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Animal shelters in New York are at maximum capacity

The Schuyler County Humane Society has seen a 20 percent increase in the number of dogs in its shelter this year compared to 2022.
Natalie Abruzzo
The Schuyler County Humane Society has seen a 20-percent increase in the number of dogs in its shelter this year compared to 2022.

Animal shelters are seeing an uptick in overcrowding across the Southern Tier and New York state, and many are at maximum capacity. The cost of raising and caring for a pet is among several factors contributing to the problem.

The Schuyler County Humane Society manages a facility with 110 cats in a space meant to hold between 45 to 60 cats.

There are so many cats, the organization set up playpens in the office to house them all. There are also 30 cats in foster care waiting to come to the shelter once space is available.

The shelter’s intake of dogs is up 20 percent in the county over last year.

Executive Director Geogie Taylor attributed some of the high population growth to reduced access to spay and neuter services during the pandemic. Taylor said sometimes it is unclear if the animals people bring in are actual strays or surrendered pets. She said some people bring animals to the shelter because they do not know what to do and can no longer care for them.

“What we’re seeing is more with the effects of the economic climate and how that’s impacting people financially at home, that they can no longer afford to keep their pets or that they cannot find appropriate housing,” Taylor said. “So, housing is at a premium and that housing shortage is just compounded when people are trying to find housing with a dog or cat.”

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According to Kristin Vanhorn, the director of planning for Schuyler County, the area is seeing a need for housing. It has seen homes converted into short-term rentals to accommodate the tourism industry for the area. That leaves fewer properties for residents to buy or rent. It drives up rental costs, and not all rental properties allow pets.

Tourist destinations in the county include Watkins Glen, Montour Falls and wineries along Seneca Lake.

Both Broome County and Allegany County said that even though pets are being adopted from their shelters, the waiting list for animals coming in fills those vacated spots immediately.

Allegany County reported a 35-percent increase in dogs and cats entering its shelter due to surrenders. Cruelty and neglect cases have also risen sharply in the county, according to Lynda Pruski, the executive director for SPCA Serving Allegany County.

“More of the cases involve multiple animals," Pruski said. "In the past, it would be on average, one to five animals from one household. Now, in 2022-2023, we are talking about a much larger number of animals from one household, anywhere from 10 to 30 animals."

“There's all kinds of factors here,” explained Libby Post, executive director of the New York State Animal Protection Federation. “I can tell you the urban shelters are having as many problems as the rural shelters are. You can talk to Schuyler, you can talk to Allegany, you can talk to Cattaraugus, you can talk to Binghamton, they'll all tell you the same thing. Everybody is really very stressed and to the max with animals in their shelters and they don't want to turn them away.”

As more cases of animal cruelty are being prosecuted, those animals are housed at shelters for the duration of their cases.

“Many times, you're dealing with live evidence, and the shelters are the only places that can care for that live evidence," Post said. "That live evidence stays at the shelter, until a case is resolved. And that could be a very, very long time, which means taking up space for other dogs in the community, or the cats in the community that need a house—need a place to stay.”

Taylor said finding homes for the animals is a top priority. But donating time or supplies to the shelters can help too.

Instead of surrendering your pets, some shelters offer pet food pantries, low-cost spay and neuter services and free rabies vaccinations.

For more information about pet adoptions, volunteering and a wishlist of shelter items in Schuyler County, visit