Arizona’s animal shelter epidemic


Photo courtesy of the Arizona Humane Society


Roxy, a French Bulldog-Chihuahua mix, is the talk of Arizona.

She was the first-ever Arizona shelter dog to go to Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl. This 6-pound puppy and her best friend, Oscar the cat, were featured in a segment called “Pup Close and Personal,” which aired during the Super Bowl.

These two animals were brought to the Arizona Humane Society as underweight strays, and then put into a foster home together. They instantly hit it off and have been so inseparable that the AHS put the pair up for adoption together.

While these two were lucky enough to end up getting adopted, that isn’t always the case. Throughout the U.S., animal shelters are overcrowded and unable to care for the high number of unwanted animals. Arizona is no exception.

According to Inge Koopman-Leyva, the Humane Society of Southern Arizona’s manager of education, there are approximately 3,500 animal shelters in the U.S. and 2.7 million animals are being euthanized in them every year.

Second only to Los Angeles, Maricopa County, located in the Phoenix area, has the highest amount of stray animals in the U.S., Megan Franks of the AHS said.

Franks said to avoid further overcrowding, the AHS started a pet resource center. “If someone wants to surrender their pet, they call that number and we give them other resources,” she said. AHS gives alternatives such as providing the names of other shelters they can bring their pet to or suggesting they ask family members to take their pet in for them.

Marsha Wronski, a longtime volunteer at Hope Animal Shelter in Tucson, explained that shelters’ overcrowding tends to come from pet owners’ lack of thought.

“People don’t really think before buying animals,” Wronski said. “Some people look at pets as part of their family and those who do not are the ones who end up regretting it and abandoning them or bringing them to shelters.”

Another cause of overpopulation and shelter overcrowding is people’s disregard for spaying and neutering their pets, Franks said. “Because of this, their cats are having kittens and then people don’t want the kittens and try to give them to shelters,” she said.

The AHS paired up with PetSmart Charities, the Animal Defense League of America and the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust to create Trap-Neuter-Return, better known as TNR. TNR is a program that allows outdoor cats to be humanely trapped, neutered or spayed and then returned to wherever they were found.

“Outdoor cats live just as long as house cats so this is a great way for us to get involved and put a stop to overpopulation, without overcrowding our physical shelters,” Franks said.

In addition to programs such as TNR, Arizona Humane Society visits schools twice a week and talks to the community regularly in order to teach people the many joys of owning pets, how to be a responsible pet owner and why people need to show animals compassion.

“Arizona is trying to inform its citizens and help them see that animals have feelings and are living beings too,” Franks said.

Some have heard the message.

Rachel Brunsman, a University of Arizona student, adopted her first dog last October.

“I’m from Phoenix and as long as I can remember I’ve heard about animal overpopulation problems in Arizona,” she explained. “As soon as I got my own house in Tucson, I decided to get a dog. And as soon as I saw Daisy at the shelter, I fell in love.”

“I think some people are skeptical about getting animals from shelters because they think all of the animals there have issues, but that just isn’t the case,” Brunsman said.

“Shelters are full of animals that are trained, well socialized and wonderful,” Koopman-Leyva said. “When people opt to purchase pets at for-profit pet stores, they are not being part of the solution and, in fact, are contributing to animals being euthanized at shelters all across the nation.”

Lauren Ikenn is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News Service, provided by the School of Journalism at The University of Arizona. Contact her at

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