How county animal shelters are handling the summer influx, and what pet owners can do
Summer means sunshine and warmer weather, but it also means animal shelters begin to fill up.
DuPage County Animal Services, the second largest county-run pet shelter in the state, was at "critical capacity" in June. Now, thanks to adoption, reunification and rescue partners, the shelter has less than 200 animals in their care for the first time in weeks.
Laura Flamion, operations manager at the DuPage County agency, said that while capacity changes regularly, there is often an intake uptick during warmer months.
The sentiment is echoed at most other suburban county-operated shelters. But it's also common across the country, Flamion said.
The DuPage shelter is unique given its open-admission policy. It also takes owner surrenders, unlike others in the area.
"Usually in the summer months, people are taking vacations, kids are back from school and other priorities might cause them to reevaluate whether now is the time to get rid of their pet," Flamion said.
More folks have had to move or fallen into financial hardship because of the pandemic, Flamion also noted.
Litters of kittens are particularly prevalent at summertime. The shelter currently has about 120 cats, along with about 75 other animals.
Flamion said it's usually because owners don't spay or neuter their cats, often allowing their pets to wander freely outside and mingle with the feral cat population.
Summer allows all types of pets to roam more outdoors, said Brett Youngsteadt, Kane County Animal Control's administrator. In the winter, the cold causes animals to seek shelter instead.
Youngsteadt said microchipping and registering pets can often take a burden off shelters.
"(These) pets have the highest chance of going home," he said. "Sometimes when the animal doesn't have microchip, it can get lost in the system."
Lindsey Salvatelli, community information coordinator at the McHenry County Department of Health, said dogs with microchips are two times more likely to be reunited with their families, and cats are 20 times more likely.
That technology is likely helping keep McHenry County's summer numbers from rising.
"We have remained status quo," Salvatelli said.
Emily Young, interim marketing and communications manager for the Lake County Health Department, said Lake County Animal Care and Control also saw an increase in animal impoundments during the pandemic.
But while Lake County's shelter provides interim shelter for pets, it outsources for adoption.
Young urged people looking to add a pet to their homes to take the responsibility seriously.
"If interested in acquiring a new pet, adopt or rescue locally, but understand it is a commitment for the life of the pet," Young said. "Owners should also have a backup plan -- what will they do with the pet if they have to move, lose their job, etc."
Elsewhere in the suburbs, Will County Animal Control officials said they have no capacity to house pets, instead encouraging residents to contact local rescues.
Cook County Animal and Rabies Control does not have a shelter, either. However, its annual $8 million "Housing Cook County's Animals" grant program provides funds for expanding existing animal shelters and combating overcrowding.