‘Animal Shelter Overcapacity’

October 19, 2022

I’ve had a google alert set on the words, ‘animal shelter overcapacity’ for several years now. It’s one of the ways we find shelters that are struggling and need help.

Normally, I would get google alerts a few times a week, with maybe one or two entries. Since last fall, I’ve been getting a google alert on those words every day and there are often as many as ten or twelve hits in each alert list (I’ve got it set to only email an alert once a day).

There are a lot of reasons why we travel to the shelters as part of our work with Who Will Let the Dogs Out. Not only does it enable us to build relationships with shelter staff/volunteers and deliver donations, but it helps us understand the challenges they face and gather ideas for solving the problem of so many unwanted animals in our southern states. It lets us see firsthand the progress our country is making in our quest to save every adoptable dog.

A little over a year ago, Nancy and I were on a shelter tour when we first noticed signs of a crisis brewing. We saw a lot of purebred dogs and puppies at the shelters we visited in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama. We heard shelter directors and Animal Control Officers talking about the number of owner surrenders beginning to tick upwards. We heard rescue staff and volunteers talking about their own exhaustion and overwhelm.

I came home and wrote about the perfect storm I was sure was coming.

And now that storm has become a hurricane.

And it’s not just in the south. My daily google alert is full of headlines from all over the country—here are a few from this past week:

LOUISVILLE METRO ANIMAL SERVICES ASKS FOR COMMUNITY’S SUPPORT AS SHELTER EXCEEDS CAPACITY: The Louisville Metro Animal Services is operating over capacity, and they need more people willing to adopt, if not, they will have to euthanize…

EUTHANASIA MAY HAPPEN AS DOGS SIT OUTSIDE CENTRAL TEXAS SHELTER: Eight dogs are sitting outside with no space available as the Humane Society of Central Texas faces an emergency capacity situation on Wednesday….


NEBRASKA ANIMAL SHELTER IS AT CAPACITY: Dozens of stray animals are being left unclaimed at Fremont Animal Shelter and it is overwhelming its volunteers…

RICHMOND ANIMAL CARE AND CONTROL REACHES CRITICAL CAPACITY and is running out of space for its animals…

Shelters and rescues all over this country are overwhelmed in the wake of the pandemic. Places that before the pandemic were saving every adoptable animal are facing difficult decisions. I hope the current situation is like a boa constrictor who swallowed an antelope, and we just have to work as hard as we can while that antelope makes its way through the snake.

Best case scenario is we end up back where we started in terms of the shelter crisis before the pandemic. As much as I want to be optimistic, I’m guessing this storm has set us back a few years in our quest.

In less than a week, we are headed back out on a shelter tour (in our new rescue vehicle donated by Max & Neo!). This tour will take us to West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Tennessee. I’m hoping that along with new relationships, we also find a light at the end of this tunnel of overwhelm. Whatever we find, we will share in every way we can, because we firmly believe that awareness is required for change. The problem is not that people don’t care that animals are dying, but that they don’t know or they don’t know what they can do about it.

Follow along with us on social media (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and maybe even our YouTube channel). You can find links to everything here. We’ll be introducing you to animal control officers, volunteers, shelter staff, and LOTS of dogs (and probably a few cats). You can support us by commenting on and sharing our posts.

And if you’ve got a few dollars to spare or want to shop our amazon wishlist of supplies to donate, we’d really appreciate that too!

Until each one has a home,


If you want to learn more, be sure to subscribe to this blog. And help us spread the word by sharing this post with others.

You can also help us raise awareness by following us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Tik Tok!

Learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020). It’s the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired me to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It tells the story of how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. Find it anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold go to help unwanted animals in the south.

Watch our 30-minute documentary about rescue in western Tennessee here.

For more information on any of our projects, to talk about rescue in your neck of the woods, or become a WWLDO volunteer, please email whowillletthedogsout@gmail.com or carasueachterberg@gmail.com

1 Comment

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Naomi Johnson
1 Year Ago

Hi Cara,
Yes, the situation is horrendous. All shelters and rescues that I know of in North and South Carolina are overwhelmed and over-flowing. Dogs (and cats) rescued for companionship by lonely people quarantined at home during the pandemic are now being dumped back into the shelters they thought they would never see again. Many people who have returned to work are now too busy for their unsuspecting companions. They never told these innocent friends their home and family were just a temporary reprieve of a year or two. Now that they are no longer needed, it’s time for them to be dumped into a worse situation than they came from.

Of course, the number of intact animals has not really changed even with the thousands of spays and neuters performed annually at the spay/neuter clinics because every unspayed animal can exponentially produce hundreds of unwanted pets within a few years. So the normal number of animals entering the shelters has basically been pretty much status quo, but with the returns and low adoptions, we are seeing more euthanasias than we have in many years. The websites are crying out with “CODE REDS” to save all sorts of pets, from mixed breeds to purebreds and designer dogs, from infant puppies to sweet seniors who had been loyal members of their families. It is such a helpless feeling to see so many beautiful, loving, healthy dogs being put down because there just isn’t space or a home for them. Cara, thank you for all you are doing to get the word out–the shelters can only do so much. Pet owners need to be responsible for the lives in their care and not think of animals as an expendable commodity. That’s the only way to stop this needless slaughter.