The Springfield-Greene County Health Department's Animal Control and local animal rescue organizations are in high demand as the number of pets being surrendered has increased and the number of adoptions has decreased.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Rescue One, an animal rescue and veterinary clinic in Springfield, had 454 animals (dogs and cats) in its care. This is up from an average of 300 animals in care last summer.
Rescue One is foster-based, rather than shelter-based. The organization does not have much of its own capacity for holding animals. At the Rescue One office, about 6-8 dogs can be boarded in kennels.
On Wednesday, Rescue One was housing four dogs and four cats at its office, located at 1927 E. Bennett St. Suite B.
Michele Rehkop, Rescue One adoptions coordinator, said the organization has about 300 people who foster animals, but this number includes both active and dormant fosters. Some Rescue One fosters and volunteers are taking on more animals than usual to meet the demand.
The Humane Society of Southwest Missouri has been forced to think of creative ways to house an influx of animals. Katie Newcomb, humane society marketing manager, said the shelter can house up to 300 animals, but they are experiencing overpopulation.
As of Thursday, the shelter was housing dogs in various offices due to the lack of available dog kennels and runs. Specialty instances make things even harder.
"If a pregnant cat comes in, she needs a really quiet, dark room, so we'll use one of our extra bathrooms and that becomes her room," Newcomb said.
As for Greene County's animal control, the number of animals it can care for is even smaller than Rescue One and the humane society.
Animal control is licensed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and must follow certain guidelines, including capacity limits.
Andee Elmore, health department administrator of environmental health, said animal control's maximum capacity is around 60 dogs and 20 cats.
"We have to maintain a certain level of population for our (animals) in order for them to be safe and healthy and be a humanely-sized population," Elmore said.
As of Tuesday morning, animal control had reached its capacity limits. But this isn't rare, Elmore said animal control's shelter is almost always near its limit for both dogs and cats.
Elmore said euthanasia is only used in cases of sick, injured or aggressive animals, who cannot be safely placed with a family household. Elmore described euthanasia as a weekly practice at animal control.
Animal control has not not euthanized animals for the sake of making more space in the last 10 years.
Before euthanasia takes place, animal control takes several steps to provide the best opportunity for animals. When an animal is found in the field, it is scanned for a microchip, which typically provides the owner's information, including name, phone number and address. If this is the case, the animal is returned.
If a microchip is not found, the animal is taken to animal control's shelter. There, the animal is microchipped and receives a flea treatment and vaccinations. Animal control then works with its rescue partners to ensure the animal is fostered or adopted.
Elmore said in the last six months animal control has increased its social media presence, specifically on Facebook, which has led to more adoptions.
More animals coming in, fewer going out
When it comes to the increase of pets needing new homes, the majority of cases Rescue One deals with are owner surrenders, Rehkop said.
During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rescue One experienced an influx of animal adoptions. Now, as more folks return to their workplaces, levels of commitment may be shifting.
Rehkop said there are several factors to the increase in owner surrenders:
As folks return to work in-person, pets may not adjust well to being home alone, adopting behavioral issues
Pet owners move away, unable to take pets with them
Folks have children and do not want to have a pet in the house with their babies
"If you're a pet owner, stay with that commitment to keep the animal and don't think of it as disposable because something in your life changes," Rehkop said. "Think outside of the box about what you can do to keep it in your home, whether it be training or consulting with your vet as to why something's occurring."
In addition to the increase of animals being donated to shelters, there are fewer folks adopting animals right now.
Newcomb attributed this to inflation, as people may not feel they will be able to afford the necessary pet care expenses.
How can I help?
If you find a lost pet, try to locate its owner
Rehkop encouraged people who find a lost animal to try finding its owner, before calling animal control or organizations like Rescue One, unless the animal needs medical attention.
On a daily basis, Rescue One may receive 20 lost animal email requests.
"We can't take it. We don't have anywhere to put it," Rehkop said. "If you're going to stop and grab this dog, you've got to have a plan of what you're going to do with it."
A veterinarian office will scan a found animal free of charge to see if it has a microchip.
Spay and neuter
Spaying and/or neutering your pet is a good way to help population control.
The Springfield Animal Advocacy Foundation Spay Neuter Clinic and Humane Society of Southwest Missouri both offer spay and neuter surgeries. Individual vet clinics often offer these surgeries, too.
Elmore and Rehkop both encouraged pet owners to get their animals microchipped. When an animal is microchipped, it makes it easier for rescue teams to identify its owner.
Several companies offer pet microchipping. The American Animal Hospital Association offers a full list at aaha.org/your-pet/pet-microchip-lookup/participating-companies/.
Animal organizations like Rescue One and the humane society are in need of volunteers as the demand for their services remains high.
To learn more about volunteering with Rescue One, visit rescueonespringfield.com/volunteer/.
To learn more about volunteering with the humane society, visit the shelter in person at 3161 W. Norton Road or read information online at swh.org/volunteer1.html.
Rescue One, the humane society and other area rescue organizations, are welcoming new fosters.
Rehkop and Newcomb stressed the importance of fosters who represent a variety of backgrounds and households, ranging from college students in apartments to retirees with more time to spend with the animals.
Both Rescue One and the humane society provide fosters with pet essentials, such as food, leashes, crates, bowls and paid veterinary expenses.
To foster with Rescue One, complete the online application at rescueonespringfield.com/volunteer/foster-care/. A PDF version of the application may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Rescue One at 1927 E. Bennett St. Springfield, MO 65804.
To foster with the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri, complete the online application at swh.org/foster-sign-up.html.
Greene County's animal control is responsible for securing dogs on the loose, containing aggressive dogs, investigating animal bites and rabies, and addressing chicken complaints. Animal control also picks up injured dogs, cats and wildlife.
To contact animal control, call 417-833-3592. For questions regarding pit bull registration or stray animals, the health department requests you complete an online form at springfieldmo.gov/5566/Report-a-Concern.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Shelters experience increase of pets coming in, lack of adoptions