Addressing Humane Society for Boone County’s Foster Crisis

5/5 - (1 vote)

August/September 2023

The Humane Society for Boone County is calling for “All hands on deck”! Addressing overcrowding at humane societies is a national problem requiring a multifaceted approach that combines proactive measures, community engagement and collaboration.

HSforBC's Foster Crisis

I spoke with HSforBC Executive Director Susan Austin and Boone County Sheriff Tony Harris about the root cause of the rise of dogs and cats being abandoned and/or surrendered and what measures are being taken at the local county level to alleviate the stressors on HSforBC and its community partners when it comes to caring and sheltering dogs and cats in need.

Overcrowding Is a Complex Challenge

Addressing overcrowding in humane societies is a complex challenge that requires the commitment and cooperation of the entire community.

Looking back at one of the root causes of the current overcrowding issues that occurred [nationwide] during the pandemic, Austin shared, “Let’s remember that during COVID, we encouraged everybody to foster or adopt out of their shelters. COVID also shut down spay/neuter [clinics] and veterinarians. So, many animals were unable to be spayed or neutered and when everything started opening back up, there was a backlog as well as a decline in the number of [practicing] veterinarians.”

Austin explained that the costs of spay/neuter procedures [nationwide] have gone up over the last few years, and the wait time [in Boone County] averages two to six months.

In addition to health or financial hardships being a cause of people surrendering or abandoning their animals, some of the dogs that were adopted over the course of the pandemic and immediately following, are experiencing behavioral issues that are leading to these dogs being surrendered or abandoned.

HSforBC's Foster Crisis

Austin explained why. “The dogs that were adopted [during that time] and didn’t have an opportunity to be socialized with other dogs or people because everything was shut down and couldn’t go many different places are now experiencing their owners going back to work, and they haven’t had great obedience training and are showing some separation anxiety. So, some animals are very destructive when they have separation anxiety and some run away and become strays. And the shelters are full of strays and surrenders because the animals no longer work with the family’s lifestyles. If people are going to rehome their animals, they should first try to rehome their animal to their family, friends or coworkers. They can better share what the animal is really like and help find the best fit for the animal.”

According to Austin, the national data that she receives shows that [shelter] intakes are up and surrenders are down, but the shelters are full of abandoned or lost animals that can be a danger to society while running loose or can cause serious accidents and be injured or killed if hit on a road.

“Animal welfare is not a pretty picture right now,” Austin stated. “We [the county] need to start looking at this holistically and HSforBC, BCSO and the municipalities have to all come to the table and be part of the solution.”

Sheriff Harris added, “We continue to work with HSforBC as we always have, and we have a great relationship with them even with what we are dealing with right now. We want to make sure that people realize that [overcrowding] is a bigger problem than what the BSCO can handle. We’re just over a month since the BCSO Animal Control Officer position was vacated. We’re taking a step back and reevaluating [that position] to make sure we’re doing the right things to fill that position with the right person.”

Harris continued, “We need at least two more ACOs. And with those [positions], it will take a lot more resources and administrative support to care for the six kennels that we have. While BCSO hasn’t stopped its efforts, we [BCSO], HSforBC and all six communities need to get together and talk about the [animal welfare] issues.”

What It Means and Takes To Be a Foster

Austin explained that HSforBC assists fosters with their animals by providing crates, food, litter [for cats], toys and treats, vaccinations and spay/neuter services.

HSforBC's Foster Crisis

“They just need to open up their homes and hearts,” Austin expressed. “We do vaccinations on the weekends with our amazing volunteer vets and vet techs so that the fosters don’t have to take time off work to do that. We do the best we can to help find the best homes, and fosters are an important part of that process. They can share with us by providing information about the animal that can help us get the animal adopted more quickly.”

HSforBC does not receive funding from Boone County property taxes, so Austin emphasized the importance of residents supporting their local shelter.

“Raise your hand if you’re willing to foster,” Austin exclaimed. “Also, our website has lots of resources about rehoming pets, and we try to keep those resources as up-to-date as possible. Property tax dollars don’t come to HSforBC, and our donations come from this county, so we focus on what we can do for Boone County. “

HSforBC’s Director of Canine Foster and Adoption Christy Brubaker and Director of Feline Foster and Adoption Dawn Walker shared some of the current [foster] numbers as well as their personal experiences with fostering dogs and cats.

“I am getting 3-10 calls a week from people across the state looking for a facility to take their dog,” Brubaker shared. “Many people have this need because they are losing their homes and have to move into apartments that either don’t take pets or have breed restrictions. Our country has an epidemic of unwanted animals. Dogs are being euthanized in shelters at alarming rates. We currently have 69 dogs in the system: 9 are at our facility and 14 are in 9 fosters. The rest are in what we call foster-to-adopt homes. I have a list of 30 dogs that I was unable to take. I provide the owners with resources to try and place these animals. When I have space, I try to reach out and see if they still need help.”

Walker added, “On this day [time of publication], we have 48 cats (mostly kittens) in foster care. I receive at least 10-15 calls a week. Sometimes I can help. Other times they are waitlisted until a foster is available or a spot at the shelter opens. I currently have 10 fosters at my house. Ideally, I would have one litter. Right now, I have the following [cat] fosters: 6 temporary, 12 inactive, 12 on a break, and 23 active [cat fosters]. It’s always nice to have the active number bigger. So, the regular fosters don’t get burnt out.”

Walker spoke about the requirements for being a cat foster.

“Give them love and attention,” Walker said. “Bring them to the spay/neuter appointments; bring them to clinic days at the shelter for their fosters. Help spread the word and provide cute, adorable photos to share on Facebook/website, and if they have their own animals—those animals must be vetted and fixed. Cat Fosters will be in close contact with me to ensure the animal is and stays healthy, and so that I can address concerns they may have.”

Please consider fostering a dog or cat and visit for more information on fostering, adopting or donating!