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Housing insecurity in Wyoming is one cause for animal shelters going over capacity

A person greets a dog through a gate in an animal shelter.
Eric Vigil
Wyoming Public Media
Niki Harrison gives a treat through a gate to a dog waiting for a home at Cheyenne Animal Shelter.

Animal Shelters in Wyoming have seen an increase in surrenders and stray animals in the past year leading to high-capacity issues. Recently, a University of Florida report found that in many places, this high capacity is due to the decrease in spay and neuter surgeries during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in Wyoming, there's more to it than just that.

According to Niki Harrison, the director of annual campaigns and branding for the Cheyenne Animal Shelter, the shelter has been seeing a substantial increase in the number of owner surrenders.
"I would say that specifically in our location, and in Cheyenne as a whole, that we are seeing owner surrenders happening much more because of housing changing - people losing their housing or just rules simply changing on the basis of what types of pets they can have or if they can have pets at all," said Harrison.

Harrison also said this increase in homeless animals has put a strain on the shelter's finances and resources. The increased number of owner surrenders has put staff under pressure as it's often not by the owner's choice to surrender their pet.

A hallway in an animal shelter. On one side is a white wall. On the other are glass fronts of pet kennels.
Eric Vigil
Wyoming Public Media
Light pours in through windows on the multitude of kennels filled with dogs waiting for a home.

"It can be super hard on our team as well because they are constantly dealing with people in a state of crisis who are making these life changing decisions and it's pretty devastating and we are always trying to help people keep their pets as a part of our mission," she said.

This phenomenon stretches beyond Cheyenne though. Craig Cummings, the executive director of the Casper Humane Society, said he's been seeing an increase in owner surrenders in Casper as well.

"We saw an increase here locally shortly after COVID ended and some of the assistance ended for renting and things like that. We saw an increase in people who were having to move, who were losing their homes, apartments, things like that," said Cummings.

The Casper Humane Society uses a waitlist system to avoid euthanasia and to uphold better living conditions for homeless animals. They are currently at their capacity of around 60 animals, so instead of admitting more animals into their facility, those animals are put on the waitlist until a spot opens.

The waitlist for dogs is about three pages long, while the waitlist for cats is about 15 pages long. Cummings stated that the list of cats is so long because of the huge number of stray kitten litters in the area from a lack of spay and neuter surgeries.

Maddi Haak, the intake and care manager of Cheyenne's Black Dog Rescue, said from her experience working with shelters and clinics in the area, it's been hard to increase the number of spay and neuter surgeries.

"I mean, it's a double-edged sword in the aspect of spay and neuter because I think if we can [get] more animals spayed and neutered then we can decrease the unwanted population," said Haak. "But on the other side of that, the vets have to have the appointments opened to be able to do those spay and neuters."

Haak sees a lack of veterinarians in the state as one of the main contributors to why it's been hard to find an appointment. She also said that it's been hard to find and keep staff for shelters to help with the current high-capacity issues.

According to a report published by Mars Veterinary Health, by 2030 the US will need to gain close to 41,000 more veterinarians and will need close to 133,000 more credentialed vet techs.

However, the Laramie Animal Shelter has not been seeing any over-capacity issues over the past year according to Laramie animal control officer Teresa Bingham. Bingham pointed to Laramie's unique location as a college town as why.

"The student population, honestly. The professors as well. We have even, from the hospital, we see some of that population as far as hospital workers, visiting doctors, visiting nurses, that sort of stuff, we do see some of those guys adopting as well," said Bingham.

Despite the tough times, these animal shelters still have hope that this high capacity is temporary. One thing fueling this hope is the increased community support many shelters have experienced in the past year.

Eric is a third-year student at the University of Wyoming. He is majoring in both political science and journalism. Eric feels local media is extremely important in keeping communities whole. Giving local non-profits and listeners a voice on the radio is something he's happy to be a part of. Eric hopes to continue refining his skills at WPM to help local media in the future.
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