The Albuquerque Department of Animal Welfare expects 21,500 pets to arrive through city-run shelters by the end of the year. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Albuquerque shelters housed 17,000 to 18,000 pets annually.
Animal shelters across the country are still in crisis. In the early days of the pandemic, more people than usual visited their local shelters in both New Mexico and across the country.
People have adopted pets in response to requests to stay in place, to work remotely and to teach, some have said, out of sympathy for animals when the world seemed upside down.
But in the early days of the pandemic, veterinary services, including spaying and neutering, were cut back, leading to an explosion in pet numbers. By 2021, animal shelters in New Mexico and elsewhere will begin reporting crisis-level intakes, with fewer adopters and enhanced availability. Some said the decrease in the number of adopters and sponsors may have been due to the increase in adoptions and sponsorships in 2020, which led to a settlement period in 2021.
But now, at the end of 2022, animal shelters report that the crisis continues, with an increase in pet intakes, and a decrease in adopters and fosters. Some of the pets have been at the Albuquerque shelter for 6 to 12 months, said Caroline Ortega, director of animal welfare for the Albuquerque Department of Animal Welfare.
The reasons for the increase in intakes vary. Ortega cited high inflation as the main reason.
“Our surrender has gone up significantly. When they give up, we ask why and many people have said it is because of the economy. They are downsizing, moving out of houses into apartments, with family members, or becoming homeless. We are seeing more,” Ortega said. Of the people who really care about their pets, they don’t have the financial ability to take care of them.”
Another problem, said Jack Hagerman, CEO of the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society, is that the Santa Fe shelter has “too many large animals that lack community and are not desirable.”
“Big dogs are hard to put down. Housing is very tough in Santa Fe. A lot we need to put down will do fine with a yard. Some people don’t have a yard and can’t take a dog for walks three or four times a day. Part of the crisis is that those who need homes They can’t be easily marketed to the demographic of Santa Fe. “Their lifespan goes up,” he said.
The longer an animal, especially a dog, stays in a shelter environment, the more likely it is that it will develop emotional and behavioral problems. This can reduce their odds of being adopted and retained once approved. Hagerman told NM Political Report that the Santa Fe shelter recently had a resident pet who had been at the shelter for two years.
“We’ve had a longtime resident for two years, we finally got out recently. Everyone’s got their fingers on the stick. Although, when we finally get a rhino adopter, no one’s quite sure it’s going to be really successful. The longer the stay, the better. return increased.
Most adopters expect a short-term period of adjustment, Hagerman said, but some shelter animals have deep-rooted psychological issues and “need six to nine months to process those issues.”
“We spend a lot of time painting a picture of the wonderful care animals receive at the shelter,” Hagerman said.
“It’s a fact. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s institutionalized. For animals, it’s a traumatic event even if it’s only for a day. If they’re in a high arousal state long enough, the behavior will change. Just like humans. If you keep a human imprisoned long enough and then you let him out.” of the world, and I expected him to be successful, it doesn’t really work that way,” he said.
Although both the Santa Fe shelter and the Albuquerque shelter are defined as no-kill, shelters typically kill 5% and 10% of the animals, respectively, in a typical year. A no-kill shelter is defined as a shelter in which 90% of the animals that enter it are adopted. But Ortega said the rate of euthanasia has increased because of the crisis.
Ortega said the Albuquerque shelter is now around an 85% live release rate.
“We’re not proud of it. We know that other shelters have seen a much larger drop (in live release percentages). We’ve kept it because of our own process of how we got to this point; which made us reasonably different. Others have seen a big uptick,” she said.
The Santa Fe shelter has maintained its live release rate at 95%, Hagerman said, but he doesn’t know how long that will last.
We are in it for the animals in our care. We want the best for them. Sometimes what’s best for them is not to be in our shelter for too long.”
Hagerman said he’d like to rethink how we view shelters as a way to combat the problem.
“What we know from research is that 75% of people who give up aren’t because of a behavioral problem or because they don’t want a pet. They have severe resource issues and can’t take care of their pets responsibly anymore,” he said.
Hagermann’s model is trying to move to where individuals who deliver a pet to a shelter talk about the problem. If the individual is giving up due to a lack of resources, the shelter can help through a pet food bank, veterinary services, spaying or neutering at low or no cost, or vaccinations. Hagerman said he hopes to cut the number of surrendered animals in half by helping individuals and families keep their pets. Hagerman estimates that with the help of resources, it wouldn’t have to be 50% of the animals surrendered.
“So, the animals coming into the shelter are the ones that should be there,” he said.
Another crisis occurring, in part in response to the pandemic, is the shortage of veterinarians, which both Hagerman and Ortega say is acute. The problem is multifaceted, Hagerman said, with baby boomers reaching retirement age and not enough people to replace them in the field, as well as the pandemic affecting those still in the profession who no longer want to work long hours.
Hagerman said vets have the highest suicide rates of any industry. “It’s a really tough job,” he said.
The crisis in the field is also affecting adoptions, Hagerman said. He said he is seeing an increase in the number of pets who are injured or have chronic health issues being turned over.
“During the pandemic, interest in adoption increased when everyone was home. A lot of animals are going into homes, and that’s really good news for us. Society has really risen up to meet us with this challenge. Now, there are a lot of animals that need primary veterinary care and there aren’t that many.” From vets. People are struggling to get an appointment, the cost of care is going up. Now they probably can’t afford to pay for a very expensive orthopedic procedure, so they’re giving up at the shelter because they can’t afford it,” Hagerman said.
Inflation affects shelters, too. Hagerman said he will have to raise an additional $1 million because his budget has gone up. He’s looking into trying to solicit public money for the shelter. He also said he had to raise workers’ salaries to try to keep up with retail jobs that pay more and are easier to do.
Ortega also cited a shortage of workers as another problem with the Albuquerque shelter and its ability to provide quality animal care. She said shelter workers are experiencing what she calls “compassion fatigue” because they see no end in sight to give up while the shelter is overcrowded. She said the Albuquerque shelter currently has about 950 pets waiting to find loving homes.
“Never before have new staff experienced a shelter of this size,” Ortega said.
This article originally appeared in NM Political Report It is republished with permission.
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