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Boston’s animal shelters adapt to pandemic, struggle with funding

Boston’s animal shelters and rescues have seen a drop in financial resources since the start of the pandemic and a decrease in animal availability as the demand for adoptions increase.

puppy on a leash
Boston animal shelters have struggled to obtain adequate funding and meet increased demand for pets since the pandemic began. MEGHAN SCOTT/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Three hundred twenty-seven animal shelters and rescues operate in Massachusetts — 13 in Boston alone — according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.

Victoria Odynsky, adoption center manager at MSPCA-Angell Boston, said she attributes the increased interest in adoption to the location’s shift to a virtual, social-media centered adoption process — set in place as a health precaution.

“We had to manage people’s expectations,” Odynsky said. “We get 100 inquiries for one pet, and obviously we can only pick one person for that pet.”

She said the animals at the shelter are either strays, surrendered to them by their previous owners, or transferred from other shelters.

Throughout the past 10 years, she added, an increase of spays and neuters has led to a “pretty steady decline” in the number of animals without homes, causing the shelter to take in fewer animals overall.

“There used to be litters and litters of puppies and kittens every year,” Odynsky said. “But now we’ve helped to spay and neuter so many of those pets that that’s really not an issue anymore.”

With fewer animals entering shelters, combined with the recent uptick in adoption interest, the animals the shelter receives tend to find a home relatively quickly — within a few days or a few weeks before being adopted, she said.

From January to November 2020, the national rate of pet adoptions rose to 59.2% of animals taken in by shelters, compared to 54.6% during the same period of 2019, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Intake fell from roughly 2 million to 1.5 million animals.

In addition to the increase in demand for pets, Massachusetts shelters have struggled with a lack of funding.

Joanne Mainiero, president of the Massachusetts Humane Society, said the shelter provides animal health care that they can afford, obtaining those funds through a mix of fundraisers, grants, sponsorships and donations.

The MHS will celebrate its 17th year in June, Maniero said. In that time, she said they have assisted in the care of not only cats and dogs, but animals everywhere from “land to ocean to forest.”

But during the early months of the pandemic, Maniero said funding fell because holding fundraisers became nearly impossible with the lockdown.

“We couldn’t go anywhere and do bake sales or yard sales, we couldn’t really interact with the public anywhere,” she said. “A lot of the companies couldn’t have us on their property to have fundraising.”

Mainiero said the local and state government disregarded animal shelters and rescues, adding that while many businesses received financial resources and stimulus funds, the Humane Society did not receive masks and gloves or monetary assistance.

“The only time you hear from [politicians] is when they’re in a bind, and they have animal issues somewhere and they need a local animal shelter to do something,” Mainiero said. “Other than that, you’ll never hear from them.”

She said the shelter especially needed help from March to August of last year with personal protective equipment for volunteers and food and medication for the animals.

Odynsky said the role of animal shelters and rescues goes beyond facilitating the process of adoptions.

She added that the MSPCA-Angell has community outreach programs, in addition to offering affordable animal health care, with low-cost animal vaccination clinics and spay or neuter surgeries.

“We’ve seen that help people keep their pets instead of having to surrender them,” Odynsky said, “because now they can have an affordable option to care for their pets.”

Their law enforcement department and advocacy team also works to pass bills for the betterment of animals, she added, and over the pandemic, they donated more than 1 million pet meals from their food pantry.

“It is a huge part of the community,” she said.

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