WAIF sees increase in pet surrenders

WAIF experienced a significant increase in dog and cat intakes last year.

Like animal shelters across the nation, Whidbey Island Animals’ Improvement Foundation experienced a significant increase in dog and cat intakes last year, hitting a five-year high, according to the nonprofit organization.

In fact, it was a year of milestones for WAIF, which runs a large animal adoption shelter in Coupeville, two cat adoption centers and two thrift stores. The shelter also saw an increase in spays and neuters, an uptick in the number of low-income people seeking assistance with caring for pets and, fortunately, more adoptions.

Even with the surge in activity, WAIF achieved its highest live release rate in 14 years at 96.9%, well above the 90% threshold required to be considered a no-kill facility. Cinnamon Hudgins, executive director of WAIF, explained that pets are only euthanized for quality-of-life concerns, which usually means they are suffering from serious medical problems. This achievement differs from a national trend toward pet euthanasia.

“Our shelter staff is definitely doing something right,” she said.

Hudgins explained that there are many different reasons that families surrender dogs and cats to shelters. A difficult economy, a lack of housing options and changes in family circumstances likely contributed, she said.

A total of 676 dogs and cats came into the shelter in 2023. Compared to 2022, cat surrenders to WAIF increased by 38.6% and dog surrenders increased by 49%, according to the press release. Stray cat intakes ballooned by 54.8%, while the intake of stray dogs decreased by 15%.

In the midst of the increased activity last year, WAIF cared for dozens of cats and dogs from a high-profile animal cruelty case. The animals were taken to the shelter at the end of 2022, so they didn’t contribute to the increase in intake statistics last year, Hudgins explained. Still, the pets required extra care during the year because of medical and grooming-related problems. Many were held for months on end until the prosecutor’s office won a motion forcing the former owner to forfeit the animals in August.

The number of families adopting pets also increased, but still was lower than the intakes. A total of 458 companion animals went to “forever homes” in 2023, a 67% increase over 2022 and the shelter’s highest number of adoptions in years.

WAIF’s experience isn’t unique. The press release points out that Shelter Animals Count, a nonprofit organization that provides a national database for shelter animal statistics to which WAIF submits its monthly numbers, reported that around 6.5 million animals entered shelters across the country in 2023 — roughly the same number as in 2022.

“Yet shelters nationwide are operating at or above capacity, with more animal intakes than adoptions,” WAIF reported.

Last year, WAIF spayed and neutered 368 animals in the shelter, which was a whopping three times as many pets as in 2022. The organization also provided assistance to 112 low-income families who struggled with medical bills for pets; that was the highest number in at least eight years.

Hudgins said WAIF thrives on volunteer help, especially when it comes to giving vital one-on-one attention to shelter animals. Volunteers donated 5,173 hours of their time at the animal care facilities in 2023, the highest number of volunteer hours in 19 years. Nonetheless, Hudgins said, the group is always looking for more help in the form of volunteers and donations.

“Generous donations from community members over the years have allowed us to expand our capacity and our programs and improve the quality of care we can provide for our animals,” WAIF reported.

Adoption statistics, available pets, information about WAIF’s volunteer opportunities and an easy donation form can be found on the organization’s website, waifanimals.org.

Photo submitted
Piper the puppy is looking for a good home.