BY CLARA VAUGHN, Eastern Shore Post —
After pet adoptions surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Eastern Shore Regional Animal Control Facility is feeling the squeeze inflation is putting on local families.
“It’s been a rough year,” said Cpl. Sue Burdge, one of two Accomack County Sheriff’s Office staff who run the Melfa facility.
“It’s not just here — it’s been everywhere around the state,” she said the growing number of dogs in shelters.
Burdge said that rising prices are putting a strain on pet owners, as is a veterinarian shortage on the Eastern Shore.
“People can’t afford to feed their dogs,” she said.
Pandemic boom and bust
Adoption rates at the shelter nearly doubled since 2019, but the trend changed several months ago, Burdge said.
“COVID came and our shelter, for the first time ever in the history of the shelter, had zero cats. We were down to one dog,” she said.
“Everybody goes back to work a year later (and) they don’t have time for the dogs. A lot of the adoptions, they returned,” she said.
She estimated pet owners returned around 20% of the dogs adopted during the pandemic to rescue groups.
The Animal Control Facility on Beacon Road accepts stray cats and dogs from both Accomack and Northampton counties, as well as pets brought in from cruelty and bite cases and surrendered animals. The facility receives state and county funding.
There are 14 kennels designed to hold the same number of dogs, but sometimes the double-sided enclosures accommodate two dogs each to make room for more, Burdge said.
The shelter has 70 cat cages, though staff try to keep that number around 30 so they have time to care for them, she said.
Through partnerships with rescue groups, the shelter has drastically reduced the number of animals euthanized each year — down from 62% in 2013 to 28% last year.
“Very few friendly, non-aggressive animals are euthanized through here,” Burdge said, but “we’ve had more euthanized this year than, I’d say, in the past two or three years.”
Of the 767 dogs and cats that came to the shelter in 2022, 68 dogs and 148 cats were put down.
“The economy now isn’t doing great, so the euthanasia numbers are going to go up,” Burdge said.
A support network
One bright spot is that the shelter is seeing far fewer stray cats thanks to the efforts of local trap-neuter-release groups.
The number of feral felines brought there has steadily declined from 615 in 2018 to 427 last year.
“They’re doing amazing work out there,” Burdge said of the TNR groups.
Volunteers from organizations such as the SPCA, Dogs Deserve Better-Eastern Shore, and Kindness Matters Rescue help drive and fly adoptable animals as far as New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan to no-kill shelters with space available or new homes.
In 2020, Burdge and others started the nonprofit Friends of Animal Control Eastern Shore, which raised roughly $34,000 last year to buy vaccines, flea medicine, dewormer, higher-quality pet food, and medicine, as well as to help cover vet bills, she said.
The group helped animal control buy a fence for an outdoor dog run two years ago and a wash tub to bathe dogs this year.
“Little by little, we’re growing, we’re making improvements,” Burdge said.
Despite its support network, the Animal Control Facility needs more assistance inside the shelter, Burdge said.
There are no in-house volunteers, she said.
While volunteers must have pre-exposure rabies vaccines to work directly with the animals, they can work at the front desk manning phones and assisting visitors.
Her advice for pet owners who are no longer able to keep their dog or cat is to “use us for a last resort.”
“Leave us for the strays, the fight cases, the aggressive dogs,” she said.
Those who lose a pet should call animal control immediately to see if their dog or cat is at the shelter.
The facility holds stray dogs for eight days, or 11 days if they have identification tags or a microchip. It holds cats for six day, or 11 days with identification.
It keeps animals for longer as long as space is available.
Those interested in adopting a pet can call animal control at 757-787-7091 to make an appointment to visit the dogs or cats. An adoption fee of $55 for a dog or $45 for a cat includes initial vaccines, microchipping, and testing for heart worms or feline immunodeficiency virus.
Financial assistance is available for spaying or neutering.
The shelter is open Tuesday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at 28167 Beacon Road, in Melfa.
Search “Eastern Shore Regional Animal Control Facility” on Facebook to see some of the shelter’s adoptable animals, or call for more information.
Email Animal Control at [email protected].