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Kittens Growing into Cats at Local Shelters, as Pet Adoption Boom Wanes

By Anna Reinalda | November 17, 2021

After two banner years for pet adoptions, cats and dogs are now growing old in animal shelters nationwide. This is true for Montgomery's beloved SAVE, a Friend to Homeless Animals, in Skillman.

“2021 will be our worst year on record,” said Heather Achenbach, executive director at SAVE.

Heather Achenbach of SAVE in Skillman.

With 2019 and 2020 achieving 750 adoptions each year, it seems that Montgomery-area residents are satiated, and no longer looking to bring new pets into their homes.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Achenbach saw many first time pet owners welcome cats and dogs into their lives. Since the quarantine was keeping everyone at home, many people finally had the time to commit to caring for their new additions.

But the influx of pet adoptions has come to an abrupt end.

“The shelter is full,” Achenbach said. “Because our community isn’t coming to rescue these pets and give them homes, they’re living here.”

Achenbach speculated that in the post-vaccine episode of the COVID saga, people are going back to work, traveling, and resuming children’s activities. They have less time to devote to potty training a kitten or taking a puppy to obedience classes. Or perhaps people just aren’t as lonely now that social distancing protocols have been loosened.

Clancy was recently adopted from SAVE animal shelter.

The summer season often brings about a lull in adoptions as people flock to their vacation destinations. But Achenbach said that this fall, the numbers didn’t come back up as they usually do.

SAVE has a contract with local animal control, which obligates them to take in stray kittens and cats. Consistently there are between 60 and 75 cats in the shelter, to say nothing of the cats in foster homes.

Dogs pose less of a deluge to the shelter, because the shelter is limited to its 25 kennels. But while most kittens and puppies are adopted out within a week of their arrival at SAVE, this year they are staying for months before finding homes. This problem snowballs, because younger animals are generally more likely adoption candidates than adults, and the longer an animal stays, the more it will be overlooked.

In addition to the tail end of the pandemic bringing a downswing in adoptions, Achenbach also cited the “doodle” breeds as enemies of shelter adoptions. “Nobody wants the dogs that we have – they want hypoallergenic, fluffy dogs,” Achenbach said.

A mixed-bred dog available for adoption at SAVE.

During 2019 and 2020, SAVE saw so many pet adoptions that the shelter was nearly empty. Rather than wait for more dogs to come in, Achenbach said, many people were impatient, and went to breeders for their dogs instead. These breeders were often selling hypoallergenic “doodle” dogs, which caused a spike in non-shedding breeds’ popularity.

This poses a problem for shelters, as most dogs who come in for adoption are shedding breeds or mutts. In fact, Achenbach said, the shelter currently has only one non-shedding dog in the kennel, and she has more applications than any other dog at SAVE.

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To properly match prospective adopters with the perfect fit for their family, SAVE uses a brief application to guide pets into the best-suited homes. This process results in a remarkably low 2% return rate on adopted animals. A busy family might be matched with a low-maintenance pair of bonded cats, a marathon runner might be matched with an active breed dog, or a senior adopter may be matched with an older pet to enjoy their golden years together.

The application process may require adopters to put aside their predetermined “ideal” in favor of open mindedness to other genders, breeds, or fur lengths, but the success rate is undeniable.

SAVE is asking Montgomery-area residents to consider adopting or fostering from the shelter. Pets are staying far longer than they are supposed to, and while the shelter offers premium care, it is simply not a home.

To make an appointment, email, or call 609.309.5214.


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