Fargo animal shelter struggles to find homes for pets, hopes to avoid euthanasia
Homeward Animal Shelter is so full that offices and unused hallways have been converted into temporary kennel space for dogs and cats.
FARGO — Lock up your teacup collection and get out of your La-Z-Boy, people.
Ninja is in the house.
He's 60 pounds of bulldozing, crowd-pleasing personality, all packed in a muscular pit-Lab body finished off with a blocky, handsome head on one end and a whiplash tail that could knock through Sheetrock on the other.
He's here, he's there, he's everywhere — charming the women who work the front desk at the Homeward Animal Shelter one minute, snuffling his impressive schnozzle along shelves in search of hidden treats the next.
He will sit if directed, but only for a few beats until he finds something more interesting to do. Part-jubilant toddler, part-aspiring wingman, he loves dogs and people of every size. He's the kind of rambunctious, big-hearted mutt who needs someone just strong, active and good-natured enough to appreciate his goofy charm.
Unfortunately, Ninja has spent the last 100 days at Homeward, where he's been passed over repeatedly by people looking for smaller, mellower, low-shedding dogs.
And he's far from alone. Another dog, Chiko, has been here even longer. And Sissy, a lively, red pitbull mix with a sweet temperament, has been here 115 days.
In fact, the Homeward Animal Shelter is so full that offices and unused hallways have been converted into temporary kennel space for dogs and cats, says Heather Clyde, operations director at Homeward.
At this time last year, the shelter had 96 animals either in foster homes or at the shelter. This year, that number has soared to 174.
"The last six months have been difficult. It's not just that the pounds have more animals, but the animals aren't getting adopted as quickly," Clyde says, sitting in the office she shares with the kennel for a gentle ginger Lab-mix, Ellie Mae.
Ellie Mae already has an adoptive family who wants her, but she's been unusually lucky. Homeward and the Fargo Animal Pound are so maxed out that Clyde fears they may eventually have to consider euthanization.
This would be tragic, Clyde says, as the Fargo pound and local rescues have worked to dramatically reduce euthanasia in the last 15 years.
So much so that no adoptable dog has been euthanized in local pounds since 2009 and no adoptable cat has been put down since 2012, Clyde says.
When Clyde first started working with Homeward in 2007, the pound euthanized 120 dogs and 775 cats that year. In the last year, only 10 dogs and 35 cats have needed to be euthanized — and that was only due to severe aggression issues or massive injuries.
That reduction stems from an increase in number of local rescues as well as excellent collaboration between rescues and the city pound, Clyde says.
So what's causing the sudden surge in homeless pets?
More recently, North Dakotans — like the rest of the US — dove enthusiastically into a "pup-demic" as homebound workers started adopting and purchasing cats and dogs in record numbers as furry office-mates.
During that time, Homeward, like many rescues, could barely keep up with the demand.
But, as more remote workers were called back into the office, some of these pandemic pups struggled with the transition from a 24/7 family to one who was gone eight hours a day.
"You can tell which ones have been pandemic puppies because they're the dogs who have a lot of anxiety," Clyde says. "And then their separation anxiety becomes destructive, so we're seeing a lot of dogs about a year or a year-and-half old who have behavioral issues."
The pandemic contributed to the swelling population of homeless pets in other ways, too. Some families weren't able to get their pets into the vet to be fixed, so wound up overrun with kittens or puppies.
And in some cases, COVID has triggered a change in job, housing or financial health, which made it harder for people to keep their pets.
People are also slower to adopt certain breeds — including Lab mixes, pitbull mixes, shepherd breeds and huskies, she says. That's partly because of unfair assumptions about those breeds, but also because some of those breeds may need more exercise or a more experienced owner.
Recently, Clyde posted a plea on the shelter's Facebook page asking for more foster families and adopters to step forward.
The response was phenomenal, resulting in more than 1,700 shares. Since then, many more families have applied to become fosters and several people have expressed interest in adopting.
Several boarding facilities also reached out with offers to take in dogs.
Clyde says the Fargo pound is also working with Homeward to keep animals longer until more space can be found.
"They're working with us because they also don't want to see animals euthanized because of a lack of space. But if we get desperate and we can't figure something out, what do you do? Something has to give."
Interested in fostering, adopting or donating? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 701-239-0077.