Aug 30, 2023 - News

How Minneapolis is dealing with an “extraordinary” increase in surrendered pets

Illustration of a dog collar with a metal pendant in the shape of an emergency symbol with an exclamation point.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The city of Minneapolis' animal shelter is expanding weekday hours in response to what officials say is an "extraordinary" increase in pets surrendered by their owners.

Why it matters: The recent move, which will keep doors open until 7:30pm every Thursday, is just one example of the lengths local animal shelters and rescue organizations are going to in order to find homes for animals in need.

The big picture: Animal intakes at both public and private shelters across the country are expected to reach a 3-year high this year, and adoptions or returns to owners are not keeping pace, according to the Shelter Animals Count database.

  • Nationally, the number of dogs that were euthanized or died otherwise, or were lost in care — referred to as "non-live outcomes" — is up nearly 30% from last year and 74% from 2021.

Zoom in: Minneapolis Animal Care & Control (MACC) took in 1,710 dogs and cats in the first seven months of 2023 — a nearly 25% increase from the same period last year and 78% from the first seven months of 2021.

Reality check: Local euthanasia rates, meanwhile, have remained steady since the pandemic began, even as the number of animals brought to the shelter spiked.

  • Roughly nine in 10 of the cats and dogs that enter the shelter leave alive, per city data. Five years ago, the figure was 74%.

What they're doing: "Clear the shelters" events and other no-fee adoption promotions, combined with support from local animal rescue groups, have helped MACC's kennels remain under capacity, director Caroline Hairfield told Axios.

  • "Our community has really stepped up when we've asked them to help us," she said.

Between the lines: MACC also quietly created a "Found a Foster" program, which allows people to register and temporarily keep pets recovered in their neighborhoods.

  • Hatfield said that initiative, which is shared with anyone who calls MACC about a stray animal they are willing to hold, has helped keep hundreds of pets out of the shelter since it launched around 2021.

Yes, but: Space cleared by all those adoptions is quickly filled by new animals, many of which are surrendered due to issues related to housing insecurity for the owners.

  • Hairfield said the city saw a spike after the COVID-era eviction moratorium was lifted and that housing remains the predominant factor cited by owners.
  • For some owners who adopted during the pandemic, the return to in-person work has also made it more difficult to address a pet's needs, she said.

Plus: Staff constraints meant the shelter had to cut back on its once-monthly Saturday hours in order to accommodate the extended time on Thursdays.

  • "We have very limited hours due to our staffing, but we wanted to make sure that we were inclusive of those people who maybe had to work day shift jobs and couldn't get here in our normal hours," Hairfield said.

Of note: While overall euthanasia rates are relatively flat, Hairfield said MACC has seen an increase in cases where a dog needs to be put down due to bites or other dangerous behavior.

What we're watching: Shelters and rescues across the metro area have reported an uptick in animal surrenders, and not just from local owners.

  • Animal groups from other states are increasingly sending pets to Minnesota from other states, MPR News reports, believing they have a better chance at finding a home here.

The bottom line: August and September have traditionally been some of MACC's busiest times of the year.

  • Anyone interested in adoption can view available pets online and then visit the shelter to fill out an application. It's open 1pm-7:30pm on Thursdays and 1pm-5pm Monday through Wednesday and on Friday.
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