As the COVID-19 pet rush has ended in Miami-Dade, shelters are overcrowded again

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Pet adoptions were popular at the start of the pandemic. Now Miami-Dade’s animal shelter is crowded again, with larger dogs being the main concern for many.

Following higher demand for new pets after the COVID-19 pandemic began in spring 2020, Miami-Dade County’s Animal Services Department reported a growing population of dogs and cats at its Doral shelter, which is nearing record capacity.

“During the pandemic, a lot of people said: ‘Oh, I want a pet. I have time,’” said Marcela Garcia Bonini, a Miami dog trainer who visits the shelter three times a week as a volunteer dog walker. “But nobody thought the pandemic was going to be over, and people would go back to normal life.”

Shelter managers saw the intake numbers grow significantly over the summer, when the population count crossed the 200 mark for the first time since the pandemic began.

The pandemic also upended the normal routines that bring dogs and cats into the shelter, with fewer strays spotted at a time, reduced shopping trips and fewer commutes.

Overall intake dropped 6.9% in 2020 to about 27,000 dogs and cats while homeless pet arrivals were up nearly 18% in 2021 to 32,400, according to Animal Services. That spike in new dogs and cats defied forecasts for a smaller increase as the pandemic effect waned. For cats, the county relies on a release program where the shelter sterilizes stray cats and then returns them to where they were found. Miami-Dade expects to process about 12,000 cats in the program this year.

Animal Services recently offered gift cards for foster volunteers willing to take in extra dogs. Bronwyn Stanford, the new Animal Services director recently hired by Levine Cava, is pitching the holidays as a good time for families to take in a foster dog for a few weeks. “We’d love people to take some dogs just for the holidays,” Stanford said. “Just to give them a break from the shelter.”

There are about 154 animal shelters in Florida, which seek to protect animals and reunite with their owners if possible. The map shows the top 15 shelters closer to Miami for residents to know where to adopt a pet.

Astrid Oscorima Requena is a senior at Florida International University majoring in journalism with a minor in English. She is passionate about writing and reporting in both English and Spanish. She enjoys traveling to know more about other cultures. After her studies, she wishes to pursue a career in local media by expanding in the field of broadcasting.