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Community Help Needed: Post-COVID Pet Overpopulation + Housing Costs

In the wake of post-pandemic pet overpopulation and now a housing crisis, we need more community members to join the cause to solve the unnecessary euthanasia of healthy pets in Georgia shelters. 

Post-Pandemic Challenges for Rescuers

Rescue in the post-pandemic world has been challenging. We've had several long-term seasoned rescues close. Why? Because they can't get dogs adopted or can no longer stand to see the unnecessary euthanasia of perfectly healthy, well-behaved dogs in our county shelter systems. Even rescue partners in states that have typically experienced a high adoption volume are seeing a slowdown. In a nutshell, rescuers are empaths, and being unable to save more dogs is overwhelming.

The impact of COVID-19 on our work is undeniable. The period of isolation led to a surge in dog adoptions (yay) and purchases (ugh), which initially seemed like a positive outcome. However, many of these adoptions were impulsive, with people knowing little about a pet's needs, much less the needs of a particular breed. As the isolation measures eased, many of these dogs, whether adopted or bought, ended up in our shelter systems, doubling the usual intake. 

Three Years of Struggle, Now Housing Challenges

Fast-forward three years, and we're still grappling with the aftermath of this surge and increasing housing costs. Our shelters are facing a distressing trend of high intakes and low adoptions. Lack of spay/neuter in crisis regions like the South and California further exacerbates the issue. This complex situation leaves us with an equation that seems impossible to solve. 

What this means to a rescue group like ours with a 'No Dog Left Behind' goal is that many of our fosters have turned into unofficial sanctuaries, caring for multiple slightly imperfect dogs whose chances of adoption seem lower because they are safe in someone's home versus unsafe at county shelters. It also leaves us with a few dogs boarding for far too long. 

How Challenges Impact a True No-Kill Rescue

The challenges posed by the post-pandemic pet overpopulation crisis significantly impact the mission of a true no-kill rescue. A true no-kill rescue aims to save every healthy and treatable animal, providing them with a safe and loving environment until they find a forever home.

However, the increase in pet abandonment and the need for affordable housing options make it difficult for no-kill rescues to fulfill their mission. Limited resources and shelter overcrowding can lead to compromised animal care, hindering their chances of finding permanent homes. The challenges also strain the emotional well-being of the rescuers, who are dedicated to saving lives but face overwhelming circumstances.

As you can imagine, when one cares for a dog for many months, whether through foster or simply exercising and advocating our boarding dogs, it is simply not possible to pull the plug and say, "Let's put them to sleep because there are easier dogs available at county animal control." We have come to love these dogs like our own, and there is no choice but to forge on and hope their special person comes. 

Energizing Our Efforts to Overcome Challenges

This month, our longest boarders weigh heavily on us – two arrived in November 2022, another in April 2023. One is very tentatively in the third foster and continues to need training. The other two will move to Decatur, even though the cost is higher to me personally because they are simply not accessible to volunteers where they're at. We only hope that added exposure at local events and days out of boarding will make them feel less warehoused. 

When asked to help these wayward souls who trickled into a local training facility a year or more ago, we had no earthly idea they'd still be awaiting a home today. Mind you, we've found the right fit for many broken dogs over the years through training/boarding and even funding adopter training. We're seeing even this strategy fail in today's environment.

Nonetheless, I saw a post today that perked me up (Thank you, Sonali Gokhale!):  

"Doggie Harmony Rescue is one of the few that I have always been able to count on when I needed help saving a dog. Doggie Harmony is run strictly by volunteers. They are my rock. A core member said this to me once, and she nailed it: "We all have the dog's best interest at heart. Not what is most convenient for us. Easiest. Least expensive. That thought process does not belong in rescue." 

Communities Must Step Up, Rescuers Can't Do It Alone

With this bit of inspiration and an expanded team (we're building a board!), we carry on. But we need people to step up and be part of the solution. At a basic level, we ask community members to:

  1. Adopt, Don't Shop 
  2. Spay/Neuter
  3. Commit to Your Pets for Life

If you're already doing all three, encourage the people in your community to do the same. Be bold and speak up because the voices of thousands of rescue shelters/groups across the country just aren't enough. Georgia has 159 counties, and nearly every week, they have to put healthy, happy dogs to sleep due to lack of space. And here's the real heartbreaker: puppies are NOT excluded. We have reached a point where we have more dogs than homes. 

At a next level, we ask our community members to:

  1. Adopt (Again) or Foster
  2. Refer Adopters
  3. Donate

There are very few rescues these days that are 100% NO KILL. We count ourselves among the ones that are but at the price of dogs boarding for far too long. And at the cost of some of us dedicating all our free time caring for these dogs. We can do better, but only if our community members help. 

As always, please get in touch about fostering or adopting, or you can donate to help us keep up with the extended care of long-timers like Chai, Maggie, Hector, and Logan. We don't intend to give up on them, but we're also handicapped to help others until we fulfill our commitment to get these and other adoptable furkids in a home.