CINCINNATI, Ohio — In the early months of the pandemic, animal shelters were emptying out as people working at home were eager for more companionship. Now humane societies across the country report that trend is shifting.
In Hamilton County, a new rescue said they’ve seen the trend in just their first month running the county’s shelter.
Clermont Animal Care, which has run the neighboring county shelter for the past two and a half years, formed a second group this summer — Cincinnati Animal Care — to take over the aging SPCA shelter on the city’s north side.
The shelter officially opened in August and since then, Meghan Colville, the director of lifesaving services, said her staff has had their work cut out for them. The shelter’s been full or near full almost every day and she said animals keep coming in — particularly stray dogs.
The uptick has been so pronounced, Colville fears it could be part of a larger trend.
“It’s not unusual for people to turn in an animal as a stray, but it’s really theirs for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Sometimes they’re embarrassed about having to give up the pet, maybe they don’t want to pay a fee for it.”
Colville said the shelter takes the animals in anyway and they train their staff not to judge anyone for surrendering. Instead, their philosophy focuses on what the animal needs, what it would take to keep the animal in its home, and if there’s anyone else who can take the pet in rather than surrendering the animal to the shelter.
“If it’s just they can’t afford to feed their pet, we try to help,” Colville said.
Cincinnati Animal Care is a no-kill shelter, which means they try to ensure every dog who comes into their shelter leaves alive and in good health. Colville said keeping pets in their homes is just as important to that goal as rehoming them. So far, she said the strategy is working.
“What we’re seeing across the country is a higher level of live release rates or save rates,” she said. “More animals are being adopted and more animals are being saved because we’re removing those barriers to adoption and to home placement.”
According to Best Friends Animal Society, a national no-kill advocacy organization, roughly 86 percent of animals who come into Ohio shelters leave alive. In its first month of operation, Cincinnati Animal Care reports 98 percent of their rescues had live outcomes.
To keep up those numbers though, Colville said the shelter will need the community’s help. Adoptions make the biggest difference, but she said fosters are nearly as important.
“A lot of people have come in and adopted,” she said. “The problem is that animals keep coming.”
At this point, Colville said it’s too soon to know why, but she suspects evictions and economic concerns due to COVID-19 could be playing a role. If the trend continues, and adoptions don’t rise to meet the demand, the shelter may have to find temporary spaces to hold the animals or use smaller cages.
Colville said anything that gets the animals out of the shelter and into the community even temporarily, will help.