Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

'We’re having a really hard time': Minneapolis animal shelter overwhelmed

A brown dog looks between bars
Stanley looks on behind the kennel door at Minneapolis Animal Care and Control Center in Minneapolis on Thursday. He is one of over 100 animals up for adoption at MACC for free.
Kerem Yucel | MPR News

So far this month, 139 animals have been brought to Minneapolis Animal Care and Control, a 57.7 percent increase from the same time in 2022.

The shelter is overwhelmed by the influx of animals. In an effort to help them find homes, all adoption fees are currently waived.

A white and brown cat looks through bars
Aretha looks on behind the kennel door at Minneapolis Animal Care and Control Center on Thursday.
Kerem Yucel | MPR News

Unfortunately, many of the animals have been surrendered, according to shelter director Caroline Hairfield. There’s been a 67.5 percent increase in owner surrenders so far this year compared with last year, with people citing housing as an issue.

Shelter staff are doing their best to provide for the animals but, with the heightened demand and a lack of staff, community engagement coordinator Madison Weissenborn says she often loses sleep over their care.

“We have a really high standard of care here. We try to get everybody out three to four times a day, we do treadmill training, playgroups, but we’re having a really hard time and have had to pick which need it the most … it’s hard choice.”

The animals are vetted before adoption to make sure their medical needs are met. They’re vaccinated, sterilized and microchipped.

The current adoptable animals on the shelter’s website do not reflect the increase of animals they have received in the past days. Hairfield said to call 311 if you want to make an appointment. Walk-ins are only available on Fridays but they will be expanding their hours in the future.

If you’re an animal lover but can’t adopt, Weissenborn said the shelter is always looking for volunteers.

MACC is located at  212 17th Ave. N. in Minneapolis and you can make an appointment here.

A woman pets a black cat
Cindy Butler, a volunteer, pets a cat up for adoption at Minneapolis Animal Care and Control Center on Thursday.
Kerem Yucel | MPR News

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Now, you all have heard of pandemic pets, right? Tons of us ran out, got puppies and kitties to help us cope with lockdowns and the changes brought about by the COVID virus. Well, now, shelters are seeing a big uptick in abandoned pets.

As an example, Minneapolis Animal Care and Control is begging people to foster or adopt, because the shelter has been swamped with animals. Yesterday, officials announced they were waiving adoption fees just to get these four-footed friends homes. Here with us is Caroline Hairfield. She's the director. Of Minneapolis Animal Care and control. And Caroline is joined by Madison Weissenborn, the Volunteer Coordinator there. Caroline and Madison, welcome.

CAROLINE HAIRFIELD: Thank you. Thank you for having us.


CATHY WURZER: Thanks for being here. Say, Caroline, how many animals do you have at the shelter right now? And how is that different from what you normally have?

CAROLINE HAIRFIELD: Well, oh my goodness, we have a ton of animals here. There's about 139, 140 animals here on my last count. There may actually be a few more now. And that is up by like 58% from the same time last year. And those animals came in in the last 11 days. So they have just a ton of animals.

CATHY WURZER: What do you think is going on?

CAROLINE HAIRFIELD: I think it's just a combination of all kinds of things. There's been about a 67% increase in owner surrenders, where people are citing that they're having housing issues or maybe there's medical issues for the animals they can't afford to care for. And we're also seeing quite a few strays that have increased by about 50%, where animals are just being abandoned, which is unfortunate.

CATHY WURZER: Oh my gosh, that's so sad. And, Madison, if you want to chime, in feel free too-- can you talk about, I can only imagine the stories are just so heartbreaking from folks about when they are dropping off a pet, why they're doing that. Caroline or Madison, go ahead.

CAROLINE HAIRFIELD: I can jump in. It is heartbreaking when a pet already has a loving home, but there's no amount of help that we can offer that can keep that pet in that home. And that's just heartbreaking for me personally, because the shelter, although we do our very best, is never the very best option right for anybody, whether it's human or animals, to have to live in a shelter and move away from the people they know and love. So it's hard.

CATHY WURZER: This is a labor of love. I'm sure this is a labor of love for your staff too. I know you probably don't have many staffers-- like, what, three people or so? Madison, do you have volunteers that help the staff?

MADISON WEISSENBORN: Yeah. We are very fortunate. We have a great, great community of volunteers that do everything from walking the dogs, we do playgroups for the dogs, cuddling the cats, and kind of really everything in between.

So we have a really dedicated group, both of staff and volunteers, that we do our best to do everything we can to make the lives here for the shelter pets as good as they possibly can. But there's just nothing like a couch or a bed for them to sleep on in a home.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, bless the volunteers who are the cat cuddlers. I can imagine that-- well, I know because I actually used to work at an animal shelter-- it is stressful not only for the animals coming in, because they're not sure why they're there, right? But I'm assuming it's got to be stressful for staff and volunteers too.

MADISON WEISSENBORN: Yeah, they're constantly busy. And we really strive for really, really high standards of care here. We try to get everybody out three to four times a day. We do treadmill training for the dogs that really need to get some of that energy out.

We do playgroups. We do all sorts of stuff. But with the influx of animals and with that increase of animals, our capacity for care, so what we can do for every single animal does decrease with every new intake. And so our staff really has a hard time.

We kind of have to pick and choose, OK, what dog needs it the most? And what can we do for everybody else? And that's a hard choice for the staff and volunteers to make, to have to choose between two lovely dogs or things like that. It's a hard choice to make. And it's one that sometimes we lose sleep over.

CATHY WURZER: Say, Caroline, what kind of pups do you have in the shelter right now? Are they are they mainly pity breeds?

CAROLINE HAIRFIELD: Well, we have a lot of pity breeds. That's a popular breed up here in the Midwest. And we also have other breeds. There's some lab mixes in there, and shepherd mixes, and malinois. And we really get all kinds of dogs, and cats, and animals in general of all species in here that can fit just about any person's living situation.

So people often think of shelter pets as throwaways or animals that have issues. And in our reality, we have some really nice animals in here that are in here for no fault of their own. They're just in the system. And it happens to lots of us, right? And it happens to animals too.

CATHY WURZER: But as you know, there are dog breeds that are more desirable than others. I'm thinking if you had a shelter full of mini-labradoodles, you know, you'd be able to adopt them out all day by the end of the day, you know? So those harder to adopt out breeds, what are you doing for those animals?

CAROLINE HAIRFIELD: Yeah, so our staff are tasked with rehabilitating all animals and tasked with ensuring that every animal, no matter what their needs are, we meet those needs for that animal in the shelter. And we do a lot of work with our animals.

And we do something called play for life, where often Pitis are associated with dogs that don't like other dogs, right? And so we do a lot of playgroups where we have animals out in the runs together. And they have an opportunity to play and just be dogs.

And it gives us a lot of insight on how that animal is going to be in the community. And we also utilize foster homes that tell us whether they're good with children, or if they're housebroken, and all that kind of stuff. And they also help us work on behaviors so that the animal can be a very good ambassador for his breed, whether it's a pit bull, or a labradoodle, or a beagle, or chihuahua. We want to make sure that every person that gets a pet from us gets a very high quality pet that's going to be successful in their home.

CATHY WURZER: So folks can adopt your dogs and cats for no fee. Has anybody taken you up on the offer so far?

CAROLINE HAIRFIELD: Yeah, people do take us up on the offer. We just need more people to come forward. And that includes sterilization. We have two veterinarians and three vet techs that are on staff, so these animals are really well vetted.

And we make sure that all their medical needs are met before they're put on their adoption floor. And they're also vaccinated, and they're microchipped, and sterilized. So it's a really just a fabulous deal the city's offering to pet owners.

CATHY WURZER: So, Madison, for folks who love animals but can't have one at home right now, can they help out in other ways? I'm thinking by volunteering.

MADISON WEISSENBORN: Yes. We have a volunteer program. So, really, we're open to anything. If people are like, I want to do paperwork. Great, I have a job for you. So really anything-- you can just sign up online. It's pretty easy.

They go directly to my inbox. I usually do orientations monthly. And we just continue to bring volunteers on. Because the more volunteers we have, the more extra, additional things that we can do-- we can do more training, we can do more playgroups, all of that good stuff.

And also if they aren't ready to make that step of, OK, this is my forever dog or my forever cat, we do have a foster program now. It's relatively new. We kind of launched it earlier this year, but so far it's been really successful.

And even if somebody wants a dog for a weekend, if they're like, man, I have nothing to do. I want to go on a hike. Great, come pick up a dog, give them that forever home. And a lot of ours, knock on wood, have been foster failures, which is my favorite thing on the planet, where they leave our shelter for a weekend and they never come back because they realize, this is a great fit for me.

So it's been really successful. And that's also something they can sign up online for. So there's so much that our community can do for these pets. And if they're not ready to adopt, we have a lot of other options.

CATHY WURZER: So, Caroline, we've got some people listening, where can they call or where can they go for information?

CAROLINE HAIRFIELD: They can go to the city website at Minneapolis.gov. And they can look at the animals online. And they can also call 311 if they need help making an appointment.

But you can also make an appointment online. And then on Fridays, we're open to adoptions all day without an appointment. And we're going to be expanding those hours in the near future.

CATHY WURZER: I love the rent a dog for a walk or weekend. Caroline and Madison, best of luck. Thank you for your work.

CAROLINE HAIRFIELD: Yep, and one more thing, we even have a running program in the summertime where runners come in, and grab a dog, and go running with them. So we do all kinds of things.

CATHY WURZER: I love that. Good luck to you both. Thank you so much.



CATHY WURZER: Bye bye. Carolyn Hairfield, Madison Weissenborn, they're with the Minneapolis Animal Care and Control. The shelter has been overwhelmed by abandoned animals recently, and they're asking folks to consider fostering or adopting, with fees waived for now.

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