Utah’s Homeless Pet Crisis: Ways You Can Help Homeless Pets

“Everyone wants to support an animal shelter with a no-kill status, so by adopting or fostering, you’re helping shelters like Salt Lake County Animal Services continue to be a no-kill animal shelter.”


When I saw this post from Salt Lake County Animal Services on Instagram, I knew I had to do something to help homeless pets. 

Per Best Friends Animal Society — Animal Shelter Statistics:

The number of dogs and cats killed in our state – simply for lack of homes has nearly DOUBLED from 2021 to 2022. In 2020, 829 dogs and cats were killed because they didn’t have homes. In 2021, it was 886. Last year it jumped to 1,700. 

I reached out to Guinnevere Shuster, Director of Marketing & Communications at the Humane Society of Utah to learn more. She explained that during COVID-19, shelter and vet clinics were forced to cut back on critical services like spaying and neutering. People also started to breed their dogs to bring in extra income. “We’re seeing a lot of ‘oops’ litters,” says Shuster. “You also have people who intentionally started breeding pets during that time … we’re still seeing the effects of that as well …” 

Utah animal shelters are experience a rise in surrendered animals, including many puppies. Photo courtesy of the Humane Society of Utah.

Dog breeders are still bringing more puppies into the world, only fewer people are buying them. “For the first time in the ten years I’ve been in animal welfare, we’re having people surrender their leftover litters, from three to five puppies,” says Shuster. “We had someone bring us four lab puppies because they had a litter of eleven and they weren’t able to sell all the puppies. And unfortunately, that’s happened a few times this year. It’s not one particular breeder, it’s multiple breeders.” 

“We’re getting great dogs in, I mean, like, well-mannered, happy, healthy dogs, and the owners aren’t coming in for them for whatever reason,” says Jami Johanson, a Special Programs Manager at Salt Lake County Animal Services for 11 years. “I see every day how many great dogs and cats we have at the shelter. I just wish everyone else could see that.” 

“People should really take note of what’s going on at animal shelters; it really is a community issue,” explains Shuster. “We’re coming to a boiling point. We only have so many staff, we only have so much room, we can do the best that we can do, but ultimately, we need help from the community if we want to save the lives of all these animals.” 

Johanson echoed this point: “Everyone wants to support an animal shelter with a no-kill status, so by adopting or fostering, you’re helping shelters like Salt Lake County Animal Services continue to be a no-kill animal shelter.” 

Even if you’re not in a position to adopt an animal, there’s plenty you can do to help Utah’s homeless cats and dogs: 

Educate others

“Educating others about responsible pet ownership is essential when it comes to reducing the amount of animals in shelters,” says Shuster. Sharing information, either online or in person, about low-cost or free services like microchips, pet food pantries, spaying and neutering, or vaccinations is a simple way to help advocate for Utah’s pets.  

Make sure your pets are microchipped and have identification tags 

“In the first half of 2023, more dogs are entering animal shelters as strays compared to the previous year. Being able to reunite pets quickly with their owners provides much-needed shelter space,” says Shuster. Salt Lake County Animal Services only take in stray or abandoned pets, so proper identification is crucial in reuniting pets with their people. Johanson stressed the importance of updating the contact information on tags and microchips after moving. 

Support local animal shelters with your time and money 

If you have room in your home and heart for a dog or cat, but can’t make a lifetime commitment, fostering is for you! Besides opening up space in the shelter, animals in foster care “learn how to bond with people, receive necessary personal care, and avoid exposure to common shelter illnesses, all while away from the stress of a shelter environment,” according to the Humane Society of Utah’s website. 

Volunteering a few hours a month will make a huge difference for cats and dogs in shelters. You could give a dog a break from shelter life by taking it hiking or to the park with Salt Lake County Animal Services “Hounds about Town” program. You could also bottle feed newborn kittens. There are plenty of different volunteer opportunities, so find the right one for you! 

If you’re short on time, animal shelters desperately need donations of items and money. “Animal shelters rely on the support of volunteers and donations to provide care for animals. Additionally, donating supplies like puppy or kitten food, blankets, or monetary contributions can make a real significant difference in the shelters’ operations,” says Shuster.

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