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‘Don't give up’ on your pandemic pet, say Utah’s overwhelmed animal shelters

South Salt Lake Animal Services, cute kitten, June 14, 2022
Ivana Martinez
Animal control officer Kevin Hansen of the South Salt Lake Animal Services holds up an impossibly cute kitten.

Several Utah animal shelters are overwhelmed with pets that are being surrendered or returned.

South Salt Lake Animal Services is at capacity. Adoptions have slowed, and dogs and cats are waiting longer than normal to get adopted. They stay in their kennels barking or meowing waiting for their new homes.

These returns are pandemic related according to Kevin Hansen, animal control officer for South Salt Lake Animal Services.

“During COVID a lot of people came to shelters and rescued dogs,” he said. “And now everybody's going back to work. Timing and care for dogs are lacking. So people have started to return the dogs as well as just let them go.”

Hansen said pet owners need to be patient with their animals as they reacclimate to normal schedules or try to rehome their pets before heading to the shelter.

Back in February, the service center put out a similar call for help on social media.

“Since then it's just progressively gotten higher and higher. When you have more dogs coming in and less dogs going out it takes up your time,” he said. “We are a no-kill shelter. So we don't just dispose of animals for convenience's sake or to make sure there is space. We keep trying different rescues, reaching out in different ways to have people come in and be able to adopt or rescue our dogs.”

In 2021, about 886 dogs and cats were killed in Utah animal shelters, according to data from the nonprofit animal welfare organization Best Friends Animal Society.

The animals are also under a lot of stress, Hansen said. Because despite their daily walks — they’re mostly in kennels all day which shows up in their behavior.

South Salt Lake Animal Services, Zeus the dog, June 14, 2022
Ivana Martinez
Zeus was adopted and then taken back shortly after. He's been at the shelter a while. Hansen said it takes them a minute to readjust and control their anxiety. "You can see the sadness when they walk back in after only being gone for a week and they just really don't want to be back here and they don't really understand it when they do," he said.

“Especially when [someone] adopts a dog out and it doesn't have time to decompress at a new home and then the person wants to bring it back within a week because the dog has separation anxiety or has another outburst,” he said. “The fact is that it doesn't really understand its surroundings and what's going on with it.”

There are things pet owners can do before they surrender an animal, said Temma Martin, public relations manager for Best Friends Animal Society.

“Don't give up on them, get them some training, get them socialized, and help them learn to be a good family member because the truth is, if you don't want to keep your own dog because its behavior is difficult, chances are it's going to have a very hard time getting adopted to a new person,” she said.

South Salt Lake Animal Services is actively reaching out to the community on social media to get the word out about their adoption services, Hansen said. There is a wide range of dogs in the shelter that are ready to head to meet their new family.

Other organizations like the Utah Humane Society have lowered their adoption rates to help get animals into homes.

South Salt Lake Animal Services, Kevin Hansen, June 14, 2022
Ivana Martinez
Animal control officer Kevin Hansen pets one of the cats in the South Salt Lake Animal Services shelter.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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