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As part of the national “Empty the Shelters” campaign, Antioch Animal Services is waiving pet adoption fees in July.

Of the 187 animals currently in the municipal animal shelter, about 50 cats and dogs are available for adoption.

Cat Cottle, director of Antioch Animal Services, said the difficult economic times have led to an influx of surrendered or stray animals.

“We are in the midst of an overwhelming crisis right now,” Cottle said. “We see a lot of people struggling to feed themselves, and then taking care of their animals is a secondary issue.”

The increased number of surrendered and stray animals also appears to be a result of the adoption boom during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were at home to care for animals, Cottle continued.

“I think what we’re seeing now is these kinds of unruly teenage dogs that were adopted as puppies in this three-year period,” she explained. “They weren’t trained or used to having someone home all day, and now they have separation anxiety. It’s hard to pinpoint the cause, but it seems like we’re getting a lot of under-socialized dogs.”

To help ease the financial burden and prevent further surrenders, Antioch Animal Services is offering owners free pet food and free vaccination and microchipping appointments. The next appointment will be on a first-come, first-served basis and will be held Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front of the Antioch Police Department, which shares a building with the shelter at 300 L St.

Cottle said many people enter the shelter with a specific type of pet in mind — usually based on appearance — and often leave with a pet they weren’t expecting.

“Our staff will match them with animals that fit their personality or lifestyle,” she explained. “We always counsel people. We always talk to them and offer a lot of post-adoption support.”

Antioch Animal Services is also looking for foster homes to make more space. Ideally, Cottle said, the shelter would house just 32 dogs and 54 cats, but of the 187 animals currently living there, many are housed in kennels. Overcrowding can lead to animal stress and euthanasia, she explained.

This month’s free adoption opportunity is thanks to a grant from the Bissell Pet Foundation, which helps offset costs for participating animal shelters across the country.

Founder Cathy Bissell launched the “Empty the Shelters” campaign in 2016 with the ultimate goal of getting animals out of shelters and giving them a home.

“We’re finding that in these difficult times when shelters are overcrowded, this is really drawing people into the shelters to try to save lives,” Bissell said. “We’re seeing the results across the country — what Empty the Shelters is doing to help shelters relocate pets — and we’re really proud of it.”