As people give up pets they can’t always afford, shelters in Alaska struggle to house them

PALMER — Shelters around Alaska are filling up with pets as a complicated mix of factors, including high prices, limited veterinarians and an ongoing pandemic, are placing extraordinary strain on the animal welfare system.

An influx of animals abandoned by owners struggling to make ends meet has pushed the Borough of Matanuska-Susitna shelter beyond capacity.

Late last week, borough animal care officials announced they were no longer welcoming animals, an unusual policy they hope to reverse as early as next week. The door to the night depot is locked. The refuge does not accept animals handed over by their owners during the day.

With more than 200 cats and dogs filling kennels this week, shelter officials said more animals are arriving than being adopted in Mat-Su, one of Alaska’s fastest growing areas. For years.

“The main factor we see is economic. People just can’t afford to care for their animals,” said shelter manager Chris Loscar. “It keeps coming back: they can’t afford basic care, they can’t afford veterinary care.”

Shelters and rescue organizations around Alaska and the country are reporting similar trends: people abandoning pets amid a web of challenges including more than two years of pandemic life, a shortage of veterinarians and the inflation and high gas prices are driving up costs for everything from kibble to kennels.

“It’s not a simple cause and effect,” said Kelly Donnelly, executive director of the Alaska SPCA. “There are a lot of factors driving people to go this year that have been different from the last two years.”

The economy is making it difficult to buy pet food and services, Donnelly said. Pet food price inflation hit an annual rate of 7% in April, according to the US Department of Labor. The costs of veterinary services have increased by almost 10% per year.

But pandemic isolation has also led to a generation of dogs that may have lacked socialization skills without having enough time with other dogs and people.

“They are difficult to deal with in social situations. These are dogs that you cannot take to the dog park. These are dogs that can be aggressive towards dogs,” she said. “It takes quite a heavy commitment and training and some dog owners just aren’t up to it.”

The Anchorage animal shelter isn’t at full capacity right now, but is seeing more and more pets being abandoned by their owners, according to executive assistant Jordan Taylor.

People say they abandon animals for a variety of reasons — including because they simply have too many, Taylor said, adding that it could be the result of spaying and neutering surgeries delayed by the pandemic. There were about 440 owner buyouts in June 2020 and 2021, compared to 690 this year, he said. It’s also higher than in 2019, when the shelter recorded 640 surrenders in June.

“The big takeaway is that the number, in general, is bigger,” Taylor said.

Juneau Animal Rescue, the private nonprofit organization contracted by the city and borough of Juneau to provide boarding services, is seeing more dogs than normal and fewer people adopting, said executive director Samantha Blankenship. . Some people have told her that they are hesitant to adopt more animals due to an ongoing shortage of veterinarians in Juneau.

Over the past few weeks, six litters of kittens have arrived at the shelter, Blankenship said. Managers ask people to foster adult cats and kittens.

“We’re still taking pets, but we’re really trying to navigate options before taking pets,” such as to see if owners with behavioral issues can get help keeping their pets at bay. home, she said. “We have seen a lot of animals over the past few months.”

Mat-Su shelter officials hope to bring back surrendering owners soon, possibly next week, if kennels open through adoptions.

The property, which is currently open by appointment only except Sundays, will add Saturdays to the mix starting this week. Shelter Director Jamie Kennedy will host a mass adoption event “empty the shelter” beginning at noon Saturday with a “name your price” adoption fee.

Over time, officials hope to expand the facility, including covering outdoor kennels and creating a holding area for sled dogs. This week, enclosures contained 18 huskies seized from a property in Willow.

But moving the animals out of the shelter won’t necessarily help if the flood of animals keeps coming, Loscar said. A winter event resulted in 82 adoptions, but two days later the shelter took in 36 animals in one day and reached capacity by the end of the same week.

“We adopt one, we’re going to have five to six the next day,” he said. “It’s just the reality.”

Anchorage resident Rheya DeTraglia did her part this week to reduce the dog population when she brought home Peep, a sweet-tempered little golden retriever mix with a tongue that “always hangs just a little bit , no matter what she does.”

“She literally walked through the door and I fell in love with her,” DeTraglia said. “She walked into the room and I was like, ‘I’m not leaving without this dog.'”

DeTraglia and her husband – who already have two dogs – decided to adopt from Mat-Su because of last week’s announcement.

“When they say they have to start refusing animals, it really hurts my heart,” she said.

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