Nonprofits Bolster Pet Ecosystem

Nonprofits Bolster Pet Ecosystem

Minnesota pet owners benefit from a large network of organizations and volunteers that support pet health.

Seventy percent of U.S. households include at least one animal, but with significant regional variations. Wyoming tops the list, but Minnesota households have a higher-than-average rate of pet ownership, with dog owners in first place, followed by cat owners.

There’s also wide regional and state variation in the civic investment in pets.

Minnesota has built a considerable pet infrastructure with strong public policy like leash laws and regulations against “puppy mills,” easily available no- or low-cost spay and neutering clinics, amenities like dog parks with free bags to pick up after animals, and a host of nonprofit organizations that help ensure that our furry, finned, and feathered friends are healthy and safe.

There are around 2 million dogs living in the state, and somewhat fewer cats. Animal shelters, animal hospitals, and veterinary training programs all operate as part of an ecosystem of nonprofits.

They support pets and pet households, offering subsidized and specialty veterinary care, educational services for pet owners, shelter and care for animals given up for adoption, support for fostering and adoption processes, and training for for-profit providers of boarding, training, and veterinary care.

Our animal welfare organizations also work nationally with nonprofits in other states with significantly less support for pets.

Those states tend to be in the South and Southeastern U.S., where feral, sick, or abandoned animals are more likely to be euthanized than in states like Minnesota. Animal advocates work to redistribute these endangered pets through interstate adoptions, nonprofit-to-nonprofit.

Before Covid-19 stalled many of these activities, Minnesota was “importing” about 20,000 dogs per year, according to Dr. Graham Brayshaw, director of veterinary medicine at the Animal Humane Society of Minnesota, which itself handled about 8,000 animals.

Minnesota is one of the most active states for such adoptions. Once they arrive, animals are evaluated and cared for by the sponsoring organization, spayed or neutered if needed, and offered for adoption for a fee, generally a few hundred dollars.

Caring for and finding homes for animals in need is far from a break-even venture. The Animal Humane Society and other organizations rely on donations to meet their operating expenses.

Brayshaw says that only about 30% to 40% of the Humane Society’s revenue is earned from fees for services. Just a small percentage of those fees come from adoption services. Volunteers help tend animals in shelters or foster animals awaiting adoption in their homes.

The University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine also plays an outsized role in animal welfare. One of the top-rated schools in the U.S., the school operates animal clinics and emergency care for both outpatient treatment and in-hospital surgical procedures; trains veterinarians; and provides discounted services for nonprofits working with rescued and sheltered animals. Vet school dean Dr. Laura Molgaard says that the specialty care available at the university’s medical facilities would be financially out of reach for many animal owners were it not for generous philanthropic support.

During the pandemic, and particularly during the lockdown months, pet adoptions increased and the demand for pet services spiked correspondingly.

At the same time, the labor shortages that are plaguing Minnesota have put pressure on clinics, shelters, and vets in private practice. Anyone with a pet knows that wait times have increased for many health-related pet services, and the shortage of job applicants for relatively low-paying vet tech positions has been noted in local media. Further, veterinary medicine is difficult to practice remotely.

Brayshaw says that the Humane Society’s interstate adoption capacity declined by about 50% in recent years. Some local shelters haven’t re-opened since the pandemic surfaced in 2020 and the organization’s vet staff is about half of its pre-pandemic size. 

Our family was one of the many that now has a “pandemic puppy.” We’ve needed the services of Minnesota nonprofits for routine and emergency care.

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“People are in this work because they love it,” Brayshaw says, and that’s evident every time you visit a clinic with your pet. We hadn’t really taken note of the nonprofit ecosystem around pets before our pup entered the picture. Now, there seems to be support everywhere we turn.

We work hard to be a great state for humans. Let’s stay a strong state for pets as well.