Animal associations

Overcrowded animal shelters face staffing shortages

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says more than 6 million dogs and cats are placed in shelters each year, and hundreds of thousands of them don’t don’t come out alive.

Many shelters across the country are reporting overcrowded kennels and are asking for the public’s help. Like other industries, a major problem for shelters is understaffing. When shelters don’t have the help they need, it can be bad news for hopeful pets.

“You are not providing the service you used to provide. And on our terms, that means getting animals out of the shelter alive,” said Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, an organization that tracks euthanasia data across the United States.

With fewer staff, Castle says many shelters are open for fewer hours.

“It leaves fewer opportunities for animals to come out alive. We see shelters doing fever events,” she said.

It’s been a particularly tough summer at the city-run shelter in Charlotte, North Carolina. Melissa Knicely has worked at the Charlotte shelter for 15 years and says it’s the worst she’s seen.

“During the month of June, if you average everything, it would probably be 3-4 dogs a day,” Knicely said.

Euthanasias are 40% higher than last summer at the Charlotte shelter.

Staffing shortages have left endangered animals in overcrowded shelters.
Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images
A shelter in Charlotte, North Carolina, reported euthanasia was up 40% from last summer.
A shelter in Charlotte, North Carolina, reported euthanasia was up 40% from last summer.
Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

“I feel like I’m crying wolf sometimes because we’ve been so full for so long and we’re shouting it and shouting it,” Knicely said.

When shelters are understaffed, it means fewer resources are devoted to dogs with medical or behavioral issues.

“We had to make decisions that some would call ‘for space,’ but it wasn’t just about space, we had to consider behavior as well,” Knicely explained.

The Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS) focuses primarily on improving conditions in five states: California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Alabama. These states represent 31% of the US population, but they account for half of all murders in shelters according to the BFAS.

Staffing shortages at shelters could mean animals get fewer resources for behavioral or medical issues.
Staffing shortages at shelters could mean animals get fewer resources for behavioral or medical issues.
Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

“Maybe they have a lot of different shelters that don’t have access to community resources or people to help them,” Castle said.

Even if you can’t adopt a pet. Many shelters say the best way to help is to volunteer or temporarily foster a pet.