Jul 8, 2022 - News

Utah's animal shelters are running out of room

A gray striped kitten lies on a mat.
A kitten named Burr reaches across his bed at the Best Friends Animal Society's Lifesaving Center in Sugar House. Photo: Erin Alberty/Axios

Utah's animal shelters are getting crowded again after a sharp drop in traffic during the pandemic.

  • The number of animals entering Utah shelters rose by 5,000 from 2020 to 2021.

Driving the news: Multiple shelters are completely full — and have been for a while.

  • The shelter serving West Valley City and Taylorsville has close to 70 dogs and nearly 120 cats — up 50-60% from normal summer occupancy before the pandemic, shelter director Melanie Bennett told Axios.
  • South Salt Lake's shelter hasn't been able to take in new animals for about a month, said shelter tech McKenna Osmond.
  • Salt Lake County's shelter is as full as it's been in five to eight years, KSLTV reported this week.

What's happening: People are struggling to afford their pets after adoptions skyrocketed during the pandemic, multiple shelter and rescue operators told Axios.

  • "Food's gone through the roof," Bennett said. "Even the cheap stuff is $30-$40 a bag."
  • Evictions and housing shortages have made it hard for a lot of people to find a home where they can keep their pets, said Nick Lippencott, who manages shelter partnerships and rescue efforts for Best Friends Animal Society in Utah.

Meanwhile: Shelter operators say they're seeing more animals that need training to be re-adopted — right as staffing is low.

  • "They have been isolated with their families, so they're … not as social," Bennett said.
  • Pets that need more one-on-one training are being put on waitlists for rescues because "those guys are full, too," Bennett said.
  • The West Valley shelter has just two techs caring for about 200 animals.

Zoom out: Animal shelters have gotten more crowded nationally, with an 8% rise in intakes from 2020 to 2021, according to data released last month by Best Friends.

  • The number of dogs and cats killed in shelters rose last year for the first time in eight years.

Yes, but: Nationally and statewide, fewer animals entered shelters in 2021 than before the pandemic — and the number of animals killed in shelters is still far lower than it used to be.

  • In 2000, about 38,000 animals were killed in Utah shelters, Lippencott said. That number was down to 886 in 2021.
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