Bay Area shelters work hard to find animals homes with massive overcrowding spike

A massive spike in animal overcrowding have Manatee and Hillsborough animal shelters working harder to find places for dogs and cats in the Bay Area.

"So right now, this is a very unprecedented season for us. We're seeing more kittens and cats than we have seen in a very long time," said Chelsea Waldeck, the senior supervisor of animal services at the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center. "Currently, we're at 500 percent capacity at our facility."

Shelter workers said it’s kitten season, so more people are finding stray cats they think are abandoned.

"Even though we continued to do spay and neuter throughout COVID, a lot of organizations had to cut back because of the restrictions. And now we're thinking that maybe one of the reasons why we're seeing an uptick in cats and kittens," said Waldeck.

As of Thursday, there were 258 dogs when the shelter’s maximum is 180, so that’s 143% over capacity. There were 324 cats, and normally the shelter has up to 56, coming in at 578% over capacity, Hillsborough County said.

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"So one of the things that we do see is kittens and litters of kittens that are coming in that don't necessarily need to come to us. We kind of call it cat-napping or kitten-napping. So we want to encourage the community that if they find kittens to give mom a chance to come back," said Waldeck.

Cats and dogs are going wherever workers can find space.

"Right now, we have cats in just about every cage that we have here in the facility. We also have some dogs that are in offices because we are seeing a large dog population outside," said Waldeck.

Manatee County Animal Services currently sees more than 20 animals a day for kitten season and other reasons.

"I also think that people who are coming to surrender their pets, they're facing a lot of financial and housing difficulties right now," said Hans Wohlgefahrt, the outreach and events specialist with Manatee County Animal Services.  "We have a year-round pet food pantry program where we're giving out food and supplies if needed. We really provide anything that we reasonably can to help keep these pets in homes."

Wohlgefahrt said overcrowding can get overwhelming for staff.

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"Our shelter right now is definitely overcrowded. As of today, we have 284 pets in our care. Now that's across three different shelter locations," he said. "But our main adoption center in Palmetto, we only have 80 kennels, and right now we have 90 dogs."

Overcrowding can also have an impact on staff getting to know the animals for potential adopters.

"Part of our process for making good matches is that we know these pets and we spend time with them and we try to get them into the best possible home," said Wohlgefahrt. "But when you start to get this many pets, it definitely becomes more difficult to get to know those pets on that sort of personal basis." 

The Humane Society of Sarasota County said it does not have an overcrowding issue, but it is helping to pull animals from shelters across the state of Florida. 

"We pull as many from Sarasota County Animal Services as possible to help our community first. Their population is doing well right now," said Alissa Jackson of HSSC. "Others that are struggling that we pull from are Highlands County Animal Services, Lee County Animal Services, Polk County Animal Services, and Taylor County Animal Services."

HSSC has taken in 359 animals from those four shelters so far this year.

Animal shelters are encouraging people to volunteer, foster or adopt and help the cats and dogs find a forever home. Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center has a free adoption event Saturday, and Manatee County has $15 adoptions for the rest of this month.