Why the Fourth of July surge leaves animal shelters strapped for weeks to follow

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Austin (KXAN) — For many shelters, the Fourth of July brings in the greatest influx of animals of the year, many of whom get spooked by the fireworks. Shelters often try to get the word out to pet owners ahead of the holiday, urging them to microchip their furry friends and keep them inside.

But long after the fireworks have been cleaned up, many of these same shelters in Central Texas still cope with the impact of the holiday surge on shelter numbers.

Bastrop County Animal Shelter, for example, put a call out for help to the public in mid-July when the space in its shelters and foster program was at capacity.

Shelter leaders feared they would have to turn toward euthanizing more animals because there is simply no more space to house new animals coming in.

The increase many of these shelters are dealing with is stark when comparing the intake numbers from January (a slower month for shelters) and the period right after the Fourth of July.

During January 5-9, Austin Animal Center took in 154 animals and during July 5-9 it took in 251 animals. The shelter typically houses around 800 animals.

“It’s a huge difference,” said Jennifer Olohan, Communications and Media Manager at the Austin Animal Center. “It’s a hundred more mouths to feed, it’s a hundred more kennels to clean. And then just trying to find fosters and adopters for those animals, it’s stressful. It’s stressful for the animals here, especially when we run out of kennels and they have to be put in temporary housing.”

A kitten at the Austin Animal Center in July. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

Olohan explained that AAC usually receives large numbers of animals in general over the summer, between summer storms and people losing their pets while they go on vacation.

“So summer going into fall we are full,” she said.

Crowding starts in the springtime, she explained, when the shelter is inundated with litters of kittens and puppies. The surge of pets usually continues into the later part of the summer.

“So the shelter is always at max capacity and beyond in those times,” she said.

About a month ago, AAC hit an all-time high for the number of animals it was taking care of with no room left to house more. Things are better now after it got help from other organizations to house some of the animals, but Olohan said a high intake day could put the shelter right back at crisis levels.

That makes it even more challenging when the Fourth of July rolls around, adding around one hundred additional animals to its shelters each year.

“It does really compound the issue,” Olohan said of the Fourth of July surge. AAC can see that surge continue for more than a month after the holiday, she said.

AAC is an open-intake facility, which means it cannot turn away animals.

Olohan said that to make sure your pet doesn’t inadvertently become part of the number in their shelter, it’s important to make sure he or she is microchipped. She noted that if your pet does go missing — over the Fourth of July or anytime — it’s important to check the shelter when you are looking for them.

As of August 9, AAC is over capacity but not quite at emergency levels.

At the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter, from Jan. 5-9, it took in 68 animals and from July 5-9 it took in 143 animals — more than double the January amount. This shelter is also an open-intake facility.

Wendy Ballard, Animal Services Coordinator for Bastrop County, explained that this crowding is not just a product of the Fourth of July surge, but also the influx of animals that has been building for months.

“It started as early as February, March, where we’ve literally been maxed out since then, even parts of the winter where we’ve been maxed out,” Ballard explained. “We’ve just been kind of flying at the seat of our pants, pleading for fosters.”

Wendy Ballard with the Bastrop County Animal Shelter takes in stray kittens at the shelter. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

Foster families have stepped up, but now the shelter’s foster program is just about full, too.

Ballard can’t recall a period of time over the past few months when the shelter has not had an adoption special going.

“We have been full 100% throughout, and we’ve just been doing our best, finding ways around euthanasia,” she said.

Ballard explained that this long stretch has “dried out” many resources. But as an open-intake facility, it can’t turn away any strays.

Then the Fourth of July came with another spike in stray pets.

“We got several in the Fourth of July, and really just leading up to the Fourth of July and even after, because people are still doing fireworks and that does scare the animals, definitely,” she said.

A dog called “Bisquick” at the Bastrop County Animal Shelter. Bisquick is currently in a foster home and the shelter is trying to find a human who is able to keep her permanently.

“In fact,” Ballard continued, “I’m actually fostering a dog who broke through a window and seriously injured himself by breaking through a window on the Fourth of July.”

Ballard said that the effort in mid-July to get people to adopt was successful and dozens of animals were adopted that weekend.

“We are definitely not at the point of having to do a walkthrough and deciding which we have to euthanize,” she said. “But as we all know the shelter environment changes daily.”

But for the Bastrop Shelter, the Fourth of July influx wasn’t as apparent in their data.

For example, from January 5-11 they took in 69 animals and from July 5-11 they also took in 69 animals. Ballard thinks rural animals may be used to loud noises and perhaps some are not as easily spooked by the fireworks.

She said the Fourth of July intakes compound what has been a steady flow of animals throughout the entire year without a reprieve. As of August 9, she said their shelter is over capacity for dogs and at capacity for cats.

Even outside of the Fourth of July fireworks, summer breeding for animals can add to the uptick in numbers shelters see at that time. April Haughey with the Georgetown Animal Shelter explained that her shelter was fortunate in that they were not impacted by July 4th this year, but rather they were impacted by a surge of kittens being born.

The Georgetown Animal Shelter took in in 24 dogs and 6 cats from January 5-9 and 5 dogs and 22 cats from July 5-9.

Many shelters which are not open-intake will not feel these impacts in the same way as the larger shelters which cannot turn away animals.

The Austin Humane Society explained that while it may have seen an increase in the number of people bringing animals in the days following the Fourth of July, those animals are then sent to the Austin Animal Center.

Austin Pets Alive!, which is not an open-intake shelter, still saw an increase as well. From Jan. 5-9 it took in 107 animals and from July 5-9 it took in 146 animals — and a shelter spokesperson said that this Fourth of July was “decently quiet” compared to others.

PAWS Shelter of Central Texas in Leander took in 32 animals July 5-9 and took in 22 animals Jan. 5-9.

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