Mass Animal Coalition Alert - Struggling Shelters


With so many challenges facing Massachusetts shelters, rescues and animal control officers, MAC issued the following statement:




Animals are staying longer in shelters than they were before the pandemic


The Massachusetts animal welfare community is facing a challenge they haven’t seen in years. The people who do this good work are desperate to help the animals in their care. They work or volunteer at small and large animal shelters and rescue groups. They are our local animal control officers. They are our neighbors and friends. They are animal advocates and they are carrying a heavy burden.  


Before March 2020, Massachusetts was in a relatively good position compared to many other parts of the country. The level of spay and neuter surgeries had made a serious dent in the pet animal population. Animal advocates were able to move their shelter animals through the system into adoptive homes at a steady pace.  


At the beginning of COVID-19 it was understandable that shelter workers would be best served by staying home and away from others, just like the rest of us. When the national “clear the shelters” effort was announced, Massachusetts animal lovers stepped up. They adopted. They offered foster care. They donated money. They literally helped to clear the shelters. They saved lives, both animal and human. 


Now, three years later, we are facing a different challenge, here in Massachusetts but also nationally. Animals are stacked up in kennels. The public isn’t adopting. They aren’t even calling to ask about specific animals that are on shelter Facebook pages. It seems that there is no one specific cause for the situation facing animal shelters.  


In June the Massachusetts Animal Coalition (MAC) hosted a meeting of animal welfare advocates. The topic was overcrowding in our animal shelters. The panelists discussed the realities at their shelters, which are in all corners of Massachusetts. The message was the same: We are full and we don’t have places for pets to go.  


The issues discussed at the MAC meeting may help to explain some possible reasons for shelter overcrowding:


Cost of living and debt:


  • The cost of living has increased, making housing, expenses and especially veterinary care harder for some to reach. Nationally, according to PBS NewsHour, inflation has made owning and caring for a pet more expensive, resulting in pet owners struggling to afford expenses for their pets. According to Matt Schulz, Chief Credit Analyst at Lending Tree, a survey last fall showed that 26% of pet owners are struggling to afford the rising costs. Nearly 1 in 4 (23%) have taken on debt for their pets’ care. A recent Forbes survey showed that 44% of pet owners in the past year have had to rely on credit to pay for their pets’ medical care.


Some COVID-19-related issues:


  • According to PBS NewsHour, nearly 1 in 5 American households adopted a dog or cat in the first 14 months of the pandemic. It is possible that adopters from three years ago may still have their pet(s) and have no room for another animal.
  • People may have changed jobs during the pandemic, giving them less time for a pet. Additionally, many have physically gone back to work and that may have changed their ability to care for a pet.  
  • Families are more mobile now. The family pet may not fit into their new reality.  
  • Animals are staying in shelters for longer than they have in four years because people are not adopting at a high level.  
  • “We have spent a lot of resources in recent years training our staff and volunteers on fear free handling, positive reinforcement training, and enrichment activities. The cats and dogs we are seeing today require every bit of that training as they are so often coming to us from stressful situations and staying with us longer. It’s like nothing I have ever seen before in my 13 years in animal welfare,” says Elizabeth Jefferis, Executive Director at Baypath Humane Society in Hopkinton, MA.  
  • Arianna Silva, Shelter Director for Forever Paws Animal Shelter in Fall River says, “People are afraid to make commitments they can’t keep. Families can’t afford to buy groceries and put gas in their car - let alone afford veterinary care. Home ownership is changing hands, making once pet friendly housing not friendly, forcing people to surrender their pets with little to no notice. People do not know what the future holds for them, especially financially.” 
  • According to John Perreault, Executive Director of Berkshire Humane Society in Pittsfield, “Housing is hard to come by and affordable housing is almost non-existent in many parts of our state. Additionally, the cost to rent has increased, making apartments - not to mention pet-friendly apartments – out of reach for so many.”  
  • Additionally, there are a few barriers to placing dogs in apartments:
  • Breed restrictions, and some apartment communities are requiring DNA tests as proof. 
  • Size restrictions for dogs in condos and apartments
  • Restrictions on the number of animals allowed in an apartment


What animal welfare advocates do know is that shelter animals are not moving - particularly dogs. They are sitting in cages. Some are losing their minds. Shelters were never designed for long-term holding. Weathering this storm is going to take a village.


So what can you do? Find room in your heart and home for an animal from your local shelter, rescue or animal control facility. Whether it’s providing foster care or adopting, it would not only make a huge difference in the life of the animal you help, but also in the lives of the other animals still waiting for a home. And it will help the people who do this work, day in and day out, because they love those animals and their hearts are breaking. 


Other ways you can help:


  • Donate money to shelters so they can:
    • buy appropriate items to enrich the lives of the animals who are currently in shelters.
    • help families keep their pets – pet owners may not be able to afford medical care or even a bag of pet food. They may need help paying for a certified trainer to help with behavioral issues. Keeping animals in their homes where they are loved is always a better option for everyone. 
  • If you are animal savvy, offer to volunteer your time at your local shelter. 
  • Spread the word to friends, family and neighbors about the current state of affairs in our state.  
  • Encourage landlords you know to see that making their rentals pet friendly would help to reduce the stress on animal shelters. 
  • Reach out to your state representative and ask them to support S. 876/H. 1367: An Act to maintain stable housing for families with pets in an economic crisis and beyond. It would ensure that certain types of public housing authorities cannot discriminate against a tenant or resident’s dog based on size, weight, or perceived breed. It also prevents insurance companies from discriminating based on dog breed. See and 
  • Understand that shelter workers are doing the best they can under unbelievably stressful conditions.