Some Inland Empire shelters say they’re getting animals in faster than they can get them out

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The boy giggled as Hazel, a pit bull terrier mix, wiggled and licked his hand. He used his finger to follow along in his book, pausing to sound out new words and looking up at the cheerful dog for encouragement.

A group of elementary school children from Los Amigos Elementary School in Rancho Cucamonga comes to the Friends of Upland Animal Shelter on Monday afternoons, part of the “Reading Buddies” program, to read to the dogs and cats at the shelter.

While some local shelter employees say they haven’t reached pre-pandemic numbers, adoption rates are lower and don’t match the high number of animals coming into shelters now, post-COVID. The dogs coming in are younger — between 1 and 3 years old — and the breeds, shelter employees said, are mainly German shepherds, huskies, and pit bulls — like Hazel.

In 2023, Friends of Upland Animal Shelter took in 1,835 animals, 934 of those were dogs, and one-third were under 5 months old. A report published in 2024 found the majority of those animals were brought in as strays.

That year 1,252 animals were adopted out, 47% of which were dogs.

In pre-pandemic 2019, the shelter reported 2,368 animals came into the shelter and 1,542 were adopted, more than half of those adoptions were dogs. In comparison, 2020  saw 1,540 animals come in, with 1,506 adoptions. Dogs were 33% of the adoptions.

In 2023, the number of stray dogs taken in by shelters nationwide increased 6% in the period from January to November, as compared to 2022, and that number is up about 22% from 2021, according to Shelter Animals Count, which surveys nearly 7,000 shelters nationally. 

“Most of our shelters are overrun with huskies, shepherds, and pit mixes or purebred pit bulls,” said Nikole Bresciani, CEO and president of Inland Valley Humane Society in Pomona. “The reality is, is that the large dogs are harder to place, especially those large dogs that have behavior issues.”

It’s a similar situation at the Rancho Cucamonga Animal Center, according to spokesperson Jennifer Camacho-Curtis. They too have seen an increase in larger dog breeds between the ages of 1 and 3, most brought in as strays, she said in an email.

The Rancho Cucamonga shelter has seen a similar trend in the numbers of animals coming into the shelter compared to what is being adopted out.

Friends of Upland Animal Shelter works with the Inland Valley Humane Society to try to move animals out of the shelters faster and to prevent overcrowding.

Inland Valley Humane Society is faced with a different challenge.

Animals will be adopted or moved to another shelter on Saturday and by the time the doors reopen Monday more animals will have been brought in, Bresciani said.

“No matter how many we push out we’re getting more than we can handle and they’re coming in at an alarmingly fast rate,” she said.

The low adoption rates and high intake rates have created a difficult situation where other shelters they work with have had less of an ability to take animals because their own facilities are at capacity, Bresciani said.

“It makes it frustrating … there were things that we used to be able to do to save more lives,” said Shelly Foglesong, vice president of Friends of Upland. At one time, she could pull animals from the Inland Valley shelter to ease overcrowding, but with Upland at or near capacity that ability has dropped.

It is really a perfect storm, Bresciani said, from unprepared and perhaps uneducated owners, to a drop in animals that have been spayed or neutered following a period of COVID restrictions on those procedures, and owners who are unable to keep their pets after their situations were affected by COVID.

The most common reason Foglesong said she’s heard for owners turning in their pets is lack of living situations where pets are welcome or affordable. The cost of procedures for pets has also been referenced as a hardship.

A poodle was surrendered with a broken leg, Foglesong said. They were offered options for CareCredit or payment plans and the owners chose to surrender the dog.

Despite steps shelters are taking to help with spaying and neutering to reduce overpopulation, Bresciani said, past restrictions during the pandemic caused a backlog.

People also got pets when they were feeling isolated during the pandemic.

The thinking was “I want this pet and I want it to be perfect and I want it now,” Bresciani said, when in reality “pets are like children” with a lot of energy and they also “don’t always do what you want them to do.”

Many shelters, including Inland Valley Humane Society and Friends of Upland Animal Shelter, provide options for training. Inland Valley also has an online rehoming service for owners unable to care for their pets.

Hazel was one of those brought to the Upland shelter as a stray in July 2023. The lack of space in the shelter has her living in one of the meet-and-greet spaces. The door has a paper sunflower with details about the brown and white pit bull terrier, who’s about 6 years old, along with a cheerful greeting.

“We usually put her in the rotations, the kids like seeing familiar faces,” said Sherrie Darrow, volunteer coordinator for Friends of Upland Animal Shelter.

For the children to see that not every animal gets adopted super fast, that’s a good lesson, Darrow said. Some animals, like Hazel, will be around through the school year. Other times they will see a puppy they’ll never see again because it’s gonna get adopted quickly.

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