2021 has proven to be even more challenging for Rover and Whiskers than 2020, animal shelters across New Mexico report.
The main problem that primarily haunted all three animal shelters in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces in 2021 was an explosion in the pet population.
At least two animal shelter representatives, speaking with the NM Political Report, said that while there are likely several subsidiary reasons behind the pet population surge this year, the main reason could have been an unintended consequence of the state’s need to slow the spread of to protect the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic and to maintain the scarce personal protective equipment (PPE).
When the state restricted services to essential businesses and healthcare during the first three months of the pandemic, shelters and veterinary clinics stopped spaying and neutering pets in March, April, and May 2020. Dylan Moore, director of shelter operations for the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society, said the shelter had seen an influx of unclaimed pets from one year old to 16 month old this year.
“If you know what dogs and cats are doing, that’s 50 percent more animals out there that will produce more animals in the main breeding season (in 2020),” said Moore.
He said spay and neutering had decreased by 50 percent in Santa Fe by mid-2020. The pet population through mid-summer 2021 “was just insane,” he said.
More than one animal shelter representative named 2021 a “perfect storm” because not only was the number of uncollected pets overwhelming, but the number of adoptions for 2021 also fell.
Moore suspected that the reason for this could also have been a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic: Because in 2020 more people helped empty the accommodations in a flood of support, there were fewer people who were ready and ready in 2021 to adopt a new dog or cat.
“We know that every year in the community a certain number of people will adopt animals. Last year that number was out of whack. People were bored, lonely, isolated, so we borrowed adoptive parents from 2021 to pay the bill in 2020, ”Moore said.
Carolyn Ortega, director of the Albuquerque City Department of Animal Welfare, said the shelter had seen “a huge surge in surrender” in 2021.
She said the Albuquerque animal shelter, which has one facility on the west side and one on the east side, had three population increases in early 2021. She said that this meant the shelter had to keep animals in reception kennels and use every available space to house the unclaimed pets.
“We had to take immediate action. They’re usually in and out of the inlet area, but we had to keep them there longer than necessary. We had to use every inch of the kennel room and the pop-up kennel room, ”Ortega said.
She said the Albuquerque shelter had over 900 residents twice that year.
“It’s not the most convenient situation,” she said.
Clint Thacker, executive director of the Mesilla Valley Animal Services Center, said the Las Cruces shelter has been struggling with kittens this year.
“There has been no relief in kittenseason,” he said, adding that the mild winter contributed to “this taking so long” in 2021.
Shelters tend to see an increase in the kitten population in the spring, when cats traditionally breed.
Another factor that contributed to the pet population problem specific to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter was the lack of affordable housing in Santa Fe, Moore said.
“Anecdotally, we know that people who give up animals have to give them up because they have to move,” he said.
All three shelters talked about another contribution to the “perfect storm” of stress for shelters in 2021, namely the staff shortage. Moore said, “The great resignation is one thing in all industries.”
Moore said that despite offering 30 percent above the subsistence level of $ 12.32 an hour, the shelter has struggled to attract qualified candidates for jobs this year.
Moore said one factor contributing to the staff shortage is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Every job at a shelter involves engaging in some way with the public, and because of the pandemic, it creates fear, he said.
Ortega said the Albuquerque shelter has seen a large turnover of staff this year, in addition to difficulties finding replacements. She said the staff shortage was particularly severe on the dogs.
She said that the shelter’s staff are happy to give the dogs an “extra touch”, but with little staff “our priorities have to change”.
This is how the animals’ primary needs are met. The staff feed and water them, clean their kennels and give them their medication when needed.
But extras like play time, training time, long walks, and time to help shy dogs “make them adoptable” have fallen by the wayside for the time being.
“We haven’t been able to make an enrichment,” she said.
Ortega said the Albuquerque shelter has also had to stop providing cross-aid to other animal shelters. Moore said the same for the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.
“In 2020 we brought pets from Texas. But at the moment every rescue, every shelter is full, ”said Ortega.
Other challenges in 2021 included an increase in canine distemper at the Mesilla Valley shelter. Distemper can lead to death if not treated quickly, Thacker said.
Moore said the Santa Fe shelter had difficulty managing feline panleukopenia in the shelter’s kitten population last summer. Feline panleucopenia is fatal to kittens.
“This year it was out of control. We had to climb, ”he said.
The Albuquerque Animal Shelter has tried to stay ahead of the pet population problem by offering a free spay and neuter lottery for members of the community who qualify. She said the shelter has issued 1,500 vouchers since the program began in June 2020, and there are more left.
“We have 2,700 people who have signed up for this program. We’re working hard on that, ”she said.