By: Sarah A. Neikam, CAWA

In 2020, during the early phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, animal shelters witnessed an overwhelming response from the community. People flocked to animal shelters, adopting and fostering pets in record numbers. It was a beacon of hope during a very challenging time, giving many animals a second chance at life and love.

Kennels are full, so dogs housed in crates line the shelter hallway.

However, that beacon of hope has faded and now animal shelters across the country, including the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare, Aiken County Animal Shelter and local rescues are witnessing an alarming rate of animals being brought in, with adoption numbers not keeping pace. The heart-wrenching truth is that many shelters are bursting at the seams, with not enough resources or space to accommodate the influx.

This concerning trend risks erasing decades of progress. In the 1970s, 13.5 million of the 65 million dogs and cats in U.S. shelters were euthanized. By 2019, thanks to compassionate progress and collective efforts, that number was reduced to fewer than a million dogs and cats, about 0.7 percent of the country’s 135 million in shelters, being put down.

But the rising numbers we’re seeing now threaten to reverse that achievement and animal shelters find themselves in an unsustainable, heartbreaking state. A resurgence of 2020’s overwhelming response is needed again.

What’s causing this sudden influx of animals? There are many reasons. The state of the economy, increasing housing costs, especially for pet-friendly housing when it can be found, and the lingering effects of the pandemic have all played a role. For some families, surrendering their pet becomes a heart-wrenching last option. For others, there are behavior challenges for pets adapting to post-pandemic life when they have grown accustomed to constant companionship.

With all kennels full, the shelter must house dogs in crates in other areas of the building, including this meeting and event space.

Animal shelters are also seeing more strays. Some speculate that these “strays” might be pets abandoned by owners unable to make formal surrender appointments. Others suggest it might be a ripple effect from reduced spay and neuter operations during the early days of the pandemic.

Regardless of the cause, the current state requires a call to action. The SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare, The Aiken County Animal Shelter and local animal rescues urgently need your help.

Adopt: Now is the time like never before. By adopting from a shelter, you give a loving animal a second chance and make room for another pet in need.

Foster: Not ready for a long-term commitment? Fostering provides a temporary home for animals, easing the burden on the shelter and giving animals a more comfortable environment. Everything you need will be provided, including food, supplies, toys and vet care. Fosters provide valuable housing space and a better understanding of the pet’s personality and behavior outside of the shelter so the most suitable adoption match can be made.

Donate: Animal shelters rely on donations and resources are stretched thin. Monetary donations are vital in helping maintain and expand operations, ensuring that every animal receives the care and love they deserve.

Volunteer: With an increase in animals and a shortage of workers, shelters need all hands on deck. You can walk-dogs, socialize cats, bottle-feed kittens, pitch in at fundraising events, put your social media skills to work and more.

Finally, one of the most sustainable ways to help this problem is by changing your mindset regarding the purpose of an animal shelter. When it comes to finding stray animals or needing to rehome a pet, consider the shelter only as a last resort. Finding temporary space for one animal in your own home is much easier than the animal shelter finding nonexistent space for a dozen more animals each day.

Social media makes it easier than ever to connect with people in your community. Take photos and video of the pet and utilize community pages and groups like Aiken Pets Reunited, Aiken Information, Aiken Info. and more. Network with other like-minded people to return lost animals to their families or find new families for pets who are no longer able to be care for.

Your support can save lives. Whether it’s adopting, fostering, volunteering, or donating, you can be the lifeline these animals need. Join us in our mission to give every animal the chance for a brighter future.

Every action taken to address this crisis counts. Let’s come together as a community to ensure that local animal shelters and the animals within them thrive.🐾

Sarah Neikam is the SPCA Albrecht Center’s Marketing Director and has been a staff member since 2012, serving first as Volunteer Coordinator, then Digital Media Manager and as Director of Operations & HR from 2018 until 2023 when she returned to her marketing role. Sarah earned her Certified Animal Welfare Administrator credential in January, 2022. She lives in Aiken with her husband Tom, their three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna & Grady, plus three former feral cats: Phoebe, Big Boy & Willow, who are happy to take advantage of the safety and consistent meals the Neikam home provides.