Pet shelters in Sarasota and Manatee counties are employing educational and other measures to prevent animals from reaching their doors as owners nationwide give up their furry friends following a pandemic-fueled adoption trend.
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Increasing costs and a nationwide shortage of veterinarians also contribute to the new trend, local pet shelter officials say.
“Rehome requests have taken an uptick here in the Sarasota area,” said Jamie Limoges, director of marketing and engagement at the Humane Society of Sarasota County. “The number of people who are needing to rehome their pet due to their living situation is on the rise, and that can be from high pet deposits, high pet rent, breed restrictions, weight restrictions, and the number of animals that you can have.”
Lt. Paul Cernansky of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the county’s animal shelter, says the vet shortage results in fewer animals being spayed or neutered, leaving room for an increasing animal population. Manatee County Animal Welfare Chief Sarah Brown says the vet shortage, combined with “COVID pets” and increasing costs, has resulted in overcrowding.
“As we see those numbers creep up and creep up, we’re seeing a bottleneck with getting animals in and out of the facility,” said Brown, “and it’s becoming an overcrowding issue on a daily basis.”
The Humane Society and both counties all emphasize up-front education to prepare would-be adopters for the commitment they’re accepting with a pet.
Sarasota County’s Animal Services Shelter recently had 110 pets available for adoption, but they also outsource many animals to local rescue partners. The Humane Society is one of those partners, and with 200 animals available for adoption, the shelter is feeling the impacts of intake increases.
None of the organizations interviewed euthanize animals for space, only for health reasons, officials said. So space is at a premium.
Older animals, large dogs or dogs of certain breeds, often pit bull terriers or mixes with that breed, typically remain in shelters the longest.
At Manatee County Animal Welfare’s dog adoption center in Palmetto, Indigo has been waiting nearly four years. She’s one of nine dogs in the care of Manatee County Animal Welfare for over a year, and four more will reach that milestone by the end of 2023. All weigh more than 50 pounds and are mixed breed.
“People have their stereotypes about it, even though we know that they’re loving, amazing dogs,” said Brown. “There are those breed restrictions out there that prohibit people from having them, so there’s a high demand for small dogs. We get pretty stagnant with a 50-pound plus (pit bull) type dog.”
Brown recognizes that breed stereotypes and changing housing restrictions are an ongoing battle, but she says it’s a conversation worth having.
“We treat all of our dogs as individuals, we treat our cats as individuals,” said Brown. “We do a lot of behavior observation here, behavior modifications, and really working to make these dogs as adoptable as possible. So, you know, not treating them as individuals is just hurting these dogs that really deserve a second chance at a forever home.”
In the meantime, she says Manatee County is focusing on other ways to help keep animals in their homes and out of shelters. Pet food pantries often accept donations to allow cash-strapped owners to still feed their pets.
On the adoption side, Manatee County recently announced it would waive adoption fees for an undetermined period.
Manatee also designated three new field officers to work with the community to identify pet-related needs. Other projects under consideration: a tele-health vet service and post-adoption training to help both owners and pets transition into their new lives.
Sarah Owens is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. Connect with her at [email protected].