JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Washington County Johnson City Animal Shelter is already at capacity for dogs, and shelter staff say they’re still waiting for another wave that threatens to swamp their organization.

“It does appear to be a problem at animal shelters all across America, for whatever reason they have seen an increase in the number of animals coming in,” said Tammy Davis, executive director of the shelter. “It’s not just specific here to our area.”

What is unique, however, is the lack of flow out of Washington County compared to earlier years. Shelter staff normally expect to hit capacity in the spring when many animals are born, but this year began with no room left for dogs.

“Adoptions have been down, so not only have intakes increased,” Davis said. “Adoption’s going down. That is a position we never want to be in. It is vital that we have empty cages available.”

Those empty cages aren’t just used for strays and owner surrenders. If a person is in an accident or has a medical emergency while they’re out with their pet, the shelter takes the animal in and keeps them safe while their owner is getting care. Without the space, animals may end up with nowhere to go.

To help relieve the issue, Davis said the shelter has offered a discount on adoption fees for months. It’s not just the cost that keeps an animal out of a home, however.

“They’re not small dogs that are easy to adopt,” Davis said. “We’re seeing a variety of breeds coming in, a lot of them are medium to large breed dogs which are a little harder to get adopted.”

A newly-sheltered dog’s length of stay can vary by a lot, Davis said. Finding the perfect match is difficult, so just getting more people in the door helps.

“It depends on how social the dog is, if the dog gets along with other dogs of course it’s going to be much more easily adopted,” Davis said. “It’s just a matter of the right person coming in, seeing an animal in the shelter, falling in love with them and wanting to take it home.”

Shelter staff can give animals to other shelters as a last resort, though Davis said it’s a difficult and costly choice to make. Washington County pairs with shelters further north where intakes are low, so a transfer isn’t as easy as crossing the county line.

“There’s no guarantee, what happens if the shelters up north start seeing a decrease in the number of animals adopted?” Davis said. “What happens if they can no longer pull animals from us? That puts us in a very sticky situation.”