An influx of stray dogs has strained the Bakersfield Animal Care Center, which has waived adoption fees for pet reclamation and adoption in an attempt to open more space.
On Wednesday, the shelter held 225 dogs in a facility designed for 218. But even as the dogs have been dropped off, few residents have visited to reclaim or adopt, leading shelter administrators to worry that space might soon run out.
“If the community does not reclaim their pets, but keeps surrendering their pets, we only have so many places to store them,” said Julie Johnson, executive director of the Animal Care Center and the SPCA. “At some point we are going to be overloaded.”
Shelter administrators cannot pinpoint a reason why the dogs have started showing up in greater and greater numbers, but ever since the state began to reopen, dog intakes have been steadily rising.
During the pandemic, the Animal Care Center stayed around 25 percent capacity, a figure that has boomed to more than 100 percent. The shelter has struggled to accommodate the pit bulls, huskies and German shepherds that make up a high proportion of the shelter’s population. Unlike small dogs, large dogs cannot be “doubled up” in pens, and they are typically the hardest to adopt out.
Some employees have taken to letting dogs sleep in their offices. On Wednesday, Johnson comforted a border collie mix who had been dropped over the fence before the Animal Care Center opened that morning.
“It breaks my heart for the senior dogs more than anything,” she said, noting those dogs have grown used to homes and families of their own.
There is no sign that the drop-offs will slow down anytime soon. Reports of stray dogs tend to increase following the Fourth of July, when fireworks scare the animals into running away.
“When it starts getting warm, and it starts getting to be puppy and kitten season, every shelter is impacted,” said Bakersfield Animal Control Supervisor Tammy Davis. “The fact that everybody was changing the way they did business last year made everything seem more phenomenal.”
But unlike the Animal Care Center, the city’s Animal Control Department has not experienced a significant increase in impounds. According to the department’s figures, impounds have only increased from 212 in June of 2019 to 243 in June of 2021.
“It’s fairly consistent. It might go down 10 to 20 percent or it might go up,” Davis said. “Our call volume, from 2010 to 2016 we had a steady decline… Now we’re going back up the other end of the spectrum.”
Kern County Animal Services, too, has not experienced an above-average number of dogs coming into its shelter. Director Nick Cullen said that June typically sees more dogs than usual in the county shelter, but the numbers have not exceeded normal for this time of year.
“Usually an animal shelter will see an increase in the warm months, and unfortunately in Bakersfield, there are a lot of warm months,” he said. “We’re packed to the gills, but we’re actually taking in less animals now than we did two years ago.”
Whatever the reason, the overcrowding at the Animal Care Center has caused staff to worry the shelter’s high live release data might be in jeopardy. As it stands, the shelter only euthanizes animals due to sickness or injury. However, the large number of dogs has resurfaced fears that the staff might be forced to change.
“It’s crushing us. We are never going to go back to a time when we are going to make decisions to euthanize for space. We refuse to do that,” Johnson said. “We do not want to be put in that position. Our staff does not want to be put in that position. Our goal is life saving, not life ending.”
The Animal Care Center will waive fees until July 17.
Residents can call 661-832-7387 to make an appointment. The shelter is located at 201 South Mt. Vernon Ave.
You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.