Happy, a cattle dog-shepherd mix who spent two years living at a landfill, is among the many dogs at the county shelter. Matt Hollinshead photo.

BERNALILLO — Sandoval County officials say there’s a growing urgency for more pet foster families to help take care of an increasing number of cats and, particularly, dogs, as the number of animals in the county shelter swells this year.

As more people returned to the office amid relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, officials theorize individuals can’t spend as much time with their pets. Hence, more animals are turning up at shelters — county-wide, statewide and nationwide.

That includes Sandoval County’s temporary shelter, near the county administration building. For the county, the influx is largely in dogs.

“Many of the shelters are full to capacity, so we’re finding that there is nowhere for people to go with an animal if they have to move or they have to move out of state,” Sandoval County Commissioner Katherine Bruch said.

Sandoval County Commissioner Katherine Bruch began fostering her dog, Chief, in March. A few months later, Bruch adopted him. Bruch’s among those who see a dire need for more foster families for animals. Courtesy of Stephen Montoya.

Cause for concern

Anne Ryan, the county’s community services director, said the sheriff’s office reported 155 impounded animals Jan. 1-Aug. 5.

That’s a significant jump from just 71 impounds in all of 2020, which she attributed to more people working from home during the pandemic.

Ryan, who also noted the housing eviction moratorium being lifted as another factor, said there were 27 new impounds during the weekend of Aug. 6-8.

“While staff does an amazing job with the dogs in the kennel, it’s still a kennel. And nothing beats a home environment… We would want either a medical foster or somebody who is around enough to provide that kind of care,” she said.

Ryan also said the average daily number of dogs waiting to be transferred or adopted hovers between 12 and 18.

Bruch said the some of the most recent numbers have to do with puppies and perhaps hoarding situations.

“In those cases, we’ve got some great folks that have been willing to take the puppies. Some of them have to be bottle-fed every two hours,” said Bruch, who fostered and then adopted her dog, Chief, earlier this year. “These situations are pretty extreme in terms of new numbers of them being abandoned so to speak, because the owners couldn’t take care of them or chose not to.”

City of Rio Rancho spokeswoman Annemarie Garcia said in an email that the Rio Rancho Animal Resource Center has seen an increase in pet surrenders, mirroring a recent national trend.

“Nationwide, shelters that were adopting out a significant number of pets during the pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders are now seeing many of those pets being surrendered as more people go back to in-person work,” she said.

The need for more foster families who may eventually adopt is becoming increasingly dire, according to Ryan, because shelters are bursting at the seams.

Bruch said the county’s reaching out to the community, including on social media, to line up foster homes for multiple puppies.

“We need even more foster homes to try to control the situation,” Bruch said, adding the county’s planned larger shelter is between 18 months and two years away from opening. “We have to really do everything we can to help community members hold on to their animals and/or locate a friend or a family member who is willing to take one or two of their pets.”

Ryan said the county commission authorized funding for the temporary shelter, but it’s only a “stop-gap measure.”

The bigger picture

Ryan said that even if one can only foster a dog for 10 days, it can do a “world of wonder.” She added it can be emotionally rewarding for the dog and even change the energy inside one’s home.

“Socialization is just so critical,” Ryan said. “Having that one-on-one opportunity in a ‘normal environment,’ it just does wonders in terms of their adoptability. It also creates community in ways that I think certain people don’t expect.”

Sandoval County Manager Wayne Johnson said the situation is something of a crisis for the county and animals.

“We’re doing our absolute best to find good places for the animals. But at the same time, it seems to me like there are more and more coming, and not just from the incorporated area of the county,” Johnson said. “We could use the public’s help on this… A lot of my staff members have taken some of the animals home to foster them for a few days while we look for places for them.”

To foster an animal, fill out an application at sandovalcountynm.gov, under “Community Services.”