Berkeley animal shelter is overcrowded with cats

The shelter hasn’t been able to keep up with the demand for spays and neuters due to a lack of staffing. Under normal circumstances, those who want to adopt a cat would be able to schedule an appointment to spay or neuter their cat within several days. Now, there’s a backlog of nearly two weeks.

“The faster we can get healthy animals spayed and neutered, the quicker we get them out of the shelter, and then they’re not exposed to sick animals,” Batavia said. “The shelter, it’s kind of like a kid’s daycare, where everyone’s got a snotty nose, and they’re all touching each other’s food. So it’s really easy for disease to spread in a shelter.”

They’ve found a temporary workaround: Since the shelter cannot legally allow people to adopt unfixed cats, they’ve been letting future owners sign up as fosterers and take the cats home until they’re able to secure an appointment and officially adopt them, according to foster coordinator Kris Swanson.

“Normally, that’s not something we would be doing,” Swanson said. “We just don’t even have the capacity to do all the spays and neuters needed. We just can’t hold them all while we’re waiting for them to get surgery.”

Berkeley's animal shelter 'swamped' with kittens
Kris Swanson, the shelter’s foster coordinator, checks on the adult cats that are housed in the dog rooms. Over 40 cats and kittens, the highest number in years, await adoption at Berkeley’s animal shelter. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Still, it’s a bandage solution for a nationwide veterinary shortage. The shelter’s usual veterinarian has been on medical leave for the past few months, Batavia explained, and the staffing crisis has made it “a real struggle” to find a temporary, full-time replacement. With the help of relief veterinarians, who have been taking on work mainly as a community service, the shelter has been able to keep some of its operations going, but even then, the number of surgeries it’s been able to conduct has been greatly reduced.

“Who wants to do relief work for not the most money? Because we’re the city. We’re not a fancy emergency practice,” Batavia said.

Berkeley's animal shelter 'swamped' with kittens
Bonnie Testa, a volunteer at the shelter, plays with Minkie, a recently spayed cat awaiting adoption. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Unlike private shelters, which pick and choose the animals it accepts, the city’s animal shelter does not have the option to turn away animals. While there isn’t a set maximum number of animals it can take in, “best practices do not allow for overcrowding because it causes stress and disease in the animals,” Funghi said.

Euthanization is not an option the shelter would default to.

“We have not euthanized for space historically and we would do everything possible to avoid that situation,” Funghi said, adding that the shelter holds itself to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ “five freedoms”: freedom from hunger and Thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury or disease, freedom to express normal behavior, and freedom from fear and distress.

The shelter plans to hold a large adoption fair this month, though specific dates and locations have not been confirmed. To encourage adoptions, the shelter has temporarily made them free to qualified homes.

Iris Kwok covers the environment for Berkeleyside through a partnership with Report for America.


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