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We Are in A Crisis, and You May Not Know About It: The Problem

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

I don't know about you, but it seems every morning I wake up, the world is experiencing a new crisis. The COVID-19 crisis, economic crisis, fuel crisis, and, let's not forget, global warming. Unfortunately, for animal lovers in the United States of America and worldwide, there's another crisis that I feel isn't being talked about enough.

What is the Crisis?

If you live in Houston, Texas, and follow the news, you may have seen a recent article about Harris County Pets published by the Houston Chronicle.

Dog in animal shelter
Faced with critical overcrowding that could endanger the lives of pets and humans, the shelter is waiving adoption fees for all dogs indefinitely and suspending intakes from the public through Nov. 4, according to a release from Harris County Public Health, which oversees the shelter. - Houston Chronicle

Harris County Pets isn't the only animal shelter going through this pandemic of overcrowding. Animal shelters across the country are having the same issues. Animal shelters are finding the need to euthanize animals for time and space because they have to, not because of their policies.

Due to the influx of owner surrenders and stray animals, animal shelters across the country are at max capacity. With outcome resources exhausted, animal shelters are having to euthanize animals due to a lack of space.

Take a look at a page from the 2022 Q3 report from Shelter Animals Count, an organization dedicated to collecting and sharing real numbers from animal shelters across the United States of America.

What do you see?

From the information included in this report, I see an increase in the number of animals entering the shelter and a very large decrease in the number of animals leaving the shelter.

National organizations such as Bissell Pet Foundation and Best Friends Animal Society are doing amazing work in funding the transportation of animals out of overflowing shelters and working with shelters to find solutions to their increased intake. But it's not enough. Why?

What is the Cause of the Crisis?

My colleagues and I have this discussion almost everyday. We're constantly debating over what could be causing so many families to surrender their dogs to animal shelters. We're continually asking ourselves, "how can there be so many stray animals in areas with an extra high population? Why aren't people adopting? Why is everyone giving their animals away? What's going on?!"

Some of the answers are clear, and some are more obscure. Here are a few points that we're taking into consideration.

Economic Downturn

As many know, the United States is going through an economic storm. Prices have increased, and many are having to make sacrifices to survive.

One of the first sacrifices made is the family pet.

Before the pandemic and the economic downturn, vet bills were costly. Many found themselves opening new credit accounts and pawning their most prized possessions just to cover the cost of care for their furry family member. However, when we found ourselves having issues with shipping and the production of goods, the cost of veterinary care and basic animal care skyrocketed.

With the state of the current economy, I know many people who are working two or three jobs just to stay in their homes and keep their families fed. Many of them are killing it and are financially stable for the first time in a long time.

Others, however, can't catch a break. With companies going under and falling bankrupt, their employees are suddenly without jobs and are struggling to scrape together $5 to put in their gas tank to get to an interview. How do you take care of an animal when you're life is a shadow of what it was?

At the last shelter I worked at as a rescue coordinator, I had a woman come in one day with her beautiful German short-haired pointer. She was young, in her early twenties, and had her Sonic uniform on for her upcoming shift. I immediately noticed her and felt drawn to approach her when her sad eyes met mine.

I smiled gently at her and ushered her to a nearby bench in the lobby, snagging a box of tissues on my way when I noticed her eyes fill with tears.

She was there to surrender her dog, and the devastation in her voice as she told me her story gives me chills to this day. She told me that she had been laid off from her second job and was evicted from her apartment. She had a place to live with friends, but her friends weren't happy with her high-energy pointer. With no family and no other friends willing to help her and her fur baby, she started living in her car.

What got to me the most was that she wasn't giving up the dog because she found that caring for a dog while living in her small, four-door sedan a challenge. The reason she was giving her dog up? "Living in a car is not fair to her," she told me tearfully. "How can I put her through that? How can I be a good dog mom when I can't even take care of myself?"

Many people around the country are suffering in the same way. People who were once soaring and living their best life are now being evicted, being laid off, and they're struggling to find work.

"Beloved pets are being given up or deserted by their families who, caught in a downward economic spiral by soaring rents, inflation and gas prices, are forced to make a terrible choice." - Florida Today

Veterinarian Shortage

Pet owners, animal shelters, and animal rescues are having an issue getting their hands on the main component of veterinary care - veterinarians.

Not only are places struggling to find veterinarians to hire, but people are also finding it extremely difficult to get their animals in to see a vet. Almost every vet hospital and clinic in the United States is facing an unparalleled shortage in staffing.

With the increase in pet adoptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for veterinary professionals increased right along with it. The stress put on vets and vet techs by pet owners and by the job itself forced many to leave the field altogether.

"In the pandemic, people forgot how to be a person,” says Melena McClure, an emergency vet who lives in Austin. - "The Great Veterinary Shortage," Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic

Without veterinary professionals readily available, animal shelters and rescues struggle to find surgery spots for spaying and neutering the animals in their care. Shelters that had originally offered the public low-cost surgery options are having to turn people, and their unaltered pets, away.

With fewer people able to get their pets altered, more people are finding themselves with pregnant animals. I think many are starting to realize that having litters of cute kittens and puppies isn't as cute as they thought it would be. And, with animal adoptions slowing down, what does someone do with a litter of 12 puppies that they can't get surgery for?

People Aren't Adopting Animals
Houston-area shelters have seen a significant drop in adoptions and fosters that is pushing facilities beyond critical capacity levels. - Rebecca Hennes, The Houston Chronicle

The public came through for homeless animals during the COVID-19 pandemic. When animal shelters and animal rescues advertised for the public to come in and find their quarantine buddy, those that were lonely or found that they had a lot of time on their hands jumped at the chance to help.

However, with many returning to the office, the cost of living going up, and the lack of vet care, looking for a new pet is the last thing families are interested in. Heck, a lot of people are trying to find a way to rehome the pet they already have!

Most animal shelters are even allowing the public to adopt animals for free just to entice people to come in, but the cost of animal care causes many potential adopters anxiety. The shelter I previously worked at started offering free adoptions in January, and the adoption number continued to tank at a rapid pace.

Don't get me wrong, some people are out there adopting animals from shelters. Every time I go visit a new shelter, I feel the need to bask in the joy that people and animals have when they realize that they now have their best friend. It makes everything worth it. But, unless animal shelters can have more adoptions than they do intakes, then they will continue to have a problem that will only get worse.

For the month of September, BARC Animal Shelter and Adoption Center took in 1,452 animals. Their total number of adoptions? 344 adoptions. 64 animals were returned to their owners, and 722 animals were sent to rescue organizations.

The rescue numbers don't seem so bad, though, right? That's more than half the number of animals that came in, so BARC should be sitting pretty and worry-free, shouldn't they?

Well, not exactly. Before 1,400 animals came into the facility that month, BARC already had 1,988 animals in custody. That means that BARC had to find placement for 3,440 animals just in the month of September.

Do you see the problem?

Rescues Can't Keep Up

The majority of animal rescues across the state get their animals from two places - owner surrenders and animal shelters. With animal shelters buckling under the weight of the high number of intakes, animal rescues are being pummeled with pleas from shelters.

I have worked with hundreds of animal rescue organizations, and they are some of the hardest-working people I have ever met. They will drive thousands of miles for one animal, and many of them will adjust their entire lives to do work that they probably won't get paid for. Rescuers will fight, cry, and bleed just so that a single animal can know love and stability.

And nothing breaks my heart more than having to say this: it's not enough.

Many animal rescues rely on donations to fund the cost of caring for the animal in their custody. Since we've already spoken about the increase in living costs nationwide, you probably know what I'm about to say. Donations have dropped astronomically for many rescues, to the point that many have had to shut down temporarily or indefinitely.

Donations aren't the only problem. Finding foster families and volunteers is almost as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. Animal rescues have created some of the most ingenious marketing campaigns that I have ever come across to convince families to foster and volunteer, but the result is a slight trickle of offers when they need a tsunami of them.


Those were just a few key factors contributing to the Animal Shelter Crisis of 2022. We haven't even touched on the stray animal problem, the car manufacturing problem (you wouldn't think that would affect animals, but it does), or the lack of community engagement. All of which are major players in the game.

We will get to them, though.


So What Do We Do Now?

Since I boast about the need for members of Stray Houston, to be honest and open with themselves and others, it's my duty to be honest with you.

I haven't the slightest freaking clue as to what could solve this crisis.

Of course, I have some ideas that could help temporarily relieve some pressure, such as:

  • Community education and resource programs

  • Fencing programs

  • Return to owner incentives

  • Low-cost microchip programs

  • Transportation of animals to other areas that aren't struggling as much

  • Incentives for veterinary professionals, such as tuition assistance and housing assistance

  • Mobile veterinary services

Those are just a few ideas that could temporarily allow animal professionals to take a deep breath but only for a minute. These are just band-aid fixes and won't help the looming issues that are affecting people nationwide.

How do we fix this? Can we solve the crisis without costing millions of animals their lives?


What do you think is the cause of the Animal Shelter Crisis?

  • Economic downturn

  • Not enough community resources

  • Lack of veterinary professionals for spay/neuter surgeries

  • The surge in adoption during COVID quarantine

You can vote for more than one answer.


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