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  • The Vindicator

Cleveland Kennel Crisis

A Cleveland shelter stays stagnant, struggling to maintain pet adoption rates

Written by: Abigail Preiszig


During the COVID-19 pandemic, animals in shelters across the country were swept into forever homes as Americans looked to furry friends to keep them company. The “pandemic pup” became a staple source of love, comfort and relief while people were stuck at home.


One in five households acquired a cat or dog since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a May 2021 survey by The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A majority of these pets are still in the same home today.

Credit: Riley Roliff

With many people back to in-person activities or experiencing financial hardship, adoption rates have slowed down, leaving many shelters struggling to provide for an increasing number of animals in their care.


“What we are finding is outcomes not keeping up with intake,” Sharon Harvey, the Cleveland Animal Protective League’s president and CEO of 15 years, said. “That’s the crisis. There is a critical bottleneck in the middle.”


Outcomes are how the animal leaves the shelter’s care: this can be through adoption, return to owner, transferring to another facility, dying in care or euthanasia. Intake refers to animals coming into shelters.

With many people back to in-person activities or experiencing financial hardship, adoption rates have slowed down, leaving many shelters struggling to provide for an increasing number of animals in their care.

According to an October 2022 analysis of the national shelter database by Shelter Animals Count, 7.3% more animals are entering shelters than leaving them so far this year. Yet compared to 2019, the number of intakes has decreased 17% while the total number of outcomes has decreased at an even higher rate of 20%, meaning more animals are staying in shelters now than before the pandemic.


“The pandemic kicked off a lot of changes,” Harvey said. “It’s a lot different now and we are trying to figure out what is causing those changes.”

Credit: Riley Roliff

A local shelter hit hard by this “bottleneck” is the Cleveland City Kennel —better known by their adoption and volunteer coordination program, City Dogs — who saw a slowdown in adoption rates beginning mid-2021. They are currently at capacity, with 165 dogs at the time of the interview.


“Our intake numbers are back to where they were in 2019, but correspondingly outcomes have not gone up,” Izzy Esler, the adoption and volunteers coordinator at City Dogs, said. “I don’t think it's exaggerated to call it a crisis. I think nationally in the animal shelter world everyone is really struggling.”


As an open-intake facility (meaning they cannot control the pace or volume of dogs coming in), City Dogs relies heavily on transfer partners: other shelters or private rescue groups that specialize in puppies, seniors or specific breeds, and take responsibility for their care and adoption. Unfortunately, according to Esler, almost all of their rescue partners are seeing slowdowns in adoptions as well, so they are not able to take as many dogs.


Credit: Riley Roliff

With the amount of dogs in their care, City Dogs has had to get creative with pop-up crates and utilizing meeting spaces not meant to shelter dogs.


Shortages in staffing and volunteers have also had an impact on dog care at City Dogs and the APL. With the competitive job market, shelters are having a hard time retaining good staff.


“It’s not only a matter of space, it’s a matter of caring for the dogs,” Esler said. “Even with a really dedicated volunteer team, we’re really short-staffed. If I compare us to 2019, we have more dogs and fewer staff.”


Esler states that shelters have made a lot of progress in providing enriching care to their animals, but lack of staff and volunteers makes it difficult to maintain daily enrichment on top of basic care.

Both the APL and City Dogs offer a variety of adoption, volunteer, foster or monetary opportunities for support.

“When I first started in 2016, it was a conversation of how many times a week a dog would get out of its cage,” Esler said. “Now, it's a matter of everyday, so progress has been made. But, I think for the first time in a while we, as well as animal welfare groups across the country, will see backsliding on progress that we’ve made.”


Esler fears “backsliding” will lead to higher national euthanasia rates, something that has not been seen in years, and data supports those fears. According to the SAC analysis, non-live outcomes have increased by 9.4% nationally compared to 2021.


Both shelters made it clear that the terms “kill” and “no-kill” used when talking about shelters are “divisive and misleading” because there is no such thing as “no-kill.” All shelters need to euthanize their animals for one reason or another, but 90% of their outcomes must be something other than euthanasia to be considered “no-kill.”


“Medical is pretty clear, we all need to make humane decisions when it comes to the end of our pets’ lives,” Harvey said, citing that it was a choice she had to make for her own pets as they aged.


Both City Dogs and the APL say euthanasia is not something they will ever use to balance intake and outcome.

Credit: Riley Roliff


“Every healthy, friendly or humanely and safely treatable animal goes out alive,” Harvey said.


Both the APL and City Dogs offer a variety of adoption, volunteer, foster or monetary opportunities for support.


“Any way you can support your local shelter or rescue organization, do it,” Esler said. “I know a lot of places are looking for fosters. Fostering is a great thing if you can’t own a pet long term or are worried about financial commitment.”


APL volunteer positions include dog walker, groomer, cat adoption specialist, veterinary support associate, animal photographer, special event associate and more.


Volunteer with the APL: bit.ly/3XppYyP


City Dog volunteer opportunities include dog walking, hiking and running groups, Kong teams, play groups, aromatherapy and music, sleepovers and more. City Dogs has also reduced their adoption price to $12 until the end of 2022.


Volunteer with City Dogs: bit.ly/3TWTwRt

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