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COVID-19: Fears Grow Over Animal Shelters Becoming Overwhelmed

In a survey, more than 15% of Wisconsin pet owners indicates having difficulty affording a pet. (Adobe Stock)
In a survey, more than 15% of Wisconsin pet owners indicates having difficulty affording a pet. (Adobe Stock)
July 14, 2020

MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Animal welfare groups say the pandemic is exacerbating the overpopulation crisis for cats and dogs in Wisconsin and across the country.

According to Lisa Lange, senior vice president for communications with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, more than 6 million cats and dogs enter shelters in the U.S. each year. And with COVID-19 safety protocols in place, she said shelters are unable to let people come in for pet adoptions or host off-site adoption events.

"And yet there's still a flow of animals coming in, made worse by people being out of a job," Lange said. "So, we're getting reports from around the country that people are giving up their animals because they can't afford to keep them anymore."

A survey conducted before the pandemic estimated that 17% of Wisconsin pet owners struggle to afford their pets.

Lange said prevention is the best solution, and her group encourages spaying and neutering for cats and dogs. According to PETA, one female dog and her puppies can result in the births of 67,000 dogs in just six years.

Instead of purchasing a pet from a breeder, Lange urged Wisconsin residents to always adopt from animal shelters. Right now, many are holding appointment-based adoptions.

She noted one silver lining to the pandemic has been the uptick in people becoming pet foster parents, which takes pressure off the shelter system.

"Really, in the best of all possible worlds, shelters should have a small number of animals," she said. "But we shouldn't be seeing animal breeding anymore. We have far too many homeless animals, all of whom are deserving of good homes. But we need to bring that number down."

She added that low-cost and free spay-and-neuter programs, often available through humane societies or veterinarians, are key to addressing the overpopulation crisis. And she said people should encourage their local governments to subsidize these programs.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI