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Overwhelm: underwater rescues

"Shelter Overwhelm" refers to a situation in which animal shelters or rescues become overcrowded with more animals than they can properly care for or accommodate. This can be due to a variety of reasons, such as an increase in the number of stray or abandoned animals, natural disasters, or other emergencies. Shelter overwhelm can lead to a variety of challenges, including inadequate space, resources, and staffing to meet the needs of all the animals in the facility. It can also result in higher euthanasia rates, as shelters may not have the capacity to care for and find homes for all the animals in their care. Shelter Overwhelm can happen to rescues, shelters, fosters, sanctuaries. For clarity, we will refer to the situation collectively as "Overwhelm."

Common causes of shelter include, but are in no way limited to:

  1. Stray animals: Stray animals can be brought to shelters by animal control officers or concerned citizens. If there are a high number of stray animals in an area, shelters may quickly become overcrowded.

  2. Surrenders: Some pet owners may surrender their animals to shelters due to financial difficulties, changes in living situations, or other reasons. If there are a high number of surrenders, shelters may become overwhelmed. As happened during the pandemic, there may also be periods where people adopt more companion animals than they can take care of when things are "normal." The number of animals surrendered after the pandemic began to give-way to normal life increased drastically, putting immense strain on rescuers.

  3. Natural disasters: Natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires can displace large numbers of animals, leading to an influx of animals in shelters. As climate change accelerates the number of natural disasters is similarly increasing every year, robbing loving families of their homes and financial security, which in turn feeds directly into "surrenders" above.

  4. Puppy and kitten season: Spring and summer are commonly known as "puppy and kitten season" because this is when many animals give birth. This can lead to an influx of puppies and kittens in shelters, which can quickly become overwhelmed. However, like with natural disasters, there is some evidence to show that puppy and kitten season are blending into a year-round deluge of intakes.

  5. Hoarding cases: In some cases, animal control agencies may seize animals from hoarders, leading to an influx of animals in shelters. Ironically, the interplay between hoarding and Overwhelm may occasionally lead one to cause the other.

  6. Lack of adoptions: If there is a lack of adoptions, animals may stay in shelters for extended periods of time, leading to overcrowding. When economic times are dreary and people are unsure whether they can afford a companion animal, most would choose to forego the companion animal until times are less lean. People may also be unaware of companion animal foodbanks or other resources for hard economic times.

  7. Lack of funding: Shelters may be unable to hire enough staff, purchase necessary supplies, or maintain their facilities if they lack funding, which can lead to overcrowding and other issues. Shifts in the politics may also mean fewer dollars for rescue organizations. It should be noted, however, that most animal-related donor funds go to rescues and not to organizations which handle farmed or other captive animal issues.


  1. "Stray and Feral Cats," The Humane Society of the United States.

  2. "Pet Relinquishment: Understanding the Decision-Making Process," Maddie's Fund.

  3. "Disaster Planning for Animal Shelters," ASPCApro.

  4. "Kitten Season," Best Friends Animal Society.

  5. "Animal Hoarding," ASPCApro.

  6. "Animal Sheltering: Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities," The National Academies Press.

  7. "The Costs of No-Kill Animal Shelters," The Balance Small Business.

  8. "Shelter Overcrowding," ASPCApro.

  9. "Managing Pet Overpopulation," The Humane Society of the United States.

  10. "Animal Hoarding," ASPCApro.

  11. "Animal Hoarding," The Humane Society of the United States.

  12. Bhadra, A., et al. (2017). "Climate Impacts on Indian Dogs: Predicted Increases in Canine Heat Stress, Energy Consumption, and Mosquito-Borne Disease Risk," PLOS ONE.

  13. George, A., et al. (2019). "Climatic Variables are Associated With the Timing of the Breeding Season of Free-Roaming Cats in the Southeastern United States," Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.

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