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Why are so many Connecticut animal shelters 'bursting at the seams' with pets?

Because of many different factors, including behavioral and medical issues brought on by the pandemic, the animals are staying in the shelters longer than usual.

CONNECTICUT, USA — Many animal shelters across Connecticut have reported that they are bursting at the seams with pets. But why?

It's common in places like Pack Leaders Rescue of Connecticut in East Hartford, which has been extra busy for years. 

"It's definitely nonstop," said Tori Cateni, co-founder and vice president of Pack Leaders Rescue of Connecticut. "There's a lot more animals that were adopted, and people are either downsizing financially, their homes, their livelihood – and so you see a lot of animals coming into rescue that were maybe adopted six years ago – three years ago." 

Through their many partnerships, Cateni said other shelters are seeing the same thing.

"Everybody is bursting. And we hate to say no, but there are a lot of rescues that are at capacity, if not full capacity," Cateni said.

The Connecticut Humane Society is also observing an imbalance of animals at shelters across the state. The Humane Society is the oldest animal welfare organization in the state. They have three shelter locations, an on-site vet clinic, and a pet food pantry.

"We step in when we feel like there's a gap that needs to be met," said James Bias, executive director of the Connecticut Humane Society.

Throughout the pandemic, the shelter found a flow that works.

"We've learned to use our foster homes more creatively than just using our shelter," Bias said.

But other shelters across the state are still struggling.

"It's a balance issue," Bias explained. "And so traditionally, animals go into a shelter; animals go out. Those that don't go out, either an end-of-life decision is made because there's a time frame, or resources aren't available, and some shelters have to make that end-of-life decision," Bias said. "The good news is, more and more shelters have resources to keep pets longer. But the shelters weren't designed for long-term housing." 

The animals stay in the shelters longer than usual because of many different factors, including behavioral and medical issues brought on by the pandemic.

"The good news is, more and more people are considering shelters as their first option. But, we are seeing people kind of taking a look at their finances, can they afford to acquire a new pet," Bias said.

For the same reason, many people have trouble keeping their furry friends at home.

"We do see a lot of people that are abandoning their animals because they just can't take care of them," Cateni said.

So what's the solution here? There isn't just one.

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"We have to get creative and start thinking: 'One, can we prevent an animal from being surrendered?' By keeping them in their home and providing services. And then two: 'Can we still continue to let people know the shelters are bursting at the seams?'" Bias said. 

Many of those resources come from state lawmakers. Right now, shelters are on their radar.

"We haven't updated our municipal animal shelters since 1963," said State Rep. Dorinda Borer (D) West Haven.

Rep. Borer said more animals are being returned to the shelters, left on the streets, or even beaten. A few municipal shelters in CT have also recently let the health of animals slip through the cracks. 

"And while it is difficult to regulate that process, what we can create regulation and laws around is [that] when the animals do go to the shelter, to make sure it's a humane place," Borer said.

So, along with others, Rep. Borer has introduced a pair of bills. They passed with full bipartisan support in the House, and now, they're headed to the Senate.

The first is the Shelter Bill, HB 5575: An Act Requiring the Department of Agriculture to Revise Municipal Animal Shelter Regulations. It would change the following:

  • Better regulate the temperature of animal shelters.
  •  Set standards for sanitary and housing conditions.
  • Change the reporting process by requiring a report by the animal control officer by the Department of Agriculture within five days of an investigation of a complaint. Within 30 days, that report needs to go to the chief elected official of the municipality.

"So this way, everybody is aware of what's going on. There's accountability, there's transparency, and it can be addressed at all levels," Borer said. 

The second bill is the Cruelty Bill, HB 6714: An Act Concerning Cruelty to Animals. This bill would change the following:

  • Require veterinarians to report suspicion of dog fighting with the option of anonymity.
  • Possession ban: If convicted of animal cruelty, people would be banned from owning, adopting, or volunteering with animals for five years from the date of conviction 
  • Better defining bestiality as a crime.

"Addressing animal cruelty is critical because we know so much more about the link between animal cruelty and other violence. It's a precursor very often for significant violence," Borer said. 

And while updating the laws is a good start to creating change, what shelters need more than anything is people who will take in, love, and care for the animals. 

"Hopefully, we won't be needed. And all of the dogs get adopted, and people start spaying and neutering and not giving up their animals. But until then, there's going to be other rescues," Cateni said. 

"There isn't just kind of an easy fix to any of these; there's not an easy fix to address the shelter population. It's a matter of really just kind of using all the tools we have in our toolbox," Bias said.

The Connecticut Humane Society and Pack Leaders Rescue of Connecticut are looking for people to serve as volunteers or adopt animals. To volunteer at the Humane Society, click here. If you're looking to volunteer at Pack Leaders, click here

Pack Leaders Rescue of Connecticut also hosts an adoption event at the PetSmart in Manchester every Friday. On Friday, May 26th, the event is being hosted at the PetSmart store from 2-7 p.m. Email the shelter with any questions at packleadersrescuect@gmail.com.


Julia LeBlanc is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at jleblanc@fox61.com Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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