The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing animal control agencies and shelters across the country to suspend most nonessential veterinary services, including spay/neuter surgeries, according to animal rights groups.
Pet overpopulation is a persistent issue during normal times, resulting in millions of animals being euthanized each year, and, like with many other issues, the virus is exacerbating the problem.
The Humane Society of the United States is leading a coalition of national organizations to address the backlog of surgeries in a campaign they are calling #SpayTogether. The nonprofit Fix Georgia Pets is part of the coalition, providing matching funds to award $40,000 to Georgia animal shelters. The grant will allow organizations in the state to perform more than 1,300 spay/neuter surgeries.
The pandemic has hit some animal rescue groups hard, forcing them to temporarily suspend services that bring in revenue and seeing traditional fundraisers canceled because of social distancing.
Additionally, some medications and veterinary supplies have increased in cost because of disruptions to the supply chains, said Fix Georgia Pets Executive Director Caroline Hunter.
Fix Georgia Pets works to end pet overpopulation and specifically focuses on pockets of the state that have high reported rates of euthanasia and/or have limited animal control services.
“That’s why we wanted to work with Spay Together. These groups had the foresight to make sure we didn’t go backwards. So they created the stimulus fund to address the backlog,” Hunter said.
The program will first target local nonprofit and municipal services with a backlog of surgeries to be completed and then work on community outreach, encouraging the public to have their pets fixed.
“We try to offer reduced and low-cost spay and neuter to the public in those areas as well because, inevitably, if their animals are out their breeding, those animals eventually end up in the shelter,” said Laura Littlebear, with the Humane Society.
Shelters have seen an increase in pet adoptions and fostering since people began spending so much time at home. The Humane Society of Northeast Georgia had a record high number of adoptions in one of the early months of the pandemic, said Samantha Threadgill, the group’s development director.
“We’ve seen an outpouring of support, even with people who are having a hard time themselves. It’s really great to see that people still want to care about the animals,” Threadgill said.
While some shelters have seen an increase in the number of pet adoptions, some shelters are seeing an increase in pets being dropped off.
“Because people are just financially hurting right now and not able to take care of their animals like they would want, and so they’ve also a higher number of intakes during the pandemic,” Littlebear said.
“Spay and neuter is the only solution to pet overpopulation,” said Littlebear, who hopes the campaign will spark the momentum needed for communities to make progress on this ongoing problem. “I hope this can be a program that people can look at and really try to duplicate going forward and this not be a one-time effort.”