Animal rescue agencies in Calgary are fighting hard to keep things running smoothly as the total number of surrendered pets and rescued animals continues to rise, pushing an already overburdened system to the brink.

The Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS) currently has over 800 animals in care, a significant increase from its usual numbers.

“We [usually] try and hover around 600, so it’s a pretty big increase,” said Rachel Cote, the group’s stakeholder relations manager.

“Right now, we have lots of animals in our care that have come in sick and injured so we’re going to be treating those long term. So, we’re going to need fosters for those animals to recover.”

Cote added that the team is also looking for volunteers and caregivers who can help out at the shelter, coupled with financial donations to help offset the costs of looking after hundreds of rescued animals.

The organization took in a plethora of animals over the weekend — 25 dogs and 89 cats, to be precise.

According to Cote, the situation seems grim, with many shelters struggling to keep up with the influx of relinquished animals.

“I think we’re all in the same boat, you know, lots of requests, lots of animals needing help,” Cote said.

“We will all only have so many resources that we can [use], that we have. So I think everybody’s kind of in the same boat.”

A woman wearing a blue checked shirt is seen in the photo.
Rachel Cote, Stakeholder Relations Manager at ARRCS, believes that it’s crucial to find more foster homes as animal rescue agencies struggle to keep up with the influx of relinquished animals. (Mike Symington/CBC)

The wildfire season is making things complicated for AARCS and other pet rescue organizations, according to Cote, who said her team is still looking after animals that were rescued from affected areas in Alberta in May and June.

They’re also coordinating with their partners in the Northwest Territories, such as the NWT SPCA to rescue animals affected by the fires in the region.

This often involves dealing with logistical challenges, such as booking flights and making other arrangements.

‘A particularly busy, difficult year’

“This fire season has been particularly difficult, particularly long,” Cote said.

“That adds an extra stress to us and to be able to help the animals, so it’s been a particularly busy, difficult year for us.”

While the AARCS team already has a robust network of fosters and volunteers, they need more help to keep up with the unprecedented demand.

“We absolutely need fosters, fosters are honestly crucial to what we do here. They make all of the difference,” Cote said.

A dog with black and light brown fur is seen resting on a blanket.
Experts believe that an unusually high number of animals were rescued over the last year, adding to stress and burnout as animal welfare professionals struggle to cope. (aarcs/Instagram)

She gave an example — animals from shelters that get shut down often end up in foster homes where they get a chance to “live their best life” and recuperate.

“Fosters are a really important part to what we do here,” Cote said.

“Ultimately, every dog that we can place in foster, every dog or cat we can place in foster, it helps clear up a space here at the shelter for another animal that needs to come in.”

While Cote and the rest of the team are worried that this may be a lasting trend, they’re trying to stay optimistic.

“I think that we’re all in it for the right reason,” Cote said. 

“We all want to help the animals and at the end of the day, we have to have to be optimistic that this will change in the future.” 

A cat with light green eyes is seen lazying around on a carpeted floor.
Scores of pets are waiting for long periods to get adopted or find a foster home as animal rescue organizations continue to look after a massive number of rescued animals. (aarcs/Instagram)

According to R.J. Bailot, executive director of the Canadian Animal Task Force, the current situation looks bleak with many animal rescue agencies struggling to stay on track.

“I’ve been [in] animal welfare for nearly 20 years and I’ve never seen it this bad,” he said, before adding that an unusually “high volume of animals” were rescued over the last year.

Why is this happening, though?

The answer is far from straightforward, according to Bailot who said that while pet ownership increased during the pandemic, many individuals decided to eventually give up their pets and re-home them.

Some pet owners struggled with their pets’ behavioural issues while others realized they couldn’t afford to continue caring for the animals. 

Others found it difficult to look after their pets after they stopped working from home.

A lack of spaying and neutering awareness made things worse, according to Bailot.

“Right now … puppies will sit on websites of organizations, you know, for weeks at a time where … a few years ago, [something] like that would never happen,” he said.

“It’s just there’s so many animals looking for [a] home.”

‘It’s a human problem’

Bailot said that those working in the animal rescue industry have mentioned they’re tired and burned out from trying to keep up with the higher demand while working with limited resources.

“It’s an exhausting state for anyone in this work,” Bailot said.

“All we can do now is, you know, we’re just trying to reinforce [to] the people how bad the situation is … it’s not an animal problem, it’s a human problem and we really need to all be involved in how we could help.”

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