ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — At the start of the pandemic it was the best-case scenario for animal shelters.
With such huge demand for pets, they couldn’t adopt them out fast enough. But now that businesses and life opening back up, some are rushing to send dogs and cats back.

Many shelters, including Rochester Animal Services, are now at or over capacity. But according to some who worked there, the problems run deeper than that.

News 8 has received complaints of the operations of the Rochester Animal Services from former volunteers, particularly about some of the practices and standards that were not met.

Earlier this week it held more than 40 dogs when it was designed for 38. But former shelter foster team leader Grace Spampinato says the building’s problem is not its size, but its condition. 

“Dogs have gotten out from play yards,” Grace Spampinato argued. “They can push through the gate, and it opens right up.”  

Spampinato goes on to say care is slipping partly because Rochester Animal Services concentrates too much on helping owners deal with emergencies and not enough on the animals up for adoption.  

“I think their priority in general sort of switched around into the whole house program and human-animal support services,” Spampinato continued. “And that’s where it stayed last year.” 

The shelter’s director Chris Fitzgerald acknowledges some of the issues but says there are explanations for all of them like the broken kennels being used for storage. 

“Instead of using our limited resources to pay for storage off-site, we decided to put some of the supply into unused kennels,” Fitzgerald explained. “We need to have supplied on hand to give to those foster caregivers.”  

Fitzgerald also defended the focus on emergency situations. 

“If the household is going through some crisis with hospitalizations, domestic violence, we’re taking those pets in temporarily,” Fitzgerald said. “And staying in touch with the household until they work through that crisis, and then they can be reunited.”  

Fitzgerald adds they have been dealing with staffing shortages adding they always need volunteers and promises they have a more stable Foster Team System in place for them. Spampinato explained she and other volunteers spent about 60 hours a week making sure each dog was taken care of.

Emails show the shelter eventually asked “unadoptable” dogs to the public be taken in by volunteers as long as they assumed all liabilities and risks. She claims that choice could save the lives of dogs in the shelter.

“They gave just an additional three days if someone wanted to come forward and adopt her and I don’t believe she was ever adopted by a volunteer,” Spampinato said. “She was euthanized.”   

“The only animals being put to sleep here are animals that have serious medical or behavioral issues,” Fitzgerald said. “That is beyond remediation.” 

None of those animals were eligible to go to the public. Volunteers call this practice dangerous. Adoptions for City of Rochester shelters can be found by clicking here.