Are shelters really empty? Continuing the effort to save animals during COVID-19

By on June 22, 2020

Early on in this pandemic, shelters and rescues realized how difficult things might become in adopting out their animals. Great campaigns and great people all over the country helped to “empty” many shelters knowing that social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and quarantines were getting to be normal and challenging practices.

You probably saw some cheery videos from shelters around the country that showed empty kennels and new adopters and grateful shelter workers. There’s no mistaking the fact that many stepped up to help animals and shelters that were going to be impacted by the prolonged health crisis. Many national stories even stated there was even a shortage of animals needing to be adopted. And while that might have been true at the time, it may not be true today, three-plus months later.

That’s why we’re glad to have seen a recent USA Today article that detailed the state of things as the pandemic carries on. The story highlighted the successful efforts by many to get adoptions rolling quickly and the accomplishments of shelters around the country able to empty kennels. It also urged folks to remember that shelters, especially ones charged with animal control like the Nebraska Humane Society, will never be empty.

The Nebraska Humane Society averages about 20,000 animals under its care per year. For a little perspective, imagine this:

One January 1, let’s say the shelter is empty. Given the average of animals that cross the shelter’s threshold yearly, we can assume that on January 2 there will be about 50 new animals that have entered the shelter.

Some number of those are strays that will be retrieved by their owners. Others will get scooped up by rescues, some will be adopted, and some number are euthanized (a fact of life in an animal control charged shelter). If a handful of animals are left at the end of the day, and another handful is left on the next, and next… it doesn’t take long for the shelter to fill again.

Knowing this, we can assume that most shelters would have filled since the surge of adoptions in March and April. Some continue to see low numbers as people keep adopting and fostering, but it’s difficult for everyone to continue that success month after month.

Some shelters were empty. Some might still be. Most others are not. Some that are still empty won’t stay that way forever without intervention from the public.

In short, take two things away from the above:

  1. People anticipated being lonely during the pandemic and realized many animals needed to be in new homes during the time of closure. Americans answered the call and much success was had.
  2. While that was a great story- and continues to be in some places- the need for homes for displaced animals never goes away. Keep adopting, keep fostering, and keep advocating for animals.

Looking for ways you can help animals, even if you can’t adopt or foster? See this list of things you can do today:

  1. If possible, adopt of foster.
  2. Donate to shelters in need.
  3. Share social media posts from your local shelters so others can see what’s needed and available.
  4. Develop a plan that will assure your pet can stay with you, even if the going gets rough. One problem shelters and rescues face is that adopted animals don’t always stay in the home that adopted them. Make sure you are ready to adopt. Also, make sure you can prevent your animal from returning to a shelter or rescue should you become unable to care for an animal for a period.

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