Fort Worth’s animal shelters are packed and euthanasia rates are climbing. How to help

Amanda McCoy/
·4 min read

As the capacity at Fort Worth’s animal shelters stretches beyond its limits and its euthanasia rate rises, Code Compliance is asking potential pet owners to make the city shelters a go-to spot to adopt.

The capacity issue isn’t unique to the city. Shelters across the region are taking in and holding more dogs than they’re adopting out and fostering, said Code Compliance director Brandon Bennett.

Fort Worth can have 1,100 animals at a time in its shelters. The shelters are running at capacity every day, Bennett said.

“We cannot go over capacity at the shelter,” Bennett said. “There’s limited space and it’s inhumane to keep animals for a long period of time in a small kennel or cage, and then you also have to have the right number of staff to care for the right number of animals.”

The capacity issue is largely being driven by people giving up their animals, and theories for the returns are endless. One, Bennett said, is that pet owners who adopted during the pandemic and have returned to work are locking up their animals most of the day, leading to behavioral issues or a realization the owner can’t care for the pet anymore.

Others find it is too expensive to keep a pet or they leave their pets behind when they move, Bennett said.

Mallory Dunaway, who has volunteered at the south campus shelter for nearly 10 years, has 12 dogs at home, all from the shelter. Five are her own, and she’s searching for homes for the other seven she fosters.

Dunaway said the people she has met at the south shelter who surrendered their animal ran into issues with housing or vacation. One day, she saw 43 dogs come in to the shelter. On another, she saw between 82 and 90.

Distemper, a viral disease that spreads among dogs, is up in Fort Worth and other shelters across the state, Bennett said. The disease’s spread even inclined the shelter to not participate in the Humane Society of North Texas’ adoption event in June.

Bennett said that because of distemper, the shelter has been holding dogs for two weeks before putting them up for adoption. Lack of space at the shelters has meant some animals have had to be kept in outdoor runs. This space was originally to be used to house the dogs while workers clean cages, Dunaway said.

Dogs have plenty of space to jump and move around in the runs. They are rotated inside so the same dogs are not outdoors every day, Bennett said. They have a roof over their head in the form of a steel canopy, as well as swamp coolers to keep them cool. Staff members also make sure the dogs have water in containers that won’t tip over.

When it’s more than 90 degrees outside, Bennett said nightly field staff will check the animals every two to three hours to make sure they’re not distressed or in need of water.

The shelter’s goal is to adopt animals out within 30 to 45 days, or 90 to 180 with the harder cases, Bennett said. The 180-day mark is when the shelter has to start making the hard decisions, and outcomes for the pets become grim.

The ideal situation for the shelter is to transfer, adopt out or return back to owners 90% of its animals. As euthanasia rates have climbed, that number has hovered at 80% the past couple months, sometimes lower, Bennett said. It’s reflective of the shelter’s increased intake, Bennett said.

Animals that are euthanized are more aggressive or have behavioral issues, and the shelter cannot hold onto them as long as they have in the past, Bennett said.

Bennett said shelter officials have reached out to their rescue, foster and other partners to see what they can do to help the dogs.

But here’s how you can help: Adopt from the shelters or foster, and if you can’t, promote adoptions on social media. Dunaway said the shelters need volunteers, too.

All animals at the shelter are vaccinated and treated for medical issues. The shelter is offering no-cost adoptions, and Bennett said they may send adopters home with food to hold them over. All adoptions have to be done in person, according to Facebook posts from Fort Worth Animal Care and Control.