SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Kerry D'Amato has worked in the animal welfare landscape for three decades, and she says she's never seen it this bad.
D'Amato currently serves as the executive director of Pet Haven, Minnesota's first foster-based rescue, now in its 70th year. She says during the past two years, our state has seen a great amount of pressure put on local shelters.
"Due to the ripple effects of COVID, there has been a dramatic uptick in pets being surrendered, pets finding their way to shelters, pets being abandoned in apartments and homes, with evictions," D'Amato said. "We’re finding pets left in carriers at Cub Foods, we’re finding pets tied up to fences and in parks."
D'Amato sees the trend as two-pronged: first, many pet owners who adopted during the pandemic may have been unprepared to care for a furry friend.
"Many people for the best of intentions went out and got pets during COVID," she said. "Many of them were not prepared to be pet owners. Didn’t understand what it takes to properly socialize and train a dog. Weren’t prepared for when they went back to work."
Then record-high inflation exacerbated the problem.
"Resources are low, people are struggling, expenses are going up, and oftentimes the first place that people have to cut expenses to survive is their pets," D'Amato said.
Pet Haven is working to offer solutions, providing education and resources on their website to connect pet owners with low- or no-cost essentials like pet food, as well as vet and training resources.
"Sometimes it takes just a few little tools and we can change the course of a lifetime," she said. "It would be wonderful to help people keep their pets and not have these pets enter into the system--to the shelters, to the rescues. That would be ideal."
However, for those for whom surrender is the only option, Pet Haven tripled their owner surrender program to accommodate the need. Pre-COVID, D'Amato says Pet Haven had around 280 volunteers. Now, there are nearly 600.
The organization is still looking for people willing and able to foster. Currently, there are 267 animals in their care.
"Choosing to step into fostering a pet right now is making a huge difference in our community," D'Amato said. "Changing just one life is actually changing many, because you are keeping a pet out of a shelter, allowing space for another pet to come in that really needs it."
Pet Haven is also taking donations of supplies as well as financial gifts. They recently moved to a new location in the Frogtown neighborhood in Saint Paul.
"We have a very low overhead and our brand new facility is given to us by a trust that we’ve had for many years, and it was earmarked for the facility," she said. "So no donor dollars are doing to support our facility. All of our donor dollars are going to exactly where they need to go to, which is the pets that we love and that we care for."
Lastly, they're still looking for volunteer help to serve in various roles--from administrative, to transport pets and supplies, to cleaning.
"You are helping to emotionally heal these pets that come in, which is incredible," D'Amato said. "And then you also get to create family. So you are affecting another community member, a family member, which is amazing."
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