With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continuing to impact individuals throughout the Texas Panhandle, animals have also been affected, with shelters and rescues in the area having to change the way adoptions are approached as well as overall shelter capacity being stressed.
Along with other entities associated with the city of Amarillo, the city’s Animal Management and Welfare department had to make changes because of the pandemic.
Rob Sherwin, the interim director of the department, said these changes included restricting the number of people who could be in the shelter at once, scheduling one group at a time to look at an animal or surrender an animal. The department has also worked with various rescue partners to help animals be transferred.
Like other cities throughout the United States, most shelters stay at, or near capacity, no matter what, especially during a pandemic scenario, Sherwin said.
“It’s just difficult to obviously shut off the flow of animals coming into the shelter, either by our field officers picking up stray animals or by our citizens bringing their unwanted animals to us,” he said. “That’s always been an issue, and generally, whatever capacity you have, you will be full.”
To provide more information about what the department is doing for the animals in the city of Amarillo, Sherwin said the department created a daily report card, similar to the COVID-19 report card the city’s public health department releases every weekday.
As of Friday, the department took in 38 total animals, consisting of 30 dogs and eight cats. There were 28 total outcomes, where 24 animals were either returned to their owners or either rescued or relocated. There were a total of four adoptions as well.
The report card also states the organization’s shelter capacity. As of Friday, there were 171 dogs in the capacity of 142 dog kennels. On the cat side, there were 40 cats and 57 total cat kennels.
Sherwin hopes the distribution of these facts will help break some of the “preconceived notions” about city shelters.
“I think there is a mystery that people have about city shelters, that they are not nice places and people here don’t care,” he said. “I think the absolute opposite is true. We have incredibly dedicated employees who are obviously very dedicated to citizens’ welfare, and our animals’ welfare while they are in our care. They want the best for these animals.”
Stacia Merritt, a board member and the adoption specialist at Gracie’s Project, said even with the pandemic, there are animals in the community which need to be cared for. According to its website, Gracie’s Project is a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating animals throughout the Texas Panhandle.
Currently, Gracie’s Project has more than 70 dogs in their rescues, while more than 50 are in foster homes, Merritt said. They are also taking care of approximately 100 cats total.
Merritt said Gracie’s Project is always over capacity, sometimes “busting at the seams.”
“It never stops, unfortunately,” she said. “That’s one of the biggest things that weighs on our hearts a lot because there’s always another one out there who needs our help, and with the lack of funding and the lack of adoptions we have been able to do out in the public, that’s limited on the space that we have because we stay full… We have had to stack individual kennels in the shelter. We have also had to figure out who can be kennel mates and who can’t.”
After the nonprofit stopped adoptions for three months, Merritt said the organization began to use social media to reach members of the community, showing videos and photos of the animals they had. Through this measure, the organization has slowly seen the number of adoptions increase recently, with nine dog adoptions occurring earlier this month.
Merritt said after helping more than 500 animals in 2020, even with the issues caused by the pandemic, Gracie’s Project’s goal for 2021 is higher – to help more animals in the community.
By helping these animals, whether sending them off to other rescues or through adoptions, more space is available to give animals reprieve after being overcrowded, she said. It also gives them the chance to get the next animal out of the pound and/or off the street.
Merritt believes it is important for community members to know that there are animals which are struggling in the community when they have no place to go. This especially occurs when shelters and rescues are full in the community. She said that is why individuals should support local shelters and rescues.
“We have a goal set that if 2021 is going to be better than 2020, we have a goal set of about 800,” she said. “Let’s see what we can do, let’s get them out there. Let’s get them helped.”
For more information about the city’s animal management and welfare department, and to see the department’s daily report card, visit https://amw.amarillo.gov/home-animalmanagement. For more information about Gracie’s Project, visit https://www.graciesproject.com.