Minneapolis seeks support for pet adoptions

The city has waived adoption fees and provided services to help bring animals from shelters into homes over the past few months.

Many University of Minnesota students own pets but have to balance student life and owning a pet as well as the financial aspects of owning a pet long term.

Jack Rodgers

Many University of Minnesota students own pets but have to balance student life and owning a pet as well as the financial aspects of owning a pet long term.

by Devlin Epding and Ashley Jones

As Minneapolis shelters struggle to house an increasing number of animals, the city is removing barriers to help find pets forever homes.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Minneapolis Animal Care & Control (MACC) waived adoption fees and began providing medical procedures including vaccinations, sterilizations and microchips for pets in 2020 to streamline the adoption process. Three years into the program, the city’s animal welfare system has run out of space to shelter animals.

In January, Minneapolis’ shelters and foster programs saw a 47% increase in animals housed in its shelters and foster programs compared to the previous year, reaching capacity at 98 animals.

The system’s capacity issues were largely due to a roughly 68% increase in owners surrendering their pets to MACC, even if the animals were not originally adopted from the shelter.

Although Minneapolis accepts every animal into its system, MACC Director Caroline Hairfield said the city does not have the staffing or resources to properly care for more pets.

“Once we get up around 100 or so [animals], we are really maxed out as far as our capacity for care,” Hairfield said. “It’s not the number of animals in terms of how many kennels we have, but it’s the amount of time that we have to spend with each animal and give them quality care.”

In the past, it was common for shelters across the country, including MACC, to euthanize animals to maintain capacity rather than prioritize alternative methods to preserve space, Hairfield said. Now, Minneapolis is trying to provide the best care possible for pets, while finding homes for every animal in its system.

“I want to reach out to the community before we have to start euthanizing for space and ask for their help,” Hairfield said. “Every time, the community has stepped up and helped us, and we’ve gotten some really wonderful homes.”

Anyone interested in adopting a pet can fill out a questionnaire and work with “matchmakers” to determine which pet is a best fit, Hairfield said.

COVID-19 creates ripple effect

Pet Haven is Minnesota’s oldest foster-based rescue organization and has worked to find pets homes for more than 70 years. Since the COVID-19 pandemic limited shelters’ resources and caused economic hardships for many communities, Pet Haven Executive Director Kerry D’Amato said Minnesota’s shelters have been more overwhelmed than any other time in the last decade.

“A lot of vet clinics shut down, so the access to vetting, spay, neuter, all those things became very limited,” D’Amato said. “What we’re seeing on the landscape now is lots of unwanted births.”

Additionally, D’Amato said more people adopted pets during the pandemic, but unprepared owners and those without the resources to care for a pet have caused the spike in surrendered animals.

Owning a dog or cat can cost roughly $1150-1400 per year. About one in five households added one pet during the pandemic, a report from the ASPCA said.

While simplifying adoption is important for shelters to maintain space, it is important for people to know the responsibilities that having a pet entails, D’Amato said.

“I’m all for reducing barriers on pet ownership, but at the same time, there has to be a balance of preparing people,” D’Amato said. “This is a lifetime commitment.”

Students offer forever homes

Many students living on or near campus own pets. However, student life and living in an urban area can provide barriers to pet owning.

DeWayne Townsend is the president of the Southeast Como Improvement Association (SECIA) and a professor of animal research at the University of Minnesota. Townsend said this year, the Southeast Como neighborhood is housing the highest number of renters they’ve seen. Most of the renters Townsend has spoken to have to pay a fee to own pets in their homes.

“Most of our Como residents are renters, often first-time student renters, so maybe the paying of fees could be an issue,” Townsend said.

Living in an area with little outdoor space can bring issues for animals, like dogs, that demand regular exercise. Townsend said Southeast Como is “pretty dog-friendly” with trash cans along the walkways and outdoor parks. There are also a few off-leash dog parks in the area, including Meeker Island and Franklin Terrace.

Student pet-owner Angela Sanpayo said she believes balancing student life and owning a pet brings added difficulties to daily life. College can be an extremely busy time for students, and some animals require more attention and exercise that not everyone can afford, according to Sanpayo.

Sanpayo said she understands first-hand that it “can be expensive to own pets.” On top of the potential housing fees for the pets, there is a plethora of costs to properly care for them.

Sanpayo’s German Shepherd, Sky, needs “plenty of space to run around,” along with supplies from dog food to toys. Even her pet tortoise, a fairly independent creature, needs a heating lamp and feed, costs that Sanpayo said can add up quickly.

However, Sanpayo said owning a pet can be beneficial to both mental and emotional health.

“My pets are companionship for me — I feel like they teach me to be more responsible and kind,” Sanpayo said. “I think that being with them partly inspired me to study animal sciences.”

MACC has dogs, cats and other small animals that are spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped available for adoption. These pets are available year-round and can be adopted by anyone who is at least 18 years old and has their landlord’s consent.