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Survey: COVID-19’s Impact on Animal Shelters

animal shelters covid survey

Last Updated: March 7, 2022 by Lisa Melillo

The world is going through a pandemic unlike anything we’ve experienced in at least 100 years. As governments enact social distancing and restrict business activities, every facet of society is trying to adapt to the new normal.

There have been some feel-good stories of animal shelters being emptied due to a tsunami of people now staying at home full-time, but we wanted to dig deeper to see if that was the full story or if there are other challenges animal shelters are facing related to COVID-19.

We did a survey of 108 animal shelters and rescues around the US asking how they have been impacted by the virus. These responses were collected between March 25th and April 4th. Here are some key findings, followed by the full survey data with charts.

  • Of shelters with paid staff, 36% have had to do layoffs already.
  • 19.5% of shelters with paid staff foresee layoffs in the next 3-6 months, and 52.9% say things are too uncertain to make a prediction on further layoffs.
  • 43.5% of shelters said they have seen increased demand in adoption since the outbreak, while 28.7% have seen less demand.
  • 75% of animal shelters report “about the same” or less surrenders.
  • 70% of shelters have had to start limiting intakes. This is broken down further into not accepting any new animals (13%), limiting the number of animals they accept (53%), or offering assistance to pet owners to discourage surrenders (3.7%).
  • 75% of shelters report lack of funding being a challenge during COVID-19, with 54% of shelters saying that’s their biggest challenge.
  • 96% of shelters have had to cancel events such as adoption events, spay/neuter clinics, and fundraisers.
  • Lack of veterinary services and personal protective equipment to do spay/neuter surgeries leaves shelters afraid of a boom in homeless pets and lack of funding to sufficiently help.
  • Animals being surrendered back to shelters once people head back to work is another major concern. Some shelters have had to stop doing home visits to qualify adopting pet owners.

Survey Question and Responses

How much of an impact has COVID-19 currently had on the operation of your shelter?

How much of an impact would a lengthened shutdown/quarantine (3+ months) have on the operation of your shelter?

Has your shelter had to layoff staff due to COVID-19?

Do you foresee layoffs in the next 3-6 months?

How has interest in animal adoptions changed since the outbreak?

How have intakes/surrenders changed since the outbreak?

Have you had to limit animal intakes as a result of the outbreak?

What challenges have you seen as a result of COVID-19?

If you had to choose one challenge, which is the biggest facing your shelter?

Have have monetary donations/funding changed since the outbreak?

Have you had to cancel or postpone events as a result of the outbreak, or do you foresee having to cancel/postpone events?

Survey Findings

After reading through all survey responses, there are a few main concerns facing animal shelters as a result of COVID-19. Here are the main themes across the comments left in the survey that we feel are under-reported so far.

Lack of Funding

While adoptions may have spiked, those fees are only one part of how animal shelters raise money. Shelters rely on fundraising events and sponsors for revenue which have all been canceled for an unknown amount of time. Other shelters have had to close parts of their business such as a cat cafe or thrift store that helped fund their mission.

Some shelters have even reported having to switch to cheaper dog foods instead of high quality fresh dog food, like NomNom dog food.

There’s also concern that monetary contributions will be cut as unemployment skyrockets and people have less money set aside for charitable giving.

We are worried about the long term economic challenge we could experience well into the future and our constituents’ ability to support our lifesaving effort.

Samantha Shelton, Furkids

Inability to Operate

Some shelters and rescues have been unable to operate for a variety of reasons. Some have had to close their doors after being deemed a non-essential business. Others have closed to the public for the safety of their staff. For shelters/rescues that work on moving dogs across state lines, that has also become difficult or impossible.

We rescue a majority of our dogs from out of state and we are not sure if transports are going to continue to run.

Limited Spay/Neuter Services

Keeping the homeless pet population down is an ongoing battle, and one that must be fought continuously. The difference between spaying one cat or dog can be hundreds or even thousands more animals in a span of 5-10 years.

COVID-19 is threatening to throw away years of progress towards keeping the homeless pet population down due to limited veterinary services and personal protective equipment such as gloves, surgical masks, and sanitizing products. What’s worse is the timing of this is happening as we enter into kitten season. The flood of new kittens born may not be able to get the spay/neuter services they need to prevent a population boom going forward.

The animal welfare community is advising shelters to stop performing spay/neuter surgeries due to the inability to maintain social distancing standards and anticipated shortage of surgical supplies … The timing of this advice couldn’t be worse as we are currently in the midst of kitten season and expect to lose ground on our work to reduce the number of feral and community cats in our county.

Dara Eckart, Friends of Strays


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