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Few animals available for adoption at the Siouxland Humane Society
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Shelter dog and cat numbers in decline

Few animals available for adoption at the Siouxland Humane Society

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SIOUX CITY -- A roughly 13-year-old black-and-white spotted Labrador and Blue Heeler mix called "Broadway" was one of only three dogs available for adoption at the Siouxland Humane Society this weekend.

His fellows at the shelter are "Rowdy," a 5-month-old Australian Shepherd, and "Gracie," a 2-year-old lab mix. And that's all there is. 

Cats, normally plentiful at animal shelters, are also in unusually short supply -- there were only nine available on Saturday, including some kittens. 

Jerry Dominicak, the shelter's director, said the shelter would normally have 10 to 20 dogs and as many as 40 to 50 cats. COVID-19 has, to an extent, played a role in the reduced number of animals there. 

The Siouxland Humane Society is mostly empty during COVID-19

"Rowdy," a 5-month-old Australian Shepherd, explores the backyard at the Siouxland Humane Society on Saturday, May 16, 2020.

Fewer people are going to the shelter in search of new pets, partly because of the small number of dogs and cats left available, and likewise, fewer people are giving up their dogs and cats. 

"We're probably seeing, about 50 percent of the animals that would normally get surrendered to us surrendered, which, that very likely could be that kids are out of school and home, and some people have been laid off and home and there's more time for pets," Dominicak said. "So they're keeping pets. May also be that vacation plans have been canceled, because a lot of times vacations and holidays, people dump pets at shelters." 

How the shelter came to have so few animals is also part of a broader story of pets in the U.S. -- it's far more popular today to get animals from shelters than in decades past, and Dominicak said that Midwesterners have, for one reason or another, gotten on board with spaying and neutering their animals. 

The Siouxland Humane Society is mostly empty during COVID-19

"Super Nova," a 12-year-old Domestic Longhair mix, sits on her shelf at the Siouxland Humane Society on Saturday, May 16. The shelter has restricted visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The number of animals being left at shelters was already in decline before the pandemic left people at home, needing the dog for company. According to ASPCA statistics, the number of dogs and cats entering shelters declined from 7.2 million in 2011 to around 6.5 million per year more recently. The number of dogs in particular has been on the decline, and litters of abandoned puppies are now comparatively rare. 

"Animal numbers are way down in shelters," Dominicak said. "Which in some respects is a very good thing." 

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Dominicak forecast that the number of cats, which are known to reproduce like the proverbial rabbits, will soon be on the upswing at the shelter. "I think our cat numbers are starting to pick up," he said. 

The Siouxland Humane Society has taken some of its own initiatives to keep the animals in their homes rather than at the shelter. They've provided dog or cat food for those unable to afford it, along with some basic veterinary services like flea treatments. 

The Siouxland Humane Society is mostly empty during COVID-19

"Pocahontas," a Domestic Shorthair kitten, explores the cat room at the Siouxland Humane Society on Saturday, May 16. Pocahontas was one of only nine cats at the shelter this weekend. 

The shelter has put in place some new COVID-19 restrictions -- walking in to view the animals without an appointment is no longer allowed. Potential adopters are screened to ensure they are serious about adopting, not just coming for a leisurely visit, and that they already have an animal in mind. Similarly to grocery stores' "one person" recommendations, the shelter is now discouraging entire families or large groups from visiting. 

This, in all likelihood, has further contributed to the decline in adoptions. 

"The week (after) school was canceled here in Sioux City, parents had nothing to do with kids, and we became a petting zoo. So, the kids were cooped up at home, there's nothing to do, let's go to the humane society and play with the animals," Dominicak said. This, of course, was problematic from a virus-prevention standpoint, so new rules were implemented. 

On the plus side, the process of choosing an animal at the shelter has been greatly simplified by the small selection of dogs and cats available. 

"A comparison would be, if you were looking for a new shirt, and you had 100 shirts to look at, it's going to take you a while to pick one out," he said. "But if you only had a couple to look at, and you really wanted a new shirt, you're gonna pick one out." 

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