Alaska’s rural animal shelters are struggling to keep up: ‘Everywhere has no room’

a woman checks on a dog in a vet's office
A volunteer shaves the area where the dog will be receiving surgery. (Courtesy of Emily Stotts)

Animal shelters around the state have seen a recent uptick of stray and surrendered animals, and it’s been an especially tough year for one organization who serves the Norton Sound region.

PAWS of Nome is a non-profit animal rescue and advocacy organization that provides no-cost animal related support to pet owners. The organization says it has saved thousands of animals since opening in 2013.

Emily Stotts is the president of PAWS of Nome. She said this year has been overwhelming, and the rescue has reached full capacity multiple times.

“Probably closing in on 700 to 750 animals that have been helped by us this year,” she said.

Animal Care and Control in Anchorage recently experienced several multi-week-long closures due to dogs testing positive for the highly contagious canine parvovirus. All services were furloughed until all animals were healthy, with the exception of pet adoptions.

During the closures, Stotts said rescues around the state received calls from desperate owners looking to re-home their pets. She said when PAWS of Nome reached maximum capacity, she had to deny surrender requests.

She said the number of dumped and stray animals has become too much for rescue organizations to handle on their own, especially in rural Alaska where there isn’t a strong animal control presence.

“It’s just me, and I’m out of space,” she said. “They’re in my own backyard, they’re in three facilities that I run, they’re at my friend’s houses as fosters.”

PAWS of Nome is run by volunteers and is funded through grants and donations.

Stotts said rural Alaska needs more support from government officials. Without government support, she said she worries the PAWS of Nome won’t continue. She cites North Slope Veterinary Clinic in Utqiagvik, which receives funding from corporations and provides animal control and limited veterinary services.

“If we stop what we’re doing here, that is going to devastate what’s going on in Anchorage and Fairbanks and everywhere else,” she said. “Everywhere has no room.”

PAWS of Nome encourages residents to call and write letters to local and state government officials requesting their support of animal rescues.

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