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Unhappy Animals Languish in Overcrowded Shelters

Good morning. It’s Tuesday. I’m filling in for James Barron today. We’ll look at why so many dogs are coming into New York City’s animal shelters and how that is affecting the shelter animal population.

Credit…Sara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York Times

Her landlord never allowed pets, but for 14 years Catrice Brown managed to keep Chiip the Chihuahua mix as her companion. He loved car rides and baths, and whenever Brown and her family left the apartment, he was waiting at the door when they returned, she said.

At first, Chiip was well behaved and rarely gave Brown anything to worry about, she said. But as he aged, Chiip became harder to hide.

“Now when we step outside our apartment, there are reminders posted saying we can’t have pets — while he’s going to the bathroom in the elevator,” Brown, 50, said. “We just can’t keep him anymore. It’s either him or us.”

Brown was sitting in the lobby of the Manhattan shelter run by Animal Care Centers of NYC, where she had come, sadly, to give up Chiip.

Nearly 5,000 animals were surrendered to Animal Care Centers — which has a city contract to run New York City’s public animal shelters — through September of this year. The number of adoptions hasn’t kept up with the deluge of animals being surrendered or brought in as strays, said Katy Hansen, the organization’s director of marketing and communications, and many animals have been waiting weeks or months without being adopted.

The dog population has become so enormous that for the first time, Animal Care Centers recently announced it had run out of space and was “closed for dog surrenders.” In July, the organization made a similar announcement about cats.

As it turns out, the organization couldn’t really refuse to take more animals. Hundreds of dogs have been accepted in recent weeks because the organization’s contract with the city requires it to take any animals brought in, Hansen said.

“It’s to get people to think twice about surrendering or at least try to re-home their pet on their own,” she said. “It’s also to reinforce the message that we’re desperate for fosters and adopters.”

Animal Care Centers has been “trying every avenue” to increase adoptions, Hansen said, including staying open longer, hosting events and waiving adoption fees.

Only three boroughs — Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island — have full-service, city-funded shelters, and there are hundreds of dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs up for adoption across all three locations.

New shelters under construction in Queens and the Bronx would provide much needed space, but they aren’t expected to open until 2024 and 2025.

Former owners cite numerous reasons for surrendering pets, Hansen said, including job uncertainty, financial issues and — the most common reason — moving. City shelters offer resources to people who are financially struggling to care for their pet.

People are hesitant to adopt for the same reasons.

“People say, ‘I don’t know if my rent is going to double. Should I take a new pet into my home at this time?’” Hansen said. “We have to be nonjudgmental, and we have to accept them all with open arms. But it’s hard.”

The rising shelter animal population has meant more animals are being euthanized. Through September, 1,055 animals at the three shelters — including 412 dogs — had been euthanized, according to Hansen, up from 792 in the same period last year.

Hansen said animals at city shelters are euthanized only if they have medical or behavioral problems that would make adoption difficult, but animals are more likely to develop those issues the longer they’re there. Shelters aren’t the most welcoming environment for animals in the best of times, she acknowledged, but in recent months the shelter population has become so large that kennels have been divided to fit more dogs.

“We might have two dogs that are spinning in their kennel and biting the bars until their teeth bleed, who are so anxious and really struggling mentally in the kennel,” Hansen said. “What are you supposed to do? We don’t want to warehouse dogs.” She added that it was emotionally difficult for shelter staff to make euthanasia decisions: “It’s not humane to just let them suffer.”

Animal Care Centers’ Manhattan location can humanely house 78 dogs, according to Hansen. On Oct. 20, there were 130 dogs in the shelter.

“We don’t try to hide it,” Hansen said. “We’re saying, ‘Please, this animal is struggling. Please come get this dog.’ We’re very forthright about saying they’re deteriorating in the shelter, and it’s become inhumane.”

Animal Care Centers posts “emergency placement animal” lists three times a week that are viewable for 42 hours. If animals aren’t placed with a rescue group, adopted, reclaimed by a previous owner or taken off the list for another reason, they are euthanized.

Hansen tried to comfort Brown, who had come in with Chiip that day. “A lot of people are going through what you are,” she told her. “A lot.”

A shelter employee told Brown it was time to part ways with Chiip, and she inhaled sharply. As Chiip was led away, she focused her eyes upward and made a beeline for the front door.

Weather

Expect a sunny, clear day with temperatures in the mid-60s. At night, it will be mostly clear with a light wind, and the low will be around 50.

ALTERNATE-SIDE PARKING

In effect until Nov. 1 (All Saints Day).


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METROPOLITAN diary

Chitchat

Dear Diary:

For several years, I had been spending a lot of time shopping at the supermarket near my apartment building in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.

Everyone who worked there spoke Spanish, and they were all so nice. I would always chat with the cashiers, sometimes twice a day.

There was one cashier, though, who was not interested in my attempts at friendly chitchat. Anytime I would try to engage her in conversation, she would just look at me with a rather confused expression on her face and conduct our transaction quickly — and in English.

I was determined to win her over. So one day I said, “hello” but in French by accident. It turned out she was Algerian and didn’t speak Spanish.

She looked at me, and then offered an explanation for not responding to me on previous occasions.

“I just thought you were crazy,” she replied in French.

— Jose Arenado

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.


Glad we could get together here. James Barron returns tomorrow. — E.N.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Bernard Mokam, Stefano Montali and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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