Adoption and Fostering Are Lifesaving Gifts You Can Give New York City Animals

October 31, 2023


By Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President & CEO, and Risa Weinstock, Animal Care Centers of NYC President & CEO

New York City’s homeless animals are facing a crisis mirrored nationwide: shelter animals are simply not being adopted fast enough. We can all participate in solving this problem by better understanding the challenges our community animal shelters face and what each of us can do to help.

Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC), the city’s only open-admission animal shelter, saw their animals’ average length of stay increase from seven days in 2019 to over 15 days in 2023. Although local partners, including the ASPCA, are helping to relieve this burden by taking in animals—especially those requiring specialized medical care or behavior training—an alarming gap still exists between the number of sheltered animals awaiting new homes and the number of prospective adopters.

The latest full-year Shelter Animals Count (SAC) report shows nationwide shelter intake increasing slightly each year since the pandemic. Though overall intake is lower than it was in 2019, the pace of adoptions is not keeping up.

Since its inception in 1995, ACC has partnered closely with the ASPCA to create and sustain an effective animal care program that supports New York City’s most vulnerable animals, including those who require specialized support. In addition to taking in dogs who need extra veterinary or behavioral attention before they can be adopted, we established the ASPCA Kitten Nursery in 2014 to provide veterinary expertise and over 300 dedicated foster homes for young kittens accepted from ACC facilities. These kittens often require round-the-clock care, including frequent bottle feeding.

But all this dedicated work and collaboration is no match for the current lack of adopters, which means many animals are waiting to find loving homes right now. The ASPCA Adoption Center is running at capacity while ACC shelters are overcrowded—currently 65% over their ideal capacity for dogs and 15% over their ideal capacity for cats. These challenges coincide with a 77% increase in dog population and 30% increase in cat population at ACC compared to last year.

Many of these challenges ensued from the height of the pandemic, which has lingering consequences on shelter operations nationwide. We’ve also seen shelter staffing issues throughout the time of year when shelters are inundated with animals, especially kittens. Feline breeding season—when vulnerable newborn kittens flood shelters during the warmer months—compounds existing strains on shelter space, staff and resources, pushing the challenge to a critical level. This year, 70% of the kittens cared for by the ASPCA and its foster caregivers were transferred from ACC.

Animals with medical and behavioral issues—which are often exacerbated by life in a shelter—are another acute shelter challenge. In a 2022 ASPCA survey of shelters and rescues from all 50 states, more than two-thirds cited their inability to manage the frequency and severity of behavior and medical issues as a top barrier to animal placement.

These animals require specialized treatment, which requires more staff time and attention, exacerbating capacity and crowding challenges shelters are already facing. Meanwhile, potential adopters are facing their own challenges—surveys last year revealed housing challenges, employment changes and the cost of pet maintenance as the top reasons existing pet owners may be struggling to keep their pets.

Strong bonds between people and pets make for stronger communities, and every New Yorker—regardless of their financial circumstances—should be able to benefit from the companionship, support and unconditional love pets provide. Many animal welfare organizations offer partially and fully subsidized veterinary care and resources to enable people to keep their pets. Safety net services like these are critical to keeping more pets in loving homes and out of shelters.

The public plays a crucial role in solving this crisis, and they need to know that even a modest commitment of time and space can make a lifesaving difference. Adopt a Shelter Dog Month this October is the perfect opportunity to welcome a pet into your home, and we encourage New Yorkers to consider adopting or fostering animals in need at ACC or other rescue organizations and animal shelters this season, including the ASPCA Adoption Center.

While visiting a shelter to adopt or foster one of their animals, please keep an open mind, ask questions and rely on the shelter staff for guidance—you may go home with a different pet than you had imagined earlier. The staff will help you match an animal’s needs and temperament to your specific capability and lifestyle.

When you provide a home and safety to animals in need, you’re not only helping animals who need it most, but reinforcing New York City—the birthplace of the American animal welfare movement—as a place that does all it can to support its most vulnerable residents.

Originally published in The New York Daily News