Looking for a forever home: Area animal shelters see spring spike in animal intake

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
A cat sits in the Sherman Animal Shelter in 2019.

Area animal shelters across Texoma are reporting a spike in the inflow of animals that have have led some to cease intake in recent weeks. The spike, which comes amid the annual breeding season, has caused many shelters to report that they are at or beyond capacity.

The Sherman Animal Shelter ceased accepting voluntary surrenders a few weeks ago and has not resumed them. Officials with the Sherman police department attributed the increase to a perfect storm of factors including the breeding season, reduced adoptions, economics and the weather.

"They will come in and we are getting a lot of reasons for the owner surrenders," Sherman Police Lt. John Kennemer said. "Some of them are that people are moving into a place that doesn't accept animals, and then just others saying that the dog isn't theirs."

The Sherman shelter currently has two kennel buildings with a total of 40 kennels. However, at last count, there were about 65 dogs housed at the facility.

With regard to inflow, Kennemer said voluntary surrenders include animal owners who are giving up a pet as well as people who are bringing in stray animals that have stayed with them for a few days. After this time, the animal belongs to the person for the purpose of counting surrenders.

Kennemer said it is common to see an increased inflow of animals during the spring months as litters of kittens and puppies are brought in due to spring breeding. However, 2021 has seen other factors at play that has worsened the issue.

Dogs fill cages at the Sherman Animal Shelter when the facility was at capacity in 2020.

"The puppies don't last long; they come in and get adopted out quick," he said. "Pretty much anything up to about a year old will get adopted out quick, too."

Older animals and pit-bull varieties are more difficult to find homes for, and in these cases, the shelter has partnered with rescue groups to help find permanent homes.

In most years, adoptions would help balance the number of animals at the shelter, but Kennemer said these are down this year. 

"I can't give you a solid reason, but I will say it could be the economy," he said. "People may just realize that they cannot afford the animals."

The recent rains and wet spring may have also contributed to the number of animals that are being brought into the shelter. Kennemer said that many people have brought in  litters of kittens that appeared on their doorstep unexpectedly. He speculated that feral cats may be moving their litters away from unprotected, low-lying areas to get them to higher ground and away from rising water.

The shelter has started using a variety of tactics to offset the increased inflow, including efforts to reinvigorate adoptions. The shelter has increased its use of the adoption trailer and has reduced some of its fees during specials and over the holidays, Kennemer said.

A volunteer shows off the kitty play condo and its occupants Saturday at the grand opening of the new newly renovated portions of Sherman's Animal Shelter [Jerrie Whiteley / Herald Democrat}

While not at capacity, Denison is reporting that it's Morton Street shelter is effectively full.

"Currently, I wouldn't say we are at capacity. I would say we are full," Neighborhood Services Manager Robert Lay said. "At this point we are having to double up in some runs. Could we take in more if we need to? Yes, but we consider ourselves full and have at least one dog in each run."

Unlike Sherman, Denison has mostly seen adult dogs and cats coming in with fewer puppies and kittens.  The intake has, however, mostly been surrenders, Lay said.

The city of Denison has been helped through the past few months by the Denison Animal Welfare Group, who maintain a separate shelter and adopt out abandoned and rescued animals. However, DAWG is also facing capacity issues due to the spike.

"Currently, I wouldn't say we are at capacity. I would say we are full. At this point we are having to double up in some runs. Could we take in more if we need to? Yes, but we consider ourselves full and have at least one dog in each run."

Mary, pink, and Farley Sloan examine a cat that was about to be adopted Saturday at the Sherman Animal Shelter.

Like the Sherman and Denison shelters, DAWG's facility is also at capacity, President Stephanie Phillips said Tuesday morning. For her part, Phillips attributed the increase to the summer months, but couldn't rule out the impacts of COVID-19.

Many people have adopted animals in a search for companionship during the pandemic and when many people were were working from home. Now that the pandemic is beginning to subside, many are returning to in-person work and no longer have the time for these animals.

Likewise, many people are finding themselves in a new world on the other side of COVID-19. While initially they may have had the ability to keep an animal, new living conditions make it impossible.

"I think that people are finding living situations are changing and are not able to bring their pets with them," she said.

"I was contacted yesterday about a disabled person that has to move into her sister's home because there is a two year waiting list for low-income housing. She had to make the very difficult choice to rehome one of her beloved pets, and I am hearing things like that more and more."

The ongoing spike in intake highlights DAWG's current major focus project: the development of a new shelter in partnership with the city, Phillips said. The project is still moving forward despite some setbacks in 2020.

"The next step is for the city to release the requests for proposals from the architectural firms that specialize in animal shelter construction," she said. "DAWG, like all other shelters in our area, continues to struggle with an overwhelming number of homeless pets and our current location is not suitable for our citizen's needs."

A dog awaits its forever home. The dog resided at the Sherman Animal Shelter in 2020.