Animal shelters in Vermont run out of space as rate of adoption slows



Published: 12-28-2022 10:47 AM

At the Humane Society of Chittenden County, the number of dogs coming into the shelter is vastly outpacing the number being adopted.

In 2021, 319 dogs were adopted; so far this year, only 171 dogs have found homes. At the same time, the number of dogs being brought to the shelter has increased from 198 last year to 268 this year, said Erin Alamed, the shelter and volunteer director.

“We’re not able to actually, you know, support our community in the way we would like and the way our mission says, unfortunately, because we literally, physically can’t get any more dogs in our building,” Alamed said.

It’s a problem affecting multiple animal rescue organizations throughout the state, with shelter staff citing housing and economic pressures as the driving factors forcing people to give up their pets and discouraging potential new owners.

VT Dog Rescue is a volunteer-run and foster-based operation in Chittenden County that rescues animals locally and from the South. Its founder and director, Brigitte Thompson, said adoptions are down 52% this quarter compared with 2021.

Previously it would take just one or two weeks for a dog or puppy to get adopted after a weeklong intake process.

“We have puppies now that we’ve had since Oct. 22. It’s unheard of,” Thompson said.

VT Dog Rescue has had to “slow down” the number of dogs or puppies coming from the South to adjust to the decrease in adoptions, according to Thompson.

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Meanwhile, Thompson said the rescue organization has had a 67% increase from 2021 in the number of Vermonters looking to surrender their dogs, a problem the Humane Society of Chittenden County is also experiencing.

Alamed said the number of relinquished dogs has increased from 179 in 2021 to 239 in 2022. Dogs brought in by animal control have increased from 19 to 29, with more expected before the end of the year.

The Humane Society of Chittenden County has seen dogs being relinquished because of behavioral issues, which might be due to improper socialization during the pandemic, Alamed said.

But several rescue organizations also cited economic pressure and fears about recession as possible factors leading Vermonters to give up their pets.

Vermont’s shortage of affordable housing is also contributing to the uptick in surrenders, shelter staff say. In some cases, they’re taking in pets from Vermonters who have been evicted or were unable to find pet-friendly housing.

“We are seeing it’s harder to find a house, usually a living situation, with dogs more so than cats,” Alamed said.

Beth Saradarian is the executive director of Rutland County Humane Society, which is also seeing fewer adoptions this year. Saradarian said some owners have surrendered their pets because they’re now homeless.

To reduce the costs of caring for a pet, many humane societies offer programs that provide pet food and free or discounted spay and neuter services or other veterinary care. Some humane societies also have programs for people struggling with housing. Some organizations will take care of the owner’s pet for a two-week period (sometimes more) while they hunt for housing.

One example is Chittenden’s Good Neighbor Program, which Alamed said has tripled in use since the pandemic started in March 2020. However, because of the capacity issues with dogs, the organization determined several weeks ago that it could no longer accept dogs through this program.

Humane societies, including Chittenden and Rutland, said they’re not experiencing the same difficulties of adoption or surrendering for cats, pointing to the fact that cats can be cheaper and easier to take care of than dogs.

Smaller cat rescues, however, said they are experiencing the opposite.

Queen City Cats, based in Chittenden County, and From Feral to Fur-ever, based in Franklin County, both reported that adoptions are down.

Charlotte Benedict, founder and director of From Feral to Fur-ever, said the organization’s adoptions have decreased by about 40%.

“Everybody and their brother was adopting during the pandemic. And you couldn’t keep a kitty for more than a day or two and it was being adopted. But since then, you know, things are slowing down and the market is starting to be saturated,” Benedict said.

Benedict said she is concerned that some humane societies, including Chittenden County’s, are continuing to receive animals from the South while Vermont cats are struggling to get adopted and strays continue to be a problem.

The Humane Society of Chittenden County transports between 25 to 50 cats once a month from the South and transports dogs or puppies when they have capacity, which is usually three to six times a year, according to Alamed.

She said cat transports from the South don’t affect the shelter’s capacity or the wait time for owner relinquishments.

Miche Faust, the founder and director of Queen City Cats and a former Humane Society of Chittenden County employee, said some owners have told her they’ve had to wait up to four weeks to surrender their animal or stray to the humane society.

Alamed said the wait time to give up an animal is typically one to two weeks, but can be longer during busy seasons, such as in the summer.

Faust said her organization, which is entirely volunteer-run and foster-based, is over maximum capacity. She said she typically caps the number of cats in foster care at 12, but she has seen so much need in the community that she has 10 fosters taking care of 35 cats.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize that there is a problem here,” Faust said. “I still feel like there are a lot of cats that need to be rescued. But I think the reason cats are kind of looked over is that a lot of people believe the myth that cats can take care of themselves outside.”