cat in cage.
Buying from a breeder rather than adopting from a shelter further contributes to the problem of pet overpopulation. (Image Credit: Thomas Park on Unsplash)

Our LA correspondent reports on the sharp rise in abandoned pets in the US and how it is being tackled

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, shelters across the world have seen a significant rise in the number of animals being surrendered.

A sharp increase in puppy purchasing was witnessed during 2020, with many first-time dog owners acquiring puppies to help improve their mental health during this challenging period.

The RSPCA reported a 24% increase in pets being abandoned in 2022 due to the cost-of-living crisis.

This increased animal shelter intake was also a problem here in the US, with 4% more animals entering shelters than leaving.

Many people who adopted pets during the pandemic can no longer afford to keep them, and unchecked breeding has further contributed to the problem.

This surge has led to overcrowded facilities, with shelters struggling to provide adequate care for the influx of homeless pets.

The strain on shelters is exacerbated by a shortage of veterinary professionals, making it even more challenging to provide essential care for the growing number of animals.

Addressing this shortage is essential for improving animal welfare and ensuring that shelters can continue to operate effectively.

In response to this crisis, animal shelters across the Golden State took part in California’s first-ever Adopt-a-Pet Day on June 1.

Organised by CalAnimals, the ASPCA, and the San Francisco SPCA, it aimed to raise awareness and make pet adoptions more affordable and accessible by waiving adoption fees for a day.

More than 150 shelters participated with thousands of animals up for adoption.

Adoption fees were paid for by the ASPCA, in partnership with CalAnimals, and all cats and dogs were spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped before being adopted.

One shelter in California highlighted the severe overcrowding they were facing.

“We were motivated by the need to help the animals in our care find forever homes, especially our large dogs,” says Kyele Donnelly, marketing and communications manager for Palm Springs Animal Shelter.

‘We were operating at over 200% capacity’

“The US is facing a crisis of overpopulation in animal shelters, and ours is no different,” she says.

“We were operating at over 200% capacity. It was getting worse and worse by the day.”

The initiative proved to be a resounding success, with Palm Springs Animal Shelter alone managing to adopt out 40 animals in a single day.

“Adopting out 40 animals in one day is huge,” Kyele says, emphasising the significant impact such events can have on alleviating the strain on shelter resources.

Importantly, the shelter maintained their rigorous adoption process despite waiving the fees.

“We do the same process regardless of free adoptions or normal adoptions. We communicate with the potential adopters, ask background questions, make sure they meet the animal, and understand their needs,” says Kyele.

Dog with ball in mouth.
Severe shortage of veterinarians available to perform spay and neuter services has created an overcrowding crisis at animal shelters in California, causing around 100,000 animals to be unnecessarily euthanised each year. (Credit: Anna Dudkova)

She adds that the shelter also makes adopters aware of follow-up services they provide to ensure these animals are taken care of.

This approach ensures that the animals go to suitable homes where they will receive proper care.

‘this initiative helps these animals find the homes they deserve’

The success of California’s Adopt-a-Pet Day underscores the potential benefits of similar initiatives elsewhere.

By following the ‘adopt don’t shop’ approach, people can play a crucial role in addressing the overpopulation crisis and providing loving homes for animals in need.

Adopt-a-Pet Day’s benefits extended beyond immediate relief for shelters.

It helped raise public awareness about the plight of homeless animals and the importance of spaying and neutering pets to prevent unwanted litters, which contributes to the overpopulation problem.

By educating potential pet owners about the responsibilities and costs of pet ownership, shelters can reduce the number of animals being abandoned due to financial constraints or unrealistic expectations.

Preventing unwanted litters not only lessens the strain on shelters, it also eases the pressure on the limited veterinary resources available.

“We believe this initiative should be introduced to other places as it helps these animals find the homes they deserve,” says Kyele.