DALLAS — At the start of the pandemic, in the spring of 2020, families and individuals confined to working at home during quarantine flocked to municipal shelters and rescue agencies looking for pets to adopt.

What You Need To Know

  • As the U.S. slowly comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic, animal rescue organizations are seeing a return to pre-pandemic numbers of animals being brought to shelters

  • Animal shelters in Texas and across the nation say their data does not show an increase in pets being returned to shelters, but rather a seasonal increase in intakes of cats and dogs at levels seen before the pandemic

  • Many animal shelters, such as Dallas Animal Services, are opening up for in-person visits for potential adopters and fosters

The quest for companionship from four-legged — and sometimes fewer limbed — friends was so great that animals were being adopted, sometimes within hours of their photos being posted on a shelter’s virtual adoption pages. 

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, one in five households, or about 23 million, adopted a dog or cat during the pandemic. 

Texas and California led during the pandemic in both the number of dogs and cats taken in by shelters as well as the number of adoptions, fosters or other positive outcomes. Positive outcomes can be either a reunited pet with its family or a transfer out of the shelter to another rescue group.

In April 2020, just a month into the pandemic, 161 Texas animal welfare organizations reported taking in 20,234 dogs and cats, while 17,889 were either adopted, fostered or experienced another positive outcome in the same month, according to Shelter Animals Count, a national cooperative of animal welfare organizations that collects data from across the country.

The following month, in May 2020, intakes at Texas shelters and animal welfare organizations shot up to 26,749, while outtakes were 21,655.

Nationally, in 2020, some 2.7 million dogs and takes were taken in, compared with 3.5 million in 2019.

Now, as the United States slowly begins to emerge from the pandemic and back into “normal” life, animal intakes and rescues are also returning to pre-pandemic numbers. Intakes of dogs and cats are on the rise again, while adoption and foster numbers are failing to keep up with the pace. In Dallas, that means shelters and rescue services are putting out the call to find more adopters and fosters. 

Intakes in spring and summer are typically higher than other parts of the year, said Leah Backo, the public information coordinator for Dallas Animal Services. This is particularly true for cats, which have a “kitten season,” during this time, Backo said. 

But this year’s intake vs. outtake rates are quickly showing a gap. Texas animal shelters and welfare organizations took in 17,086 as of February 2021, the most recent data available. Of those intakes, 15,281 have gone to foster homes, been adopted or other positive outcomes.

The call for fosters and adopters is “very urgent,” Backo said. 

Dallas Animal Services is back to pre-pandemic intakes of about 100 pets a day. 

“We haven’t had to put a plea out since last year,” Backo said. Dallas Animal Services’ shelter space for large and medium dogs maxed put in late May, resulting in a public call for potential fosters and adopters to take action and help make more room for incoming dogs.

“We are now taking in 100 pets a day, but only seeing about half as many as outtakes. That rate is not sustainable. We want to avoid making space decisions at all costs,” Backo said. The Dallas Animal Services does have a euthanasia policy in emergency, overcrowded situations. 

The Dallas Animal Services recently resumed in-person shelter visits for potential adopters and foster parents after almost a year working virtually to get dogs and cats out of its shelters. The first few days of in-shelter visits saw a positive uptick in adoptions, but more are needed, Backo said.

From October 2019 to September 2020, the fiscal year for the City of Dallas, Dallas Animal Services sought and surpassed a 90% “live release” rate goal, that is the number of dogs and cats and the highest in its history – while taking in 22,812 cats and dogs. Right now, the live release rate for cats and dogs for the Fiscal Year 2021 is at 88.8%, but DAS is confident that with increased community support, they can once again achieve the 90% milestone, she said.   

Animal welfare agencies across the country have cautioned against letting the increased intake numbers lead to the conclusion that families are returning animals adopted during the pandemic to the shelters.

“None of the data we are seeing supports that,” said Marie Abbondanza, the director of data and technology at Shelter Animals Count. 

“What we can see is that there has been no nationwide increase in returns,” Abbondanza said.

Keeping track of animal welfare organization data and statistics is important for the many players with an interest in the outcomes, particularly municipal governments and donor groups.

“It’s an emotional field people get involved in because they care about animals,” Abbondanza said. “Collecting this kind of data helps the types of conversations that shelters can have with their community when they can point to facts and numbers.”