Animal shelters all over the United States have been forced to operate differently these days in order to help the pets in their communities. Your hometown shelter, Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society, is no exception. We’re shaking things up in a big way to survive in the post-pandemic world in which we find ourselves.
I read an article in the Washington Post recently about the national crisis animal shelters are experiencing—citing statistics that really help to paint a picture of why we are seeing such a high number of owner surrenders and record-level increases in the number of stray animals being found on the streets.
For example, during the pandemic, Americans opened their homes to a historic number of pets, a development comparable to the post-World War II baby boom in terms of its size. More than 23 million US households adopted pets—nearly one in five nationwide, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
But as you know, a lot happened during the pandemic besides an increase in pet companionship. Folks lost their jobs. Many people moved homes (whether by choice or necessity). Relationships started. Relationships ended. And perhaps most notably, inflation went through the roof, squeezing people’s budgets, and in many tragic cases, made it impossible for people to find affordable housing. It’s been a weird time to live through.
So what does that mean for us at the shelter? Many people must now make the heartbreaking decision to give up their pets because they simply cannot afford to care for them.
Here in Santa Fe County, we are seeing this phenomenon in great numbers, and it’s troubling.
The national median rent swelled 7.4% year-over-year in November. But here in Santa Fe, the median listing home price was $629,000 in November 2022, trending up 14.4% year-over-year. (And new figures for the fourth quarter spike that number to $675,000)
Meanwhile, pet upkeep is not cheap: Annual food, supplies and routine medical care cost between roughly $500 and $1,000 for a dog, and $650 for a cat, according to the ASPCA.
Surprise veterinary care can cost thousands of dollars. More than four in 10 pet owners reported that a vet bill of $1,000 or less would cause them to go into debt, according to a Forbes Advisor survey. And by the way, in Santa Fe, not only has the price for veterinary services gone up, but access to care has been increasingly challenging.
As people fall behind on rent, we’ve seen a massive increase in the number of pets on the street. In mid-October, 5.2 million households were behind on rent, according to the National Equity Atlas. This puts 7.4 million pets on the verge of homelessness, according to a calculator developed by American Pets Alive, a nonprofit animal shelter advocacy group.
I just painted a pretty bleak picture of our current state of animal welfare in this country and specifically in our community. If you haven’t stopped reading by now to fix yourself a Tallsup-sized martini to soothe your anxiety, I have some good news.
The only way to navigate a crisis of this magnitude is to transform how we provide services to our community. One dramatic shift we’ve made at the shelter is launching our CASA Program—Community Assistance for Santa Fe’s Animals. This safety net program aims to help families with resources during challenging times so that they don’t have to be separated from their furry friends—offering alternatives to shelter admission, such as a pet food pantry, veterinary assistance, rental resources, assistance with fence repair or dog houses.
And there has never been a greater need for our CASA Program. We are operating 200% over capacity, and we have a waiting list of over 200 for owner surrenders. We simply do not have the capacity to care for the number of animals in crisis in our community, so we have had to ask community members to step up and take more accountability in the rehoming process. We will gladly help with providing education and resources for pet rehoming to make it a little easier. And let’s face it, no one is better suited to find a home for a pet than that pet’s guardian—am I right?
As people who love and adore animals, we’re all in this together. With your help, I’m really confident that we’ll weather the storm and come out stronger than ever! If you would like to support the CASA Program, or learn more, visit us at sfhumanesociety.org.