Southeast Ohio dog shelters adapt to overcrowding issues

Written by Trinity Trimble, Photos by Hannah Campbell and Trinity Trimble

Dog shelters around Ohio are coping with an increasing number of shelter dogs. Shelters are accepting fewer surrenders, getting help from rescues, building new facilities, increasing advertising, and, in the worst cases, euthanizing dogs.  

Accepting Fewer Surrenders 

Some shelters are choosing not to take in dogs from owners who simply don’t want them anymore. Instead, shelters are only taking in strays, abuse cases, returns from a recent adoption, or surrenders due to the owner dying.  

In 2023, The Shelter Animals Count — a national database tracking the number of animals in and out of shelters — found that 3.2 million dogs entered animal shelters. Of those, 2.2 million dogs were adopted.  

Ryan Gillette, a lieutenant with the Athens County Sheriff’s Office, supervises the Athens County Dog Shelter. He says the shelter usually houses 20-30 dogs, far above the ideal 12-15 dogs the shelter was designed for.   

Gillette describes the job as a balancing act. He wants to house as many dogs as possible but needs to keep a few kennels available for dogs brought in unexpectedly. 

Help from Rescues 

Most shelters work closely with local rescue organizations to manage the balancing act of housing dogs while maintaining space. If the shelter starts to get overcrowded, rescues and non-profits can help move the dogs or work to get them adopted. 

The Athens County Dog Shelter works with Friends of Shelter Dogs, to place dogs in foster homes until adoption. The shelter also attends several adoption events and places dogs on a waiting list if the shelter doesn’t have enough room.   

“When we’re getting close to being overcrowded, the community helps out, comes together and provides resources until we can start to manage the numbers a little better,” Gillette says.    

A few rescues and non-profits that shelters in Southeast Ohio partner with are: 

The Athens County Dog Shelter 

  • Bobcats of the Shelter Dogs 
  • BARC Ohio 

The Pickaway County Dog Shelter 

  • Partners for Paws 

The Adams County Dog Kennel 

  • Stop the Suffering 
  • Animal Rescue Fun 

Donnie Swayne, The Adams County Dog Warden, says the rescues greatly help reduce the number of dogs in the county shelter. However, recently, there has also been less room at the rescues.   

“We used to send five, six, seven dogs a week to rescues. Now, we’re lucky to send five or six a month, says Swayne.

When rescues are unable to take in or transfer dogs, this can lead to severe overcrowding in dog shelters.  

Building New Facilities 

The Adams County Dog Kennel is currently overcrowded, and the current building, which was built decades ago, only has 10 indoor kennels. The shelter has been housing 20-30 dogs consistently for the past year. The overcrowding of the kennels has resulted in larger dogs living in outdoor kennels.  

Luckily, Adams County has received approval to build a new $1 million facility to prevent overcrowding in the future. The new kennel will hold 40 double kennels, allowing dogs to stay inside and outside. The new building will also include two offices, a bathroom and rooms for intake, adoption, veterinary care and quarantine.   

“We’re going to try our best to make it better for our personnel and the dogs who are going to be in our pound,” says Ward.

The Pickaway County Dog Shelter also recently added to its facility. The shelter renovated its indoor kennels by adding laminate flooring and a new air conditioning system. It also built an entirely new outdoor kennel shelter to keep the dogs protected from the sun.   

Preston Schumacher is the chief dog warden at the Pickaway County Dog Shelter. He says that the shelter used to have a major issue with overcrowding when he started working there in 2019.  

“When I first started here, our average was 70. We had dogs in wire crates stacked high. Some dogs, in our bigger kennels, doubled up, two dogs in each,” Schumacher says.

Pickaway County’s new facility makes it easier for shelter employees to care for the dogs. They can keep kennels cleaner and the dogs can stay outside for longer when needed.  

Advertising for Adoptions 

Pickaway County is one shelter that is not struggling with overcrowding. The shelter currently houses 20 dogs, while the max capacity is 41 dogs. Schumacher attributes the increase in adoptions to the increased advertising of dogs on Facebook and Petfinder.  

Gillette says one of the most significant issues for the overcrowding in Athens County is the drop in adoptions since 2019 pre-COVID. According to The Shelter Animals Count, adoptions were down by about 100,000 in 2023 compared to 2019.   

“The dogs aren’t quite moving out of the shelters into rescues or adoptions quite as quickly as they used to in the past,” Gillette says.

Though uncommon, some dogs can remain in the system for years before adoption. Long stays can make it even harder for dogs to be adopted. 


Long stays in animal shelters can be extremely difficult for some dogs. Dogs in shelters can struggle mentally and physically due to: 

  • Small kennels 
  • Smelling, hearing, and seeing other dogs 
  • Lack of dog and human interaction 
  • Lack of exercise 

“We have some [dogs] that start to deteriorate very fast in here,” Gillette says. “They … are just not comfortable in this type of environment.”

Schumacher says staying in a shelter can make many dogs’ behavioral issues worse. 

 These issues can include fear, reactivity or anti-social behavior, even dogs with no previous problems can develop them under the stress of long stays in shelters.   

 Potential adopters are urged not to judge a dog based on how it acts in its kennel. Some shelters, including Athens County, don’t even allow visitors to see the dogs in their kennels because it doesn’t accurately represent the dog.   

Watching dogs deteriorate in the shelter can also be incredibly difficult for the shelter employees. The staff and volunteers get involved because they love dogs and want to help them, but seeing the dogs they care for at work struggle can result in compassion fatigue for the staff.  

“We get dogs that are completely malnourished and have a complete turnaround and actually get a good adoption,” Schumacher says. “It makes the job worth it; it really does. But then you get the unfortunate part where sometimes the shelter environment catches up to a certain dog to where it makes them unadoptable.”  

A dog becomes unadoptable when it becomes constantly aggressive and can no longer be safely handled by staff or released in good conscience to a home outside of the shelter. For the Pickaway County Dog Shelter, only severely unadoptable dogs — who show no signs of improvement — and fatally injured dogs are euthanized. In 2023, the Pickaway County Dog Shelter was forced to euthanize 8 of the 250 dogs that were brought to the shelter.  

Choosing to Adopt 

People can help prevent overcrowding and euthanasia in dog shelters by adopting from local shelters instead of buying puppies from breeders. Returning dogs can worsen overcrowding issues, so potential adopters should take the decision seriously.    

[Adopting] is a huge decision. It’s one that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it can also be one of the greatest decisions that you could ever make,” Gillette says. “So, I would highly encourage everybody that’s considering adoption to do a lot of research. Understand that you are taking responsibility for that life.”