GREENSBORO — Workers at the Guilford County Animal Shelter are seeing an unwelcome trend: More people dropping off pets.
“We are getting a lot of owner surrenders,” said Lisa Lee, the community engagement manager for Guilford County Animal Services.
From Jan. 1 through Tuesday, the shelter received 328 dogs and 150 cats that were surrendered by their owners.
That’s a lot when you consider that in all of 2020, 421 dogs and 210 cats were relinquished by their owners.
“Is it because of the housing crisis? Is it because evictions are starting to be enforced? I don’t know,” Lee said.
There are a lot of reasons people cite for surrendering an animal, Lee said.
The owner may not be able to afford medical treatment for the animal.
Or parents may suddenly find themselves with unwanted pets when their children leave for college.
Or a death may suddenly leave a pet without an owner.
Across the county line, Mark Neff of the Forsyth Humane Society listed similar reasons.
“Traditionally what you see with owner surrenders is relocating,” said Neff, meaning the owner’s new residence doesn’t allow animals.
The nonprofit operates the only open admission animal shelter in Forsyth County. However, unlike Guilford, the Forsyth Humane Society is seeing fewer dogs and cats coming into the shelter.
“Intake is down this year from last year,” said Neff, the nonprofit’s director of operations.
First quarter totals were 709 for 2021 versus 840 for 2020, Neff said in an email. The numbers were not broken down for owner surrenders.
But both shelters have an abundance of kittens, which is usual for this time of year.
“We never experienced kitten season last year. It was weird that people weren’t even bringing them into the shelter,” Lee said. “But now, kitten season has exploded and we’ve got kittens everywhere.”
This year, especially, that presents a problem, Lee said.
Coronavirus-related restrictions have cut down the number of people able to visit the shelter to meet animals. Visitors have to make appointments to meet the animals curbside, whereas before, prospective adopters could just show up.
Fewer potential adopters means animals generally are staying longer at the shelter, Lee said.
To help alleviate things, the shelter is holding an event Saturday where appointments aren’t needed.
“It’s going to be for all our long-timers,” Lee said.
But there’s also an upside to the restrictions forced by the pandemic.
Previously, groups of potential adopters walked by cages, spurring lots of barking and increasing the stress level of the animals, Lee said.
With the appointment system, visitors look at pictures of the animals available and choose ones they want to see. An animal care tech will bring the pet to the visitors outside, where they can interact with it.
“So it’s just one person going through the building instead of the whole group (of visitors),” Lee said. “So with COVID, we were able to keep the stress level for the dogs down and it has really, really helped.”
The Guilford shelter also started holding virtual adoptions during the pandemic, something that Lee said has worked well for people that can’t get to the shelter.
“Our director likes to say, (the pandemic) actually slowed us down enough so that we could run the shelter, not have the shelter run us,” Lee said.
In Forsyth, Neff said his shelter, which also operates by appointment only, expanded its foster care network during the pandemic.
“During that period, we recruited more foster parents to shorten the length of stay for animals in the shelter,” he said.
That allowed the shelter to gain information about the animal and what it’s like in a home situation, Neff said. The shelter also coached people during the adoption process on how to prepare for their eventual return to work.
“We offered resources, such as training, talking about kennel training, talking about the separation anxiety and partnering with their vets,” he explained.
As a result, Neff said, “we have seen no increase whatsoever in returns for animals that were placed during the pandemic.”
Lee also said anyone who is having trouble affording pet food or kitty litter can get help with these expenses.
“We have a large pet pantry that all of our donations go into,” she said. “We’re more than happy to help you with dog food or cat food or kitty litter.
“It’s important to keep the pets together with their owners.”
Contact Kenwyn Caranna at 336-373-7082 and follow @kcaranna on Twitter.