An urgent call to action

Smiling person holding a small black dog
By Julie Castle Photos by Lori Fusaro

We have weathered many storms together. Animal lovers across the country have turned the tide on the killing of cats and dogs in shelters — reducing seemingly insurmountable numbers of animals killed to record lows, with a clear sight line toward achieving no-kill nationwide by 2025. But the continuing impact of COVID-19 and now the rapid spread of the Omicron variant threatens to disrupt our lifesaving progress and has put the lives of an additional 100,000 pets at risk.

As in the aftermath of devastating hurricanes, tornados and floods — when we have rallied together to save lives in extraordinary circumstances — the pandemic is very much a natural disaster, but rather than being regional in its effects, this is a national disaster.

While we hear about supply chains and staffing shortages and the difficult impact that the pandemic has had on so many business sectors, one hard-hit area that hasn’t received as much attention is animal shelters. Our animal shelters are experiencing a COVID-19 induced crisis, the weight of which will land on the backs of homeless pets if we don’t act quickly. And by “we,” I mean everyone involved in animal welfare and most of all, you, the animal-loving public.

The no-kill movement is predicated on the understanding that the public is the answer, and not the problem. That understanding has transformed sheltering from a closed-door failure in which killing was the solution to overcrowding to an open-door embrace of the community as full partners in ending that killing and transforming the way that lifesaving and, indeed, sheltering itself is being done.

Here’s the situation: It is the perfect storm right now in U.S. animal shelters. Like what’s happening in businesses across the country, many shelters are having to close their doors or reduce their hours of operation because they are short-staffed due to illness and open positions that they’re struggling to fill. But this is not about being able to go to dinner at what used to be your favorite restaurant or having to wait a few weeks for parts for your car or consumer products being stuck on cargo ships in the Pacific Ocean.

The consequences of the pandemic for shelters are that lives are hanging in the balance. When shelter operations are disrupted, it creates a bottleneck of animals in need of homes. On top of that, dog adoptions have waned so there is currently a higher volume of pets in shelters or sitting in foster homes compared to the last two years. This double whammy of staffing shortages and a high volume of homeless pets is leading to shelter staff burnout and further staff shortages. It’s a vicious cycle. On any given day, more than 950 dogs and cats are killed in shelters simply because they don’t have safe places to call home. Crises like the one at hand put even more pets at risk.

It bears repeating that the no-kill movement is predicated on the understanding that the public is the answer and that communities have the power to solve these problems. At every juncture and through every disaster, you have stepped up to answer the call, and once again, dear friends, I am calling upon you to answer the call and join us in heading off the crisis that shelters now face.

The most important thing that you can do right now is to adopt a dog or cat from your local shelter or from a rescue group that supports the shelter. If you are unable to make room in your home for another furry friend, then please encourage your friends, coworkers and relatives to adopt. If you know that your local shelter is facing challenges that might create a hurdle for an adopter, especially a first-time adopter, maybe you can bridge the gap and help facilitate the adoption process.

You are the no-kill movement’s special sauce and, together, we will Save Them All.