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After pandemic, local shelters again flooded with dogs

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Hound dog Rose is currently undergoing medical treatment, but will be up for adoption again soon at RHSPCA

After the pandemic surge in adoptions, animal shelters in our region are filling up again with adult dogs brought in as strays – but also as their owners surrender them. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports. 

[sounds of dog excitedly squealing and grunting]

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TIFFANY CORBIN: Okay, can I see your collar? Can you sit? I know we're so excited, but can we sit? Can we sit? Hold on!

Animal shelters in our area and beyond are experiencing the same phenomenon right now – they are overflowing with adult dogs.

CORBIN: We've seen like a 50% increase in dog intakes from this time last year.

Tiffany Corbin is the marketing and fundraising manager for the Rockingham-Harrisonburg SPCA.

CORBIN: Right now is when we say kitten season starts, from April to October, when just all these outdoor cats are breeding and we get all the offspring with all the cute, adorable, fluffy kittens, but we have been seeing so many more dogs recently than cats … We have almost every single dog kennel filled … and it's not even peak summer yet, where we have our peak intakes.

Word on the shelter circuit is that this is part of a country-wide trend. Back in January, the Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal welfare organization, issued a press release saying that 60,000 more dogs and 40,000 more cats were in shelters across the U.S. compared to the same time the year before. The three shelters that spoke with WMRA said they've seen their intakes heavily weighted toward dogs, though.

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TARA RODI: We get a lot of pit bulls and hounds here at our shelter.

Tara Rodi is the executive director of the Rockbridge SPCA. She said they currently have 17 more dogs in the building than this time last year.

RODI: Between Christmas and New Year's, we had quite a few dogs come in, and then it's just been kind of a gradual, you know, each week since then … people are traveling or going somewhere for the holidays, or moving. You know, that's a big one, people are moving during the first of the year.

She said other owners have cited going back to work or working longer hours as the reason for surrendering their dog.

Oddly enough, when I talked to Rodi last week, there were zero cats in the shelter.

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Randi B. Hagi
Coriander Hagi (with mom Randi) says that pit-hound mixes make the very best pets of all!

RODI: It's kind of strange, I hate to jinx it for us! … Nobody has come in to owner surrender any cats. Cats are a little bit easier to keep with you at home or move with you, I guess.

Angie Gunter, CEO of the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA, has seen more dogs coming in and a decrease in adoptions for large, adult dogs.

ANGIE GUNTER: Our stray intake in dogs is up 54% compared to last year at the same time … then we have, our owner surrenders are down, and returns are down or running about the same.

She said the strays that are coming in are in good condition – so they likely haven't been on their own for long.

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GUNTER: These are dogs that have been in homes, and now they just need another home!

In the face of this canine tidal wave, Gunter hopes to expand their foster program.

GUNTER: We're fortunate to have a wonderful foster community, but we're still, even with saying we have a wonderful foster community, we're still struggling to get a lot of the adult dogs into foster homes. Our kennels – we have about 78 dogs on site right now, and that's our kennel space … you know, my concern is – we are both a public and a private shelter, so we hold the contract for the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. And if we got into a hoarding situation, where they had to bring, let's say 20-plus dogs in, then I would be very concerned right now.

She also wants to train staff on how to better talk about adult dogs to potential adopters, especially with pups that are a bit rowdier because they're in a shelter environment.

GUNTER: We've got to shift gears and think about how we're talking about these dogs, because they really are great dogs … The longer they stay in the shelter, they do develop some unflattering behaviors, but it's nothing that's like a dangerous behavior or anything. It's just a little naughty, you know, jumping at the kennel.

If you've been on the fence about getting a dog, now's a good time to do it – both the Charlottesville Albemarle and Rockingham Harrisonburg SPCAs are participating in the BISSELL Pet Foundation's "Empty the Shelters" event, and adoption fees for most adult dogs and cats have been reduced to $25 this week and next.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.