Kansas shelters grapple with capacity crisis as pandemic-related pet returns increase

By: - July 30, 2021 8:02 am

Hank was born in the care of Melissa’s Second Chances and adopted at 8 weeks old during the pandemic. He was returned as an 8-month-old puppy. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — An influx of returned pets adopted during the pandemic is pushing pet shelters across the state beyond capacity.

For some shelters, this is business as usual during the summer months, but others are attributing the influx of pets to owners returning animals as they return to work in the office or face financial hardships. All are encouraging Kansans to consider ways they can help relieve the capacity crisis.

At Melissa’s Second Chances, a Shawnee pet shelter, the capacity for total cats and dogs is 80, but right now, there are close to 150 pets there. That is down from nearly 180 pets just a few weeks ago but still leaving staff and resources stretched thin.

Kaitlin Thompson, a spokeswoman for Melissa’s Second Chances, attributed this surge to an increase in dogs adopted as puppies during the pandemic now being returned as adults. Reasons for these returns range from financial hardship to changing lifestyle to just a lack of fit between pet and owner.

Thompson said in many cases, these dogs return to the shelter with behavioral or social issues developed after staying inside with their owners and not socializing with other dogs or spending time by themselves. They’ve also seen an influx in kittens after trap-neuter-return services were rolled back and, in some cases, stopped altogether.

“I lose a lot of sleep wondering how I’m going to get all of these kittens and puppies into homes. I really don’t know how I’m going to do it, honestly,” Thompson said. “Every kennel in the shelter is full right now, so even if somebody had a terrible emergency and needed a dog taken, we would have to beg for a foster.”

According to a 2020 Shelter Animals Count Report, there were 23% fewer animals relinquished by their owners, 27% fewer strays and 22% fewer animals in need of sheltering overall in 2020 than in 2019. With fewer animals entering the shelter system, there were also 17% fewer adoptions across reporting agencies.

Thompson said now that there is a need, they are having a difficult time finding people interested in adopting or serving as a foster home. This year, the shelter has adopted out just 434 pets, down from more than 1,400 last year.

Boomer is a 10-week-old Terrier mix at Helping Hands Humane Society in Topeka. A spokeswoman for the shelter said its current pet population is typical for this time of year, and the shelter is encouraging Kansans to adopt or foster. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

In Wichita, the Kansas Humane Society said it was facing a capacity crisis, with almost 400 pets in its care. In a pinned Facebook post from July 14, the shelter pleaded that Kansans consider adopting or becoming part of its foster system.

“Please wait to surrender your pets, it will save lives!,” the organization wrote in its post. “Our admissions are by appointment, and we have no available appointments or open kennels left. If you need to rehome your pet immediately, please check with friends and family, or try posting your pet on https://rehome.adoptapet.com/.”

For Helping Hands Humane Society in Topeka, being at or near capacity this time of year is common. This year is not even the highest pet population it has housed.

Emi Griess, a spokeswoman for Helping Hands Humane Society, said the organization hasn’t seen an unusual number of returns either. Still, she urged Kansans to consider ways they can help relieve pressure from shelters — through adoption, fostering or a donation.

For those considering returning pets adopted during the pandemic, shelter staff offered some alternatives to leaving a cat or dog at their door. For example, Melissa’s Second Chances will provide monetary assistance for training with a professional if a dog’s behavior is the issue.

Shannon Wells, executive director of the Lawrence Humane Society, said services in the community are becoming more focused on helping pet owners with their current situation rather than finding a new home for pets. She said there also are many tools available for pet owners to responsibly rehome their pets themselves.

“A lot of time when people come to the shelter, they’ve already emotionally grappled with the idea of having to give up the pet,” Wells said. “Being proactive, looking for resources as early as possible may offer some alternative solutions.”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.