On June 25, 2019, Harris County Animal Shelter in Houston, Texas, was home to a very sad sight: The wait to surrender an animal to the shelter was more than two and a half hours long. People were coming from all over to give their pets to the shelter, which has a 90 percent lifesaving rate — one its employees are determined to keep.
Traditionally, summer is the busiest time for facilities such as Harris County Animal Shelter, but this issue is unprecedented, causing employees to place five to six animals in each kennel. As of June 25, 534 animals were at the shelter, which was built for only about 200.
Although most of the animals at the shelter are dogs, cats and other pets are being dropped off as well. People are waiting in long lines, their pets sitting in carriers or on leashes in the hot, summer sun, and those who claim they can't wait simply abandon animals in the parking lot.
Although many individuals do wait with their pets to turn them over properly, the shelter staff often hears the same answers over and over again when asking why the animal is being abandoned.
"The most common reasons we have received are tied to lifestyle changes — moving, landlord will not allow, can no longer afford,” shelter spokesperson Kerry McKeel said in an interview with The Dodo. “Some people also simply say that they no longer want the pet or that they found the pet.”
In one particularly heartbreaking instance, a man and his young son showed up with six dogs they needed to turn over. The man gave the excuse that his family was "moving," which is why he said they could no longer take care of the dogs. According to Urgent Shelter Pets Houston's Facebook page, all of this "could have been avoided had their dog likely been spayed/neutered from the beginning."
The Harris County Animal Shelter, as well as other shelters across the state and country, urge residents to adopt or at least foster one of these abandoned animals. After all, fostering a pet for even a few weeks can keep it out of the kennel and free up space for more animals.
The shelter would like to leave residents with one more piece of advice: Take care of your pets and prevent more unwanted animals from being born. This means spaying and neutering dogs and cats, keeping dogs on their leashes and doing your best to keep dogs and cats inside.
Making sure you get your animals microchipped or at least fitting them with tags is also a good way to limit the number of abandoned creatures. When employees at shelters find beloved pets that have no identification, it becomes impossible for them to contact the owners.
Sadly, this is the reality for many animal shelters during the summer. But pet owners can do their part to help minimize the problem by taking good care of their animals, adopting new pets and fostering animals that need help on their way to adoption.