Utah animal shelters return to normal capacity

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A worker at Best Friends Animal Society holds a puppy. Animal shelters such as Best Friends experienced an increase of adoptions in 2020 but are now returning to normal capacity and adoption rates. (Best Friends Animal Society)

Animal shelters experienced a massive increase in pet adoptions and pet fostering during the pandemic and some shelters in Utah were almost empty of animals. Now animal shelters are returning to their normal capacity because of less pet fosters rather than high rates of pet surrenders.

Guinnevere Shuster, associate director of marketing and communications for the Humane Society of Utah, said the Humane Society of Utah has not experienced higher rates of people returning animals post COVID-19 and the return rate this year is almost the exact same as 2019’s rate.

She said while the most common reason in 2021 for people surrendering their animals back to the shelter is because of a lack of pet-friendly housing, there hasn’t been an influx of surrenders at the Humane Society of Utah.

During the pandemic the Humane Society of Utah wanted to have as few animals as possible, Shuster said. Normally animals at the Humane Society are only fostered when there is a medical or other extraneous need keeping the animal from being available for adoption.

When COVID-19 hit, however, Shuster said the Humane Society of Utah tried to get every animal into a foster home and once the animal was in a foster home, it was still available for adoption. Because of this change, the shelter had significantly less animals there during 2020, Shuster said. Now the Humane Society is shifting back to need-based fostering and more animals are staying in the shelter again until they are adopted.

Shuster said using need-based fostering is healthier for the animal as the animal will only have to adjust to one family after a short time in the shelter compared to bouncing around foster homes until official adoption has occurred.

With foster homes decreasing in number, animal shelters like the Humane Society of Utah are likely to start filling up again, Shuster said. She also said comparing this year’s rates of surrenders and animals being taken in to last year’s rates is difficult because 2020 was such a unique situation for pet adoptions and pet fostering.

Public relations manager for Best Friends Animal Society Temma Martin said at the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Salt Lake City there was also an increase in fostering and adoption in 2020. Best Friends Animal Society had 670 pets go into foster homes in 2020 compared to only 209 pets in 2019. There were also 413 adoptions in 2020 and only 140 in 2019.

Both Shuster and Martin referred to data from 24PetWatch about national animal shelter statistics and said the data shows overall, there are not increasing rates of pet surrenders when comparing 2019 to 2021. This data also suggests several factors that are contributing to shelters becoming more busy, such as the public returning to work, increased costs for veterinary needs and more.

Martin said at Best Friends Animal Society the return rate of pets was actually lower in 2021 compared to 2020. This year there were 46 pet returns from April to May but 2020 experienced 73 returns in the same two months.

Martin said some shelters in the country are experiencing an increase in pet surrenders, but “Fortunately, not all shelters in Utah are experiencing this.”

According to Martin, Best Friends Animal Society said in a media release that their owner surrenders in 2021 were up 82.6% from 2020, but down 12.5% of 2019’s. Martin said their returns had a similar increase with 50% more compared to 2020, but 30% less compared to 2019.

As a national leader in animal welfare, Best Friends Animal Society urges pet owners to prepare for lifestyle changes and make responsible choices as life slowly begins to return to some sort of normal, Martin said. “Now is the time to plan ahead and work through potential issues to keep pets in their homes and out of shelters.” 

The Daily Universe reached out to several other local shelters to learn their situations and pet trends, but received no response.

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