Dogs, Cats, and a Crisis

Why some of Central Texas’s animal shelters have struggled in pursuit of recent overcrowding problems.

Connie Cooper

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A+hungry+cat+in+WCRAS%E2%80%99S+adoption+center+eats+food+in+its+kennel.+Sept.+18th%2C+2022

A hungry cat in WCRAS’S adoption center eats food in its kennel. Sept. 18th, 2022

Walking into Williamson County’s Regional animal shelter, people are met with warm greetings, and a clean, fresh facility. But if they took the time to look a bit closer, they would be met with a much more polarizing, harsh reality. Surrounded by the uncertainty of a confined space, there are scared, cautious dogs glimpsing through the rows of metal bars, desperately waiting to be adopted. 

However, supply is not meeting demand. Austin Animal Shelter reported that their facility is at 148% capacity for dogs and 137% capacity for cats. Overcapacity in WCRAS is also an issue, with their shelters reaching a dangerously full level.   

“This is not a manageable number, and we have been pleading with the community to come out and adopt and/or foster for months now,” WCRAS’s Community Programs Coordinator, April Peiffer said. “We are at critical capacity and are in constant need of support in order to be able to continue to take animals in.”

Domestic economic issues as well as Austin’s housing crisis may be a leading factor in this problem. According to Roofstock, a company dedicated to investments in real estate, homes in the area have increased by 99% in the past five years. 

“People cannot afford to keep their pets,” Peiffer said. “When they are faced with housing issues, they are unable to find affordable housing that will allow them to keep their pets. Many apartments now charge monthly for pets, which just compounds the issue.”

False judgments on the behavior of shelter animals as well as general preferences have led to many people choosing breeders instead of local adoption centers for their next pet. According to the American Pet Products Association, 34% of dogs are purchased from breeders, while 23% are adopted from a shelter.

“Fewer people are adopting and more people are surrendering animals, which is creating a space crisis for many shelters.” Austin Humane Society’s Director of Community Support Programs, Sarah Hammel said. “Beyond that, communities across the country still struggle with pet overpopulation.”

Shelter staff have been working hard to make sure that negative connotations surrounding animals in the shelter are diminished. 

“I think decades of poor marketing and inappropriate portrayal in TV shows and movies have created a misconception that shelters are filled with bad dogs,” Hammel said. “50 years ago that might have been true, but in reality, most animals are surrendered to shelters because of a problem in the human’s life and not because of something wrong with the pet. Shelters can be scary and stressful for dogs, so shelter animals need a little time to decompress and let their true personalities come through.”