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Rural animal shelters at capacity; nonprofit urges families to adopt, foster ahead of holidays

Florida Urgent Rescue works with five rural North Florida animal shelters and says all are full.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — At Union County Animal Control in Lake Butler, there are no empty kennels in sight. 

Animal rescue nonprofits say that's a problem and the founder of Florida Urgent Rescue blames COVID-19 for an increase in shelter surrenders.

"I think a lot of people who adopted animals when they were working from home are now saying, 'Oh, I don't have time for them. Now I am back to work,' and it seems like a higher percentage than normal of animals being surrendered," explained Mike Merrill.

Merrill works with five rural county shelters on the First Coast and says all of them are full.  He's noticed a growing stray population too because spay and neuters stopped at the start of the pandemic.

"A lot of animals did not get spayed or neutered when they would have otherwise been and I think there are some repercussions from that as well," he said.

Merrill also transports animals to other shelters across the country, but those are also at capacity, limiting his ability to clear the shelters here.

He needs more foster families, or those who are serious about adopting, which he hopes will alleviate overcrowding.

"It feels like we are emptying the ocean with a teaspoon. We are chipping away at the problem but the problem is so large that we are unable to keep up with the requests for help," Merrill said.

For more information about Florida Urgent Rescue, click here