Husker, an eight year-old Siberian husky mix, walks towards a fire hydrant in a fenced in yard.
8 year-old husky mix Husker is a resident at the Panhandle Humane Society in Scottsbluff. Photo courtesy of Panhandle Humane Society.

Inflation has posed many challenges for Americans in the past year, and animal shelters are no different. Higher costs of living have led to an increase in animal intake for Nebraska shelters as families struggle to make ends meet and provide for their pets.

“We’re full all the time. We are seeing a lot of surrenders. We have been attributing that to inflation and the cost of having an animal. The first thing that people think to eliminate to help with saving money is their animal,” said Lisa Doescher, manager at Animal Shelter of Northeast Nebraska in Norfolk.

Rising prices pose an obstacle for rescue facilities that run mostly on donations trying to care for the influx of animals coming in. 

Many smaller-town shelters are not used to dealing with kennels filling up, and the Norfolk shelter’s capacity has had an impact on the services it typically provides.  

“This is new in the past year. We’ve always had room. We have always helped out with boarding, but we really don’t have any room for that anymore,” Doescher said. “All of our cages are always pretty much full.”

Cheri Vetick, manager at Paws and Claws Animal Shelter in Columbus, said surrenders are up at her facility this year as well. To help mitigate this issue, Paws and Claws has stipulations in place around surrendering animals to the shelter, including a surrendering fee. 

“I would have somebody surrender [an animal] to me every day of the week without the stipulations in place,” Vetick said. 

Although, Paws and Claws highly encourages those looking to surrender animals to search for a new home for their pets on their own, many times, it does not happen. Unfortunately, Vetick said in almost the majority of cases, these owners set the animals loose, and they end up at the shelter anyway. 

On top of kennels filling up, it is getting more expensive for shelters to care for animals they have. Shelter Manager at the Panhandle Humane Society in Scottsbluff Lauren Brock said rising costs have meant lots of adjustments for her shelter, including changing medication and food plans for the animals. But bringing service prices up to reflect rising costs has also been a challenge for PHS. 

“Where we’re at, it’s pretty rural, and so we have to be careful about how we are increasing our adoption prices or services because people here just won’t pay past a certain amount. So, it’s been hard,” Brock said. “We have been trying to find that balance of covering the cost of inflation but also make it so people are able to come adopt or receive service from us.”

The influx of animals in shelters has also highlighted the importance of spaying and neutering. Brock explained puppies have posed a particularly new challenge for the shelter as well.  

“The largest problem [we are facing] is we have had a really large increase in the amount of  puppies that we have received. Pre-COVID, we were averaging maybe 40 puppies for a whole year, and last year I think we brought in 140 puppies,” Brock said

These procedures are costly and with shelter costs rising, ensuring each cat and dog is spayed or neutered before leaving the facility is an uphill battle for some shelters at a time when these procedures are needed most. 

I am a senior journalism major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.