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There’s a National ‘Dog Shortage,’ But Is That the Case for Milwaukee?

What does the Milwaukee shelter population look like during COVID-19?

Earlier this month, the American Humane Society reported that shelters are experiencing a “national dog shortage” due to a large influx of adoption nationally. The “dog supply chain has broken,” it said, meaning that some shelters have an influx of pets, while others have seen a decline in their shelter populations.

But is that the case for Milwaukee?

“Our animal population is down 80% compared to last year. As of May 7, we had 186 animals in care. On May 7, 2019, we had 874 animals in care,” said Angela Speed, vice president of communications at the Wisconsin Humane Society. “The lower animal population is due primarily to limiting intake to emergency surrenders and strays, as well as halting animal transports during the pandemic response.”

Due to a high increase in animal fostering, out of the 186 animals in care, just 60 were in the Wisconsin Humane Society’s shelters, with half of those animals being at the Milwaukee shelter.

“About 70 percent of the animals in our care are currently in foster homes,” said Speed. “We continue to do adoptions by appointment at our Milwaukee and Green Bay campuses, and our awesome foster parents have also been ‘deputized’ to do adoptions from their homes.”

“Overall, we are learning so much from this experience, and one of the things we have learned is our foster network is almost like a sixth shelter. And we know that animals recover from illness faster, they’re more relaxed and they’re happier in a home environment,” said Speed. “We’re really excited now knowing the potential of this foster program to support our work.”

For the Humane Animal Welfare Society (HAWS) of Waukesha, nearly 300 pets have been adopted since the beginning of the stay-at-home order in March: 115 dogs, 130 cats and 50 small animals such as guinea pigs, hedgehogs and rabbits.

The Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) has also seen higher-than-usual adoption rates. Although their dog intake is lower than usual due to COVID-19, because it is kitten season, their kitten population has remained typical for this time of the year. However, due to the reduction of animals being transferred from other states, MADACC is seeing animals being adopted at faster rates, within one to two days of being placed for adoption.

With more time spent at home and lots of free time on people’s hands, now is a great time for many to be adopting animals, leading to high demand for them.

“More people are interested in adopting and fostering right now than ever before,” said Speed of the Wisconsin Humane Society. “A big silver lining of this whole pandemic has been that animal welfare has just been experiencing overwhelmingly positive support from the community to support animal adoption and fostering. We had a record number of foster parents apply. We had 400 new foster applications in 48 hours when we put out a plea in mid-March for new foster parents.”

“The downside is that people who are looking for a dog right now are definitely having to search for longer to find a good match for them,” said Kathy Shillinglaw, outreach coordinator at MADACC.

Jessica Whitney, the founder and board president of Fairy Tails Dog Rescue, explains that many animals that find themselves at shelters in Wisconsin are transferred from the South. Even before the pandemic, the issue of crowding and overpopulation of stray animals was prevalent in those parts of the country, due to high rates of pet surrenders and a lack of usage of spay and neuter programs. As a result, the euthanasia rate in Southern shelters is greater than 75%, which is why many of the animals available at local shelters and rescues are from Southern states. Fairy Tails Dog Rescue works with a shelter in Texas.

“Although Texas and Wisconsin are handling the COVID-19 situation very differently, it doesn’t change the fact that it is making it harder to save, care for and transport the dogs to Wisconsin to find them better forever lives,” said Whitney.

Although shelters in the South are considered “essential,” as they are in Wisconsin, transporting dogs across state borders is not. This reduction in the transfer of animals, as a result, contributes to the lower concentration of animals within local shelters due to the lack of intake. Unfortunately, as a result, for shelters where overcrowding and overpopulation were already an issue before the pandemic, their euthanasia rates are rising further.

“Our hope is we will be able to get transports up and running again very soon from Texas, and all other Southern states, to Wisconsin so we can continue making a difference,” said Whitney.

However, many of these shelters and rescues have been hit financially by COVID-19 as a result of canceled programs and less adoption and service fees due to the lower number of animals in the shelters. This is the case for the Wisconsin Humane Society, MADACC and HAWS. 

“When you have less animals to adopt out, you’re bringing in less adoption fees, so that can have kind of an impact on your bottom line,” said Shillinglaw from MADACC. “But, our goal is always to have less animals here, so it’s always about just changing the way you do things because obviously we don’t want more homeless animals.”

Although the number of animals in shelters are lower than usual at the moment — possibly due to the lack of evictions taking place, more people staying home, having more quality time to spend with their pets and the halt of the transfer of animals across state borders — as social distancing restrictions start to loosen, an increase in animals is expected. 

“When things start to get back to normal and whatever is stopping the influx of animals is removed, we’re really expecting to see quite a surge,” said Shillinglaw from MADACC. “There’s going to be some point in time in the next few months that we’re probably really going to need Milwaukee to step up and help us and adopt animals.”

Despite the “dog shortage,” Fairy Tails Dog Rescue, HAWS, MADACC and the Wisconsin Humane Society are all still adopting out animals and appreciate the support and patience during this time.

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Allie is an Editorial Intern at Milwaukee Magazine. She is a senior at UW-Milwaukee studying Creative Writing and Journalism. You can follow her on Instagram at @alliehabck