The City of Edmonton's Animal Care and Control Centre (ACCC) has paused intakes for healthy animals, asking residents to instead care for any strays found within city limits.
In a post to social media on Saturday, ACCC it would be "temporarily adjusting the way it operates" effective immediately.
Any healthy animals brought the shelter will be turned away.
"We will no longer be accepting the intake of healthy animals until further notice," the centre said in its statement.
"By taking these steps, we aim to ensure the continued safety and well-being of the animals in our facility and the staff who care for them. We will accept, by appointment, animals that are in medical distress, injured or sick."
The centre said staff will focus on caring for the animals already at the northwest Edmonton facility, as well as animals brought in by city peace officers or police.
As we are in a prolonged cold snap, if you are able to care for the animal until such time as you can reunite it with its owner, that would be appreciated. -Animal Care and Control Centre
City officials have not responded to a request for more information on the policy change.
The changes were announced just as a prolonged cold snap is expected to see temperatures plunge to dangerous lows again this week.
The city service is encouraging anyone who finds a healthy stray animal to care for it until the owners can be located.
If the animal has a tag with a licence number on it, you can call 311 for owner information.
"As we are in a prolonged cold snap, if you are able to care for the animal until such time as you can reunite it with its owner, that would be appreciated," the centre said.
The care and control centre is a temporary shelter for lost and stray animals. It cares for animals until their rightful owners can be found, or until the animals are transferred to an adoption agency.
The centre typically holds pets three to 10 days before assessing them for adoption and transferring them to the Edmonton Humane Society or a local rescue.
Scheduled intakes are still being accepted for animals in distress. Anyone who finds an animal in apparent need of veterinary care is asked to first call 311 for further instructions.
Tessa Lee, a volunteer with Whitecourt Homeless Animal Rescue Foundation, which is located in Edmonton, said the city-run shelter is putting added pressure on local shelters often operate near capacity or struggling to make ends meet.
Lee said the closure will create confusion and that pet surrenders need to be handled centrally. Leaving it up to a patchwork of shelters means people are less likely to reunite with their lost pets, she said.
She said she is concerned that animals will fall through the cracks because of the lack communication with ACCC, especially during the cold snap.
"It leaves everybody desperate," she said. "It leaves the public desperate. It leaves the rescues desperate. We have no funding. We run completely on donations and adoption fees, and we literally don't have the space."
According to the city website, the 22,800-square-foot ACCC facility has capacity for about 84 cats and 47 dogs. It houses more than 6,000 lost pets found in Edmonton each year.