The Rising Cost of Living Is Causing an Overcrowding “Crisis” in Animal Shelters · The Wildest

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Animal Shelters Are in “Crisis” Due to the Rising Cost of Living

Overcrowding is at an all-time high.

by Sio Hornbuckle
January 10, 2024
A hand holding a kitten with a cat tattooed at the hand.
Andrew Marttilla

Even one pet waiting for a forever home is one pet too many — but the bleak reality is that shelters are often overrun with potential adoptees. The pandemic resulted in record adoptions, but those numbers quickly dwindled as inflation soared and people got back to in-person work. And now, a few years out from that brief surge, the crisis is worse than ever. Inflation and the rising cost of living are causing pets to be surrendered in droves — and preventing potential adopters from stepping up to rescue them. 

Shelters are filling up. 

According to Shelter Animals Count, a national database that surveys nearly 7,000 animal organizations annually, the number of dogs taken in by shelters is up 22 percent since 2021. At the end of 2023, there were 250,000 more animals in shelters than at the beginning of the year. Stephanie Filer, executive director of Shelter Animals Count, says shelters are seeing an increase in puppies and purebred dogs, who typically have fewer issues finding forever homes. 

Animal Care Centers (ACC) of NYC, the largest animal shelter in New York City, is one of many shelters experiencing major overcrowding — last year, their numbers were up 41 percent. In October, ACC’s resources were so overwhelmed that they had to close their doors to new surrenders. “Shelters are quite literally at crisis, and some of them are making the decision to close their doors or reduce hours of operation or reduce the kind of animals that they bring in,” Filer told TIME.

Why are shelters so crowded? 

A person may surrender a pet or feel discouraged from adopting one for many reasons, but one overarching issue sticks out above the rest: money. “Animal shelters generally reflect what is happening to people in a community and where there is food insecurity,” Filer told CBS. 

Inflation rates have soared in recent years, impacting the costs of everything from vet care to pet food. “Dog food costs have surpassed the consumer price index,” Katy Hansen, director of marketing and communications for ACC of NYC, told The Wildest in 2022. Her colleague, Zoe Kenney, seconded this, telling TIME, “Sometimes people are choosing between putting food on their plate and putting food on their pet’s plate.”

A lack of pet-friendly housing is another factor keeping people from adopting pets — or, in tragic cases, forcing renters to surrender their companions. Though the percentage of pet-friendly buildings is increasing each year, according to Brick Underground, only 63 percent of buildings were pet-friendly in 2023. Allia Mohamed, co-founder and CEO of Openigloo, told the publication that pet-friendly buildings are also 30 to 40 percent more expensive on average.

“Landlords in New York City pretty much have the upper hand,” Hansen told CBS. “We're getting pets that have been in the family for years and years.”

Breed specific restrictions are another factor inhibiting the housing choices of pet parents. These policies specifically prohibit certain breeds — typically, Pit Bulls and Pit Bull-type dogs — from living in buildings.  

How can you help? 

If you want to help, volunteering at a shelter or donating to a pet charity can make a huge difference in a pet’s — and a pet parent’s — life. Fostering pets is a direct way to alleviate a shelter’s resources. And, of course, if you’re able and looking to adopt a new family member, now’s the perfect time.

If you and your pet need help with vet bills or food costs, there are many organizations dedicated to serving pets in need. Check out our guide to finding free pet food near you and our list of nine organizations that can help you pay your vet bills.

Sio Hornbuckle

Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.

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