BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Animal Shelter of Sullivan County is urgently seeking people to foster pets as it’s at capacity with dogs and has many requests to take in nursing kittens.

The shelter said an unprecedented amount of pet owners surrendering their dogs and cats is a contributing factor to the facility hitting capacity.

“I think a lot of people just aren’t able to care for the animals,” said Karen Fox, Operations Outreach Manager. “When people can’t care for them, they a lot of times don’t have a family member either that can. Sometimes they’ve exhausted all of those possibilities, particularly those maybe having to move. Financially, they’re having to downsize and move in with family. Those kind of things. So, they may not be able to take multiple animals.”

Stray and abandoned animals are also adding to the mix. This time of year is widely-known as kitten season, but the shelter said it’s seeing a lot of puppies, as well.

“We work to not have puppies in the shelter; we work to put them in foster homes,” said Fox. “If they’re in a home, they’re not here. Stray animals coming in can have diseases, things like that. If those puppies are not in a shelter environment, that helps them stay healthier. So, of course, they’re vaccinated. They’ve had all their treatments, but they are in a home versus in a shelter.”

Photo: WJHL

Fostering helps clear space to open quarantine kennels for incoming pets. Some of the dogs in the shelter only need short-term foster homes, because they’re waiting to be moved to a rescue organization.

Shelter workers say a number of dogs are also scared in the shelter and just need a quiet place to rest for a few weeks.

“A shelter can be a very stressful environment,” said Stevie Rawson, Kennel Tech. “Where fostering comes in, it helps take that animal out of that situation that’s really loud and a little stressful and a little cramped sometimes. And it allows them to kind of have more one on one attention throughout the day. And it helps with their behavior and learning skills.”

The shelter has a donation bank of animal food, kennels, cat litter and others supplies.

“People are struggling to feed themselves, much less their animals,” said Fox. “So, if we can help you keep your animal by giving you food and those kind of things, we want to be able to do that. So please, if it’s an issue that you just need help with food, let us help.”

Staff also wants people to not move kittens when they first see that they’re alone. Instead, they recommend waiting a day, just in case the mother cat comes back.

Photo: WJHL

“They may have gone to find food and come back,” said Fox. “So, what happens when somebody sees those kittens and they go move them or they pick them up, a lot of times your mom won’t come back or the mom waits till you’re gone to come back and if not, then you’ve got a litter of babies with no momma to take care of them.”

There is no cost to fostering a pet, and the shelter provides food, medications and other supplies. The only requirement to fostering a pet is that any existing animals in a home need to be vaccinated, spayed and neutered.

Rawson said fostering a pet can be hard by not keeping the animal you’ve grown attached to, but rewarding in other ways.

“When they find that forever home and you know that you’ve helped that animal, teach them how to sit and stay and get potty trained or you learn these characteristics about this animal that you helped them come out of the shell,” said Rawson. “Giving them a home temporarily until they find their forever home gives them the opportunity to relax and just learn to be a dog, essentially.”

Not all of the animals are short-term foster pets. Fostering a pet can also lead to adoption, shelter staff told News Chanel 11.

Dog and cat foster applications are available on The Animal Shelter of Sullivan County’s website, along with photos and descriptions of the animals in need.