ND animal shelters at capacity
As the Florida coast braced for Hurricane Ian to make landfall, hundreds of thousands are being displaced as they flee the coming storm. Among the refugees are four-legged and furry friends, in particular those in the care of shelters and rescues.
In a Facebook post on Sept. 26, Souris Valley Animal Shelter highlighted the needs of animals that would otherwise be left behind during the mandatory evacuation ordered in Florida and Alabama. SVAS acknowledged that they don’t presently have the room to provide for the 50 dogs and cats that would be flown into Minot, let alone the 100 animals that their partner organization, Greater Good Charities, have created a manifest for. To accomplish this goal, SVAS called for the 37 other shelters in the state to step up to the plate and take in three to seven animals.
Unfortunately, that might be easier said than done, according to several individuals who replied to the post directly, pointing out that most North Dakota shelters are bursting at the seams with local rescue animals already.
North Dakota animal rescues and shelters contacted by The Minot Daily News responded they would not be able to accommodate any of the potential Hurricane Ian rescues.
A Circle of Friends Animal Shelter of Grand Forks representative said they were “at full capacity.” Purrfect Pound Pals of Bismarck has a full house as well and has stopped intakes for the time being. Bakken Paws of Dickinson has taken part in disaster rescues before but is unable to participate in this current effort. A representative said, “We do not have adopters for the animals we do have.”
The Animal Empowerment League of Minot reported it also will not be able to participate, with co-founder Kasey Breuer saying, “As much as we may want to help, we don’t have the means to right now. Winter is coming and that means we need to keep working to adopt the animals we have so we can bring in others from the freezing cold real soon.”
The situation is the same for the Central Dakota Humane Society in Mandan. In the past CDHS was able to send supplies and volunteers to help rescue animals from disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. However, according to CDHS communication and development Director Cameo Skager, CDHS is full and has been for months.
“Our local impound is so full they’re making the difficult decision to euthanize animals,” Skager said, “As much as we would want to help, at this time we are not able to. We have to focus on local rescues.”
Most local pounds have limited room, typically only taking in local strays and animals being held for medical concerns or legal issues. Representatives from both the Minot city pound and the Bismarck pound confirmed they are both at or near capacity. Any animal that hasn’t been picked up by its owner after three days usually can land at a local animal shelter, but if no spots are available, the only option that remains is for them to be euthanized.
“The current state of affairs is that North Dakota rescues are full, and most have long waiting lists like we do. If we were to take in out-of-state animals, we would be killing in state animals to do so,” said Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue founder Keith Benning.
When a shelter finds itself with a full house, it can lean on foster homes to help make room for new intakes, but even they appear to be at their limit just with local animals flowing to them from shelters and their local pounds.
Whitney Tennyson of Bismarck works with many rescues in the state.
“It’s not a matter of where the dog originates,” she said. “It’s that we simply don’t know how or where to put them. I personally have 13 fosters right now and couldn’t handle another one physically, emotionally or financially.”
There are a number of factors that could explain the influx of stray animals and surrenders in North Dakota shelters. Skager pointed to owners forgoing spaying and neutering their pets, mild winters allowing feral cats to flourish and the growing population of the state as some general explanations for why local shelters are finding themselves overcrowded.
“North Dakota has more people today. More people means more pets. That means more surrenders and strays. It’s a numbers game,” Skager said, noting that a large number of recent rescues and surrenders have been dogs that are 1-2 years old. “People got these pets during COVID. They didn’t take the pet to be trained or socialized, which makes it difficult to rehome them.”
As of this writing SVAS has yet to find another shelter able and willing to take in any of the Hurricane Ian rescues. According to SVAS community relations manager Siri Aponte, while there are many conversations taking place, no rescue flight to North Dakota will happen unless there is a destination for the animals to go.
“We cannot take off without a landing location,” Aponte said.
The consensus among the shelters and rescues contacted is that North Dakota is in an animal rescue crisis, with some saying the whole situation is exacerbated by some North Dakota shelters flying in rescue animals from out of state. One of the three shelters taking out-of-state animals is SVAS, which has a partnership with the Ardmore Animal Shelter in Oklahoma through a grant from a Utah-based nonprofit called the Best Friends Animal Society.
There have been multiple emergency transports of Oklahoma animals into Minot in 2022, with the most recent shipment arriving around two weeks ago. In response to the comments on its initial call to action, SVAS admitted this prior shipment is why it can’t absorb the Hurricane Ian animals itself saying, “50 is not in the cards for us at this time.”
While SVAS has been public regarding these efforts, Aponte was not able to confirm how many animals had come in with the most recent transport, nor how many transports in total have come out of Oklahoma. Aponte did credit SVAS’s network of approximately 200 foster homes as the destination for such animals, with each foster catering toward the specific needs of the animal from pregnancy to behavioral issues.
“Ninety-nine percent of our animals come in on a transport, they see our doctor, and then go straight to foster. We’re able to help these animals within our shelter simply because we have fosters,” Aponte said.
When asked if there would be any reconsideration from SVAS about their relationship with Ardmore due to the current strains hitting North Dakota animal shelters and rescues, Aponte deferred to SVAS’s executive leadership.
“That is not a conversation we have had yet. SVAS is very proud to be more than a shelter, and we want to not only be a beacon for North Dakota, but nationwide,” Aponte said, “There’s this argument that this is just a drop in the bucket, but if we help that drop, and another shelter helps another drop, perhaps altogether, together we can make a difference for these animals.”