ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — Albuquerque’s animal shelters are full, and the number of people surrendering their pets is on the rise. Shelter officials are working on creative new ways to curb animal surrenders and free up kennel space.

“We are full, and in order for us to make space for the new ones coming in, we need to get the others adopted,” said Albuquerque Animal Welfare Director Carolyn Ortego, “We did a gap analysis and what we saw in our data is that we increased in our owner surrenders by 90 percent last year, so [we’ve] almost doubled in our owner surrenders.”

According to data from the Animal Welfare Department, nearly 5,000 animals were surrendered to their shelter system in 2022, and nearly 10,000 were picked up as strays.

Ortega said current economic conditions are one of the drivers of this surge of animal surrenders.

“Everybody has a different reason for surrendering their pet, and we don’t judge. We want to make sure that the pet is safe, but we also know that a shelter is not always the best place for a pet,” Ortega explained. She said for animals, it’s stressful being in a loud and unfamiliar place, and they want to lessen the need for pets to be surrendered to their shelters—by taking it online.

“During COVID, of course, we had to be innovative and creative in a lot of our options of how we get pets adopted. So, one of the things that we actually came up with was a virtual dating app: and that was basically our fosters could get online through Zoom and introduce the pets that they were fostering to potential adopters,” Ortega said.

Ortega wants to expand this digital ‘pawprint.’ She envisions this program as being an online place where people who may need to surrender their pets can get connected with people looking to adopt.

“You could put in all of the traits of your dog as the owner and then on the opposite side someone who’s looking for a pet can put the traits in that they’re looking for in a pet, and hopefully, all of those points will come together, and they’ll be able to find the perfect pet virtually,” Ortega explained.

This idea will be presented to City Council Thursday as part of a resolution establishing one-year objectives for the city. Ortega expressed she hopes to have this virtual matching program up and running in the next fiscal year.