Shelters face capacity crisis as ‘pandemic pets’ get abandoned

After an increase in animal adoptions during the pandemic, there is now an overwhelming number of dogs being dumped, abandoned, and abused.
Updated: Nov. 3, 2022 at 11:00 PM EDT
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MID-MICHIGAN (WNEM) - It’s called “pandemic dog.”

It is a phenomenon not fully understood, but animal shelters are taking the brunt of the responsibility.

After an increase in animal adoptions during the pandemic, there is now an overwhelming number of dogs being dumped, abandoned, and abused.

Local shelters are bursting at the seams with dogs and are more desperate than ever for help.

“We are at a capacity crisis, no doubt,” said Bonnie Kanicki, director of the Saginaw County Animal Care and Control.

Throughout mid-Michigan, desperation is growing.

“I’ve always said, ‘it can’t get worse. It can’t get worse.’ I was absolutely wrong,” said Olivia Shields, acting manager of Bay County Animal Control.

Saginaw County has recently seen as many as 17 dogs dumped in one day.

“The ones that are abandoned and left in homes where the residents are evicted, they are left in garages, barns. They’re tied out in backyards. They’re left in the terrible elements – the rain, now the cold is coming,” Kanicki said.

Shelters in Bay, Midland, Shiawassee, and Saginaw counties – as well as many others across the state and country – do not have room to take them in.

“Many times, our volunteers and staff will check a dog in on our inventory and foster in our own homes because we have no room here. That’s how dedicated our people are,” Kanicki said.

When shelters are not immediately able to take a canine, they are seeing them abandoned at a rate they can barely handle.

“We can get 10 out, but we still get 12 back in,” Kanicki said.

She said it’s a lot for her staff.

“We actually have a very small staff to serve a very large demand of the county,” Kanicki said. “And we get them neglected, broken, injured, hit by a car, in need of medical attention, heart worm positive. We get them in situations, no fault of their own, many by human failure.”

The question is, why is this happening now?

“Is it inflation? I don’t know that anybody can answer that. We have the ‘pandemic dog’ that they called it, that I didn’t think was a real term. It turns out to be. A lot of the dogs are 2-years-old that are, seem to be, no longer wanted. So, I think that’s what we’re seeing,” Shields said.

More than 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic. That’s about one in every five households. As people returned to work in person and costs for dog care increased, that trend has reversed, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Animals are being abandoned and dumped every single day; more than shelter workers have ever seen. There is not enough room at shelters for the dogs and cats.

“You have to get creative now because it is just hard all over,” Shields said.

Bay City officials are pulling in outside help from national groups and social media.

“A lot of activities, ice bucket challenge, pies to the face. There is just so much that goes on that makes it unique,” said Kris Rotonda, president of Jordan’s Way.

Bay City officials are raising money for a bigger shelter and asking voters to pass a millage for more funds this mid-term election.

“I’m not kidding when I say we have, every day somebody calls to surrender their pet. So, it’s just incredible. It’s exhausting for the counter staff because we have to say no, and it’s heartbreaking for everybody involved,” Shields said.

There is also a rise in disease.

“We’re seeing more flea infestations. We have animals that are coming in hairless because of fleas. We have people who can’t afford to vaccinate. They can’t afford flea treatment. So, we are going to more neglect and cruelty cases,” Shields said.

Saginaw County has created a robust adoption program in hopes it will get them through until they are able to move into a larger shelter in March. In the meantime, they are asking for patience.

“We ask people if they call and we can’t physically put up another temporary crate, we ask them to hold it for three days, five days. Give us a little bit of time to try to make room,” Kanicki said.

They are anticipating even more dogs once winter comes.

“People are desperate and right, wrong, or however it may be, the animals are the ones to take the brunt of it,” Shields said.

People caused this problem, and they will also have to be the solution.

“I think we forget that there are pets, good pets, sitting in cages in these shelters,” Shields said.