Adopting a new pet is a wonderful and life-changing experience—for both the adopter and the pet. And, with nearly 25 nonprofit animal rescue groups in the greater Pikes Peak area, there are lots to choose from.

During 2020–2021, animal adoptions soared locally and nationally, and shelters could not keep up with demand. Getting a doggie or kitty or bird or rat (they need love, too) seemed like such a good idea at the time—a new companion to make life bearable.

But, when isolation ends and new pet owners return to work or the adopter no longer “needs” the sweet dog or cat that provided companionship, what happens to the pet who is suddenly left alone or unwanted? Some are returned to shelters, and too many are abandoned.

Lucky little puppy Faith, was brought back to health at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region after being discovered locked in a crate under a tree.

At the height of the pandemic, volunteers and foster parents were difficult to find. Now that we are moving into a post-COVID period, animal rescue organizations in Colorado and nationwide are still struggling to keep operations going as their survival depends on donations and volunteers.

Back in 2020, when life as we knew it changed, Governor Jared Polis encouraged Coloradans to foster animals during the pandemic. For most of the rescue groups in the Pikes Peak area, the response was bleak.

The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region (HSPPR), the largest municipal animal shelter in Southern Colorado, was not exempt from COVID issues, but care of the animals did not waver. Pets stay as long as it takes to find their new family, and adoptions are continuing at a steady pace. “In 2019, we did 12,445 adoptions. In 2020, we did 10,586 adoptions, and in 2021, we did 11,503 adoptions,” says Cody Costra, public relations and content specialist. Last year, there were also 4,559 lost pets reunited with their owners and 2,475 put in foster care. Sadly, there were also 775 returns. But in January and February of this year, 1,616 had new homes—a positive sign.

Still, the problems aren’t over. Costra says, “We received a PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loan, which enabled us to maintain staffing levels. But staffing with employees and volunteers has been a struggle. We are actively recruiting staff and volunteers, and more information can be found on our website.”

May 7 marks the Humane Society’s largest fundraising gala, the Fur Ball, and upcoming events include Pawtoberfest in September and the Whisker Ball, the Pueblo gala, in October.

Smaller but Mighty

For the dozens of private rescue groups in Colorado Springs, whose mission is to give lost and abandoned animals a second chance in life, business as usual continues to be challenging. Most are foster-based, and few have shelter facilities. Many operate on limited schedules, and animals can be seen by appointment only. And some have closed because of a lack of volunteers.

Are you ready for a new best furry friend? Every Saturday, at the four local PetSmart locations, animal rescue groups bring their cats and dogs for adoption. You can visit in person with dozens of animals waiting to steal your heart.

9Lives Rescue, Inc., is committed to finding forever homes for lost and abandoned cats. The nonprofit is strictly volunteer- and foster-based, so the number of kitties they can rescue depends on the number of foster homes available. Since the pandemic began, and continuing today, 9Lives struggles with the shortage of fosters and volunteers.

“It’s hard to find people who want to foster a kitty until it’s adopted,” says Director Lois Kinder. The reason? Attachment. After having a cat in their care and in their lives, they can’t give it up and adopt it themselves. “We rely on an all-volunteer staff to foster the animals, run the adoption center, take care of the cats’ medical needs, and facilitate adoptions. Our funding comes from generous donors and from the adoption fees we collect.”

It takes a special kind of person to give of their time, heart, and kindness to help an animal in need, Kinder says. She pleads with people who can’t take care of their beloved pet to return it to the rescue group it came from or HSPPR. “Please don’t abandon it in the streets to freeze or starve or leave it behind in an empty house to die,” she says.

9Lives maintains an adoption center that’s open seven days a week at the PetSmart on Powers Blvd. and Constitution. Cats are rotated throughout the week, and adoption fairs are held every Saturday at the store.

Another non-profit shelter, the San Luis Valley Animal Welfare Society, is located just outside San Luis, near the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The highly impoverished area makes finding homes for the shelter’s dogs nearly impossible. “We adopt only one or two dogs per year to families here,” Executive Director Aileen Peek says. So they come to Colorado Springs. “It’s the closest metropolitan area to us with many responsible, loving, potential adopters.”

She adds, “We have been traveling to Colorado Springs every Saturday for the past 18 years.” That’s 150 miles and three and a half hours each way. “We bring about 20 dogs and puppies. Recently, we have been finding homes for about 25% of the dogs we bring up.”

Every Saturday, the rescue group holds adoption fairs at the PetSmart near Chapel Hills. They and the dogs welcome volunteer walkers, petters, and huggers.

When you’re ready to add a sweet pet to your life, remember: Don’t shop. Adopt.