CEDAR CITY — An influx of calls, messages and visits from people looking to surrender their pets has put Cedar City animal shelters under pressure.
Tom Byrd, a county detective who works with the Iron County Sheriff Department Animal Shelter, said the shelter’s seen an increase of owner surrenders the last few months, receiving as many as 30 calls from mid-January through February. He noted that the number of strays they’ve picked up is on par with the number of voluntarily surrendered pets.
Brittany McCabe, the shelter manager at Cedar City Animal Adoption Center said they are experiencing a similar influx of surrendered pets.
“At least half of our adoptable kennels are from owner surrenders and we have several cats that are, too,” she said.
What is driving the influx of surrendered pets?
Neither McCabe nor Byrd could confirm a reason for the increasing numbers of abandoned pets and owner surrenders.
“If you asked my opinion on what’s causing it, I think it’s just the housing crisis,” Byrd said. “The majority of people can’t afford to own their own homes anymore, so they’re forced to rent and a lot of rentals don’t allow animals.”
He noted that the shelter also saw an influx of stray and surrendered animals during the 2008 recession.
“I just think that times are tough for people right now and they gotta decide at the end of the day who they’re going to feed. It’s gonna be themselves,” Byrd said.
McCabe said that some pet owners are surrendering pets they adopted when many workplaces were shut down due to the pandemic. Now that many employees are returning to in-person work, they have less time to care for their pets.
People often adopt puppies during the holidays and surrender them to shelters a few months later after realizing how much care they need, McCabe added.
Byrd said he doesn’t foresee the number of strays and surrendered pets going down, adding that the shelter will continue to educate people on how to rehome their pets responsibly.
Shelters and staff under pressure
Iron County Sheriff Animal Shelter is a no-kill shelter with just 15 available kennels, so space is limited.
“We’re almost at max capacity all the time,” Byrd said.
McCabe said the center’s employees are experiencing burnout due to the additional stress.
“We can’t take in animals that need help and that’s burning out the staff because right now we have a lot,” she said. “I have the numbers here but I’m the only full-time (employee), and I have four part-timers and you get burned out. We work seven days a week – you can’t just take a day off with animal care.”
Rehoming and adoption
Pet owners should attempt to rehome their pets themselves through social media before surrendering them, Byrd said. Additionally, he suggests interviewing potential new owners to ensure they can responsibly care for a pet.
McCabe said surrendering a pet should be a last resort.
“When you adopt a pet you are intending to keep them for their whole life,” she said. “(If you decide to rehome them), contact anyone you know … advertise, because there’s plenty of places you can rehome.”
It’s hard on pets when they’re surrendered, she added.
“It’s hard on them going from a home that they’ve been in for three years to come into a shelter,” she said. “They do get depressed; we see it.”
Owners are the best people to choose a new home because they know their pet and its needs better than anyone else, McCabe said. Additionally, she suggests that those who need to rehome a pet should avoid adopting another until they are in a stable situation.
“And you’re in a place where you’re sure you can keep them for the rest of their life,” McCabe said, “because you don’t want to have to go through that again. It’s hard on the owner but it’s also hard on the animal too.”
Researching pet care commitments
McCabe suggests that people who are considering pet adoption research the time and money commitments required, including the cost of pet food and vaccinations.
Additionally, spay and neutral awareness is essential, McCabe said. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary reopened their Kanab-based spay and neuter clinic to the public, she added.
In a Facebook post March 7, Iron County Sheriff’s Animal Shelter suggested locals visit the Humane Society of Utah St. George Clinic, which offers vaccine and spay/neuter services.
“People don’t realize it just takes one time of your dog getting out to come back pregnant,” McCabe said. “The intact cats and dogs are the ones who run the most, especially this time of year. I mean, I’ve got two pregnant cats right now that are about to give birth at any moment and then I have two litters.”
Supporting the shelters
Both the Iron County Sheriff’s Animal Shelter and the Cedar City Animal Adoption Center said they might consider instituting a foster program to alleviate capacity-related pressure if current conditions don’t improve. Iron County Sheriff’s Animal Shelter has had volunteers foster pets on a case-by-case basis in the past, typically for pets that require medical care.
McCabe said that organizing a pet fostering program will take time, in part because shelters must follow city policies and ordinances.
Byrd said citizens can support the shelters by volunteering their time for pet care and shelter maintenance or by contributing monetary donations to support the animals’ medical needs.
McCabe said she receives “folders full” of volunteer applications but many don’t arrive for shifts, adding that the shelter would benefit from the help.
The Cedar City Animal Adoption Center is open Monday through Friday 10 am-5 pm and Saturday 9 am-1 pm McCabe said that if they experience unexpected closures they’ll post the change on their Facebook page. The center is located at 1303 Kitty Hawk Drive.
Additionally, the Cedar City Animal Adoption Center is participating in an adopt-a-thon, hosted by Petsense on May 14 from 10 am-4 pm McCabe noted that Petsense is still searching for pet-related vendors for the event.
Citizens interested in adopting a dog from the Iron County Sheriff Animal Shelter will need to get an appointment by calling 435-867-7618. Those interested in volunteering can call the shelter at 435-867-7500.
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