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Hundreds of D.C. animals need new homes as adoptions drop, returns rise

Shelter is waiving some fees as dogs, cats, snakes and rabbits bring it to capacity

Beenie is one of roughly 170 animals at the Humane Rescue Alliance in D.C. that are awaiting adoption with the facility at capacity. (Christina Gephardt/Humane Rescue Alliance)
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A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Shelter Animals Count documented 26,000 more pet adoptions in 2020 than in 2019. The article has been corrected.

Washington’s Humane Rescue Alliance is packed to the gills with roughly 170 animals, from cats and dogs to birds, rabbits, turtles, snakes and fish. And the nonprofit organization is now promoting those creatures and waiving some of its adoption fees in hopes that more of them go to new homes.

Officials at the D.C. rescue facility said both their facility and the foster homes where animals often go until they find permanent homes are at capacity, putting them in desperate need.

“Across the country, intake is up and adoptions are down,” said Andrea Messina, an executive vice president and chief development officer at the Humane Rescue Alliance in D.C.

So many pets have been adopted during the pandemic that shelters are running out

The facility is waiving adoption fees for dogs that weigh more than 40 pounds, which tend to be harder to place, through Jan. 5. Adoption fees for smaller-size dogs and other animals are still in place and range between $10 and $250.

Pet ownership spiked during the pandemic, as Americans sought furry friends to keep them company while some worked from home and human interaction was limited. Demand became so high in some areas, including in the D.C. region, that shelters and animal rescue and adoption facilities couldn’t keep up.

Shelter Animals Count, which runs a database that tracks shelter and rescue activity at 500 sites across the country, documented a higher percentage of adoptions in 2020 than 2019. In the D.C. area, animal experts said they had not seen such a demand to adopt pets since after Sept. 11, 2001, when people en masse sought pets for comfort.

But now, as the world has opened back up, and as inflation affects consumer prices for everything including chicken and dog food, it’s also meant changes for pets. Messina said the facility is seeing some returns of animals from people who say they can’t afford their additional costs. In other cases, she said, pet owners have gotten hit with unforeseen circumstances, such as getting laid off from a job, an expensive health problem, or losing a home and having to move to a place that doesn’t accept pets.

People are giving up pets. Blame inflation.

The Humane Rescue Alliance normally would take in animals from other spots across the country to help, Messina said, but it doesn’t have the space in the D.C. area.

Still, the humane rescue center isn’t seeing as many animals being given up or returned as other facilities, a trend that officials attribute to their expansion of several programs of assistance in the past few years, including free food and some free — or reduced — medical care. Each case is decided based on the owners’ and pets’ needs.

Americans adopted millions of dogs during the pandemic. Now what do we do with them?

This holiday season, the Humane Rescue Alliance is doing more on social media and in online community groups to promote its animals on social media and through community groups that are available for adoption to try to find them new homes. It had roughly 40 cats and 80 dogs — plus birds, mice, turtles, rabbits, snakes and guinea pigs — looking for new homes as of Friday.

Among them is Bankroll, a 1-year-old dog who’s now 40 pounds after coming to the shelter rather skinny. He’s a sweetie, shelter caretakers said, that “likes to sniff around” and loves to be petted.

For cat lovers, there’s Jinx. Like many after the holidays, this 8-year-old feline needs to drop a few, coming in at 13 pounds. His owner could no longer care for him so he needs a new home. Also in need of a new home is Breeze, a 1-year-old white-and-brown guinea pig who was a stray. Keepers said the pig is active, playful, and enjoys eating bananas, broccoli and carrots.

For those who want a companion with less fur and more scales, there’s an adult female ball python named Royalty, who was rescued from a house fire. The queen, as she’s dubbed, enjoys “warm baths, basking in the sun, and being worshiped by her subjects (hanging out with you!),” according to her adoption listing.

To adopt an animal from the rescue alliance, people can do a walk-in adoption Tuesday through Sunday at the Humane Rescue Alliance facility, located at 71 Oglethorpe St. NW, or call 202-723-5730 for more information.