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West Valley City Journal

Abandoned pets are rapidly becoming a large crisis in our post-pandemic world

Mar 09, 2023 11:59AM ● By Carl Fauver

Veterinarian Dr. Amy Anderson (in blue) now has a much larger operating room to conduct spays and neuters after a little reorganizing at the West Valley-Taylorsville Animal Services Shelter. Sharel Reffitt and Shannon Sas (back) offer assistance. (Courtesy Melanie Bennett)

As we continue to see fewer and fewer facemasks – and the coronavirus pandemic becomes more of a fleeting memory – big changes are occurring at the West Valley-Taylorsville Animal Services Shelter (4522 W. 3500 South). In a nutshell, shelter Director Melanie Bennett says, there’s no room at the inn.

“During the pandemic, we couldn’t keep dogs and cats in the shelter,” Bennett said. “We were looking all over the place to find animals to adopt out. People were stuck at home and they all seemed to want a pet. But that’s all changed – at our shelter and across the country. We are full of dogs and cats.”

Bennett reports her shelter has room for about 200 cats and 100 dogs. It has been running so full, they can no longer allow people to simply drop off unwanted pets anymore.

“We are only handling stray pickups now,” she explained. “Part of the problem is, many people can’t afford to keep their animals anymore. During the pandemic, some people tried to start breeding pets for an additional income. Now many of them are just letting those animals go. It’s a growing problem.”

West Valley City’s population is about 140,000, while Taylorsville is a little less than half that, at 60,000. That creates a large population and geographical area for Bennett and her staff of 20 to handle. Besides rounding up strays, they spend a lot of time coordinating pet adoption events. You can learn more about these at the shelter’s official government webpage  HYPERLINK "" or on their social media page  HYPERLINK ""

Another big change that’s come about since the pandemic arrived is the removal of the shelter’s controversial euthanasia gas chamber. As one of only a very few animal gas chambers remaining in Utah, the device drew frequent community protests. On one occasion, animal advocates filled the Taylorsville City Council chambers to address the issue.

Ironically, after all that debate, a natural disaster settled the West Valley-Taylorsville Animal Services Shelter gas chamber issue once and for all. Bennett reports it was not the COVID-19 pandemic – but something else that struck a week after the coronavirus shutdown.

On March 18, 2020 a 5.7 magnitude earthquake struck in Magna and rattled all of northern Utah. Bennett says that was the “last straw” for her facility’s controversial device.

“The earthquake shook the gas chamber quite a bit and we were afraid it had been damaged,” she explained. “We also could not find anyone in the state who could repair or recertify it. We quietly turned it in for recycling last year. We really hadn’t used it for a long time – except for raccoons, on rare occasion. Now the room the gas chamber was in has been converted to a much larger surgery room for our spays and neuters.”

Since the fall of 2021, the animal shelter has contracted with veterinarian Dr. Amy Anderson to conduct spays and neuters three days each week. She conducts 45 to 50 procedures weekly. Bennett reports some of those are being done through their Community Cat Program.

“We have volunteers who humanely trap feral cats in different areas,” Bennett explained. “They bring the cats to us… our veterinarian neuters them… and they are returned to where they were found. This allows us to deal with stray cats humanely, while also maintaining our no-kill policy.”

According to their website, the Trap/Neuter/Return Program is designed to keep stray cats at the shelter no longer than 48 hours. During that brief visit, they are vaccinated, given health assessments and “fixed.”

This program is managed by the shelter’s community capture coordinator. And that’s not the only unusual job title you will find on Bennett’s staff.

“Our animal care and enrichment manager oversees the work of our shelter technicians,” she said. “Those are the people who take care of our animals while they are here. We also have a new hope coordinator, who’s in charge of adoption events and various volunteer programs.”


Bennett’s director post is one of 22 animal shelter employee positions. At press time, three of those jobs were unfilled.  Other shelter jobs include a field supervisor, officers and dispatchers.

Now that the West Valley-Taylorsville Animal Services Shelter is constantly filled with dogs and cats, Bennett says donations are more welcome than ever. She reports area residents have always been very good to the shelter.

“Our citizens are amazing with their donations,” she concluded. “They bring us pet food, blankets, towels and animal treats. Last summer when it was so hot our air conditioning went out. We posted something about it online, and within two days we had 40 fans, donated by residents. We’re still trying to figure out where to store all the fans for our next heat emergency. Our donors have been wonderful.”

Each quarter, Bennett prepares a report about the animal shelter to present before the Taylorsville City Council.

“The animal shelter is running very well,” Mayor Kristie Overson said. “Melanie is very competent and does a good job running the center. She has great relationships with her staff and the public. They are meeting the needs of our residents.”

The West Valley-Taylorsville Animal Services Shelter is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Their main phone number is 801-965-5800, while the after hours and weekend emergency number is 801-840-4000.