How Central Texas animal shelters are shrinking pandemic pet returns

Williamson County
Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter has updated its adoption procedures to help ensure more permanent pet pairings. (Kelsey Thompson/KXAN)

Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter has updated its adoption procedures to help ensure more permanent pet pairings. (Kelsey Thompson/KXAN)

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — On Wednesday, Kentucky found his forever home after months spent at the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter. A dog rescued from a hoarding situation, he is one of the latest pets to be adopted at the WCRAS.

Currently, WCRAS has 260 animals in the shelter — a healthy, manageable level for its staff, Animal Services Director Misty Valenta said.

Annually, spring and summer are peak seasons for puppy and kitten litters along with pet returns, Valenta said. However, as some Central Texans return to in-person work and others feel the financial strain of COVID-19 take stronger hold, last spring’s pandemic adoption boom has led to unforeseen spikes in animal returns.

When people return [animals], it takes up the space that we could give to an animal that needs a second chance.”

Lauren Surman, PAWS Shelter of Central Texas

“We have seen owner surrenders and returns from people who are starting to work 9-5 and no longer have time to care for their pets,” said Lauren Surman, an employee at PAWS Shelter of Central Texas. “Luckily, we have not had many issues being at capacity, but when people return [animals], it takes up the space that we could give to an animal that needs a second chance.”

In Austin, the current shelter capacity at Austin Pets Alive! is upwards of 1,000 dogs awaiting adoption, a substantial spike largely attributed to the financial strains of the pandemic.

“This has caused pet owners to not be able to seek medical care or pay pet deposits or even rent pet-friendly homes, and this results in more pets in shelters,” employee Katera Berent said.

To help mitigate potential pet surrenders, the WCRAS implemented adoption appointments where prospective pet owners can discuss their lifestyles, work schedules and pet interests before initial pairings are made. The appointments give guests the opportunity to tailor their lifestyles and expectations to an animal that best fits their home environment, Valenta said.

“I think it’s just that communication and that one-on-one customer service that we are giving to families to really listen to them and fit their needs,” she said. “We use our play yards, and they are able to have a better first introduction and know each other better. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good fit all the time, but it’s a more honest introduction than just roaming the kennels.”

Animals take approximately three days to begin readjusting to new home environments when they are first adopted, Surman said. Full acclimations take approximately three months.

While initial shelter stays can cause unwanted stress for animals, she said returned pets can exhibit even heightened levels of anxiety and depression due to the significant contrasts between shelter and at-home living.

“It’s stressful,” she said. “You see those first few days, they may be a little depressed trying to decompress and process that they’re back at the shelter.”

Austin Humane Society has tailored its own adoption procedures to give prospective owners a taste of pet ownership prior to commitment.


“We are offering a one-week trial period for all adult animals, which allows owners a week to get to know their potential animal before finalizing,” Shelter Manager Katelen Knef said. “ We have found that it sets [prospective owners] up for a long-term and successful adoption because they get to know the animal and make a final decision with them at home.”

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