Animal programs

Animal Abandonments Are on the Rise at Central Maine Shelters as Pandemic Restrictions Ease

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many to fill social voids with a new furry friend, but officials say financial hardship and other factors have resulted in many animals being turned over to humane societies.

Humane societies experienced the pandemic differently than veterinary clinics, which found that increased adoptions made it harder for pets to see.

“Adoptions have skyrocketed,” said Rae-Ann Demos, executive director of the Humane Society Waterville Area. “We’ve seen an increase in pet adoptions and an influx of surrenders.”

Local shelter managers theorize the easing of pandemic restrictions could be a factor, as some people have adopted pets while working from home in the past two years and are now returning to in-person offices .

According to Demos, 1,313 adoptions took place at the Humane Society in 2019, but 84 of the adoptions were returned. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, this number increased to 2,022 adoptions of which 66 were returned, while in 2021 the adoption rate was 1,992 with 62 adoption returns.

Casey Montminy holds Gypsy, a 5-year-old Australian Shepherd, border collie mix, as he was released from the dog kennel Wednesday at the Humane Society Waterville Area in Waterville. Montminy cleaned kennels while working at the Humane Society. Rich Abrahamson / Morning Watch

Despite pet adoption, abandonment has also been high throughout the pandemic as many people have faced financial insecurities and other hardships. In 2019, the Humane Society Waterville Area saw 589 animals surrender. In 2020, this number increased to 727 and in 2021, the number of surrenders was 607.

According to Demos, having a small, strong team of staff members who work very well together has been beneficial for the Humane Society Waterville Area. They haven’t really faced staffing shortages during the pandemic like many industries have.

Despite having adequate staff, they sometimes saw more animals coming in than they could provide proper care.

Demos said their Angel Foster program, which is used to temporarily house animals for someone who may be homeless or lost their job but doesn’t want to give up their pet, has seen an influx throughout the pandemic.

“Community members assume that because we’re a shelter, we have to take in all the animals, but we have to look at the care capacity,” Demos said.

Caring capacity, as Demos said, refers to the space, staff, and resources available to support the various animals in their care. They cannot accommodate more animals than there is room for or more animals than the staff can handle. Neglecting the care ability can lead to staff burnout and further harm human society in the long run.

Additionally, Humane Societies can only accept surrenders and strays from cities and communities with which they are under contract; others are rejected and sent elsewhere.

The Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta recently received approval to build a new $6 million facility on Leighton Road. Hillary Roberts, executive director of the Kennebec Valley Humane Society, said the new location is good for human society for a variety of reasons.

“This is a real promise for the future of the organization – owning 77 acres and having a modern facility capable of meeting the many needs of our shelter animals and community animals is exactly what we need. “, said Roberts. “We will have more opportunities for community programs, animal health and welfare programs, dog training, etc.”

At the start of the pandemic, Roberts said they went to appointments only and needed a mask. In July 2021, they got rid of the appointment-only policy, but still required masking. Since early March, they have moved to more typical means of operations with masks optional for visitors, but mandatory for staff when interacting with the public.

With a staff of 17, Roberts credits them with much of the success of the human society.

“I’m incredibly proud that we haven’t had any staffing issues throughout the pandemic. Our staff are the backbone of this organization – they are brave, strong and loyal to our work and our mission,” she said.

Over the past four years, the Humane Society has had a 97% adoption rate, Roberts said.

A cat named Paul is housed at the Humane Society Waterville Area on Wednesday. Rich Abrahamson / Morning Watch

“In 2020, we had quite a significant decrease in both stray animal intake and local abandonments. Our contribution in all areas was lower that year. When the pandemic started to hit our community in March 2020, we nearly emptied the shelter by placing animals in our foster program,” Roberts said. “A lot of people realized they would be working remotely for a while and opted to foster a dog or cat during that time. It was a really good way for us to limit our shelters as we could not be opened to the public for adoptions.

Bonnie Brooks, director of operations at the Somerset Humane Society, said their experience interacting with the public has been similar throughout the pandemic.

“We lost a lot of our volunteer base at the start of the pandemic,” she said. “It’s slowly coming back now, but it’s not the same as it used to be. We’ve changed the way we interact with customers on a daily basis.

“We used to be open to the general public most days of the week, and now we’re only open for walk-in tours three afternoons a week,” she continued. “We compensate for this by scheduling appointments with clients to come in, meet the animals and do adoptions for the rest of the week.”

Initially, the Somerset Humane Society of Skowhegan did not see an increase in surrenders, but as the pandemic raged and more people faced financial hardship, the number of surrenders increased. In 2018, 165 pets were entrusted to their care. This number increased to 177 in 2019 and peaked at 241 in 2020. The number of surrenders in 2021 was 230. So far in 2022, 38 animals have been surrendered.

Brooks said they are currently a staff of eight, but are usually around 10. They have encountered staffing issues.

“As a small nonprofit, we can only offer minimum wage to start, and some other businesses in our area are able to offer a higher starting salary, so it is often difficult to retain employees. employees,” Brooks said. “We are fortunate to have an engaged core staff right now that is keeping things on track and running.”

Expecting donations to decline during the pandemic, Brooks said he was grateful for the support from his community.

Good has come from the pandemic in Brooks’ eyes.

“I think because we’ve had to adjust our public appointment times and move mostly to appointments,” Brooks said, “we’re now able to provide a better and more focused adoption experience than before. .”

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