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San Diego County's animal welfare groups put out urgent call for assistance

There is a record number of dogs in animal shelters throughout San Diego County. That’s according to local animal welfare groups. KPBS Reporter Melissa Mae tells us why they are in a state of emergency.

A coalition of San Diego County animal welfare organizations on Tuesday asked the community to save lives by adopting or fostering unwanted animals and spaying and neutering their pets, before a badly overcrowded shelter situation becomes even more urgent during the busier summer months.

On Adopt a Shelter Pet Day, 11 local organizations confirmed their commitment to staying at zero euthanasia of healthy or treatable shelter pets, but warned that the overcrowding was becoming unsafe.

"Summer is the busiest time for animal shelters, so we need the community to help us help them, before it gets worse," said Dr. Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society. "There are hundreds of deserving animals, from puppies and kittens, to special breed dogs and cats, and small pets, who are waiting for a second chance at our shelters and rescues."


Nationally, 359,000 dogs and 330,000 cats were euthanized last year, according to Shelter Animals Count. In 2023 alone, more than 3 million cats and dogs nationwide entered animal shelters and rescues, along with millions of domestic rabbits and smaller animals.

In 2022, the SDHS reached a record high of nearly 494 dogs in care each day. That daily average rose to 540 in 2023, and has ballooned to 632 so far this year. Stray dog intakes are up 12%, and 65% of these pets are never reclaimed by their owners.

"The number of pets coming to us in need of help is more than we ever imagined," said Ashley Milo, deputy director of animal services for the city of Chula Vista. "We are sounding the alarm. We need our community's help now more than ever — whether it is adopting or fostering, volunteering or donating."

Despite the challenges, San Diego County's animal welfare organizations continue to maintained their "Stay at Zero" euthanasia policy of healthy or treatable shelter pets since 2015. However, this success is due to the efforts of local shelters and rescues, and people willing to adopt and foster pets.

"Every animal in shelter care is looking for their forever home, waiting for their person," said Cora Zwartjes, shelter director and head vet tech at Friends of Cats. "By adopting from a shelter, people can not only help their new family member, but open up resources for the next animal in need."


There are three major ways animal lovers can help the situation:

  • Adopt: Adopting saves lives, and there are thousands of pets available at shelters and local rescues right now.
  • Foster: This is a critical — and temporary — way you can help save lives. Opening your home to foster a pet gives them relief from the stress of the shelter and creates space for other animals in need.
  • Spay and neuter: Increasing the number of spayed/neutered animals is the only way to stop the crisis of pet overpopulation at its root.

"Even if you can't make a permanent commitment to adopt, there are so many ways to help," said Jennifer Stein of PAWS of Coronado. "Our fosters serve as bridges, preventing dogs from entering the shelter by seamlessly transitioning them from one loving home to another, ensuring their journey ends in a forever family."

Some pets have been waiting for more than a year to be adopted, and a third longer than 30 days, according to the county.

"Your actions will help create vital kennel space for the anticipated surge of incoming pets this summer," said Suzy Clayton, Intake2Placement program coordinator at the county's Department of Animal Services. "Together, through community support and collaboration, we can uphold our commitment to Stay at Zero."

For more information on how to help, visit