the issue or the problem,” Angela Rovetto told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer, “and just like the same, there’s no one solution that’s going to be the be-all, end-all.”
Rovetto is a senior strategist for the East region with Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal welfare non-profit whose goal is to end preventable shelter deaths by 2025.
Rovetto says they see situations similar to Morgan County’s all across the country right now.
“There’s only a fixed number of kennels in any shelter, and it doesn’t matter how much money you have, how beautiful the place might be, or the opposite end of that,” Rovetto said, “when the need is greater than the have, you kind of have to figure out some different things.”
The rise in pet ownership during the pandemic has been well documented. Now with ongoing inflationary pressures and other economic uncertainties, some experts believe more people may be having to make difficult financial decisions, which not only could be responsible in part for the increase in surrenders, but also for a slowdown of adoptions and fostering.
“In the past we’ve had more of a ‘normal’ sense of things, and we had the wheels moving, and we had more folks readily able to foster and volunteer and adopt, but right now everybody’s wondering what’s next, what’s normal,” Rovetto said. “And when there’s that hesitation, we’re seeing some of the positive-outcome channels slow down. That’s creating some of this feeling of crisis that we’re seeing felt in our shelters.”
In Morgan County, workers go to great lengths to help the animals. Recently, they rescued two stray puppies spotted in a roadside culvert.
But then what?
“There is literally nowhere to send all of these unwanted dogs,” Sexton said.
Thankfully, she was able to get some help this time. Those two puppies pulled from the culvert have now been pulled from the shelter. They were among several being sent to a humane society in New Jersey.
But between the animals already overfilling the shelter and the waiting list for more, the kennels they leave behind are already accounted for the second they leave the lot.
It all highlights the importance, Sexton said, of having your pets spayed or neutered.
“It’s not a shelter problem,” Sexton said. “It’s a society problem.”
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