Is it true that "pandemic pets" are being returned to shelters?
For the most part, “pandemic pets” were given good homes. But there’s another pet problem stemming from the pandemic. (Getty Images)
(NEXSTAR) - At the start of the epidemic, adoption rates in pet shelters and rescue organizations skyrocketed. But there's another side to that tale, and it's being told in the streets all throughout the country.
While many people who adopted dogs during the early months of the COVID-19 outbreak provided loving, long-term homes for their furry friends, there were reports that some of these animals were being returned or abandoned by mid-2021. According to officials at some of the country's largest shelters, these newly abandoned animals are unlikely to be the same ones who were adopted during the "pandemic pet" boom of 2020.
PAWS Chicago founder and chair Paula Fasseas stated, We were thorough when it came to screening these families trying to adopt, which I think helped [prevent people from returning]. We were able to place a number of wonderful animals in wonderful homes.
The North Shore Animal League's vice president of shelter operations, Diane Johnson, agreed, explaining that the shelter requires adopters to go through a rigorous application and approval procedure, which she attributes to the low return rate.
While there have been reports of an increase in animal returns as people return to work/social life following the pandemic in other areas, fortunately, North Shore Animal League America has not seen an increase in animal surrenders as post-lockdown protocols are lifted and life returns to 'normal,'" Johnson said in a statement shared with Nexstar.
According to a research published in 2021 by Shelter Animals Count, which keeps a nationwide database of shelter statistics, intake levels at U.S. shelters increased by only 0.56 percent from 2020 to 2021. According to the survey, between 2021 and 2019, the number of animals returned to shelters decreased by 23%.
Of course, there are always exceptions to these generalizations. Although a number of rescue organizations observed a spike in return rates at the end of 2021, the survey determined that people weren't returning their animals "en masse" across the country.
Is it truly a reason for concern if fewer people are returning their pets in general?
According to Fasseas, "absolutely."
The current dilemma, in her opinion, has less to do with individuals giving up pandemic pets and more to do with existing pet owners relinquishing their animals after suffering life upheavals as a result of the pandemic.
Animals are usually the victims of change when there is change, she remarked. People say things like, They don't take pets where I'm moving. I'm planning a wedding, and so forth. Since COVID, there have also been increasing rates of [human] mortality, and where do their pets go? "Pets are constantly present.
To make matters worse, Fasseas noted that since COVID, several municipal shelters have had to cut back on their operations, with some temporarily refusing to accept owner-relinquished animals.
For example, Fasseas said PAWS in Chicago was receiving calls every day from people reporting abandoned animals. Others called to say they wanted to surrender a pet, but were told they wouldn't be able to do so for months by municipal agencies.
Meanwhile, Chicago Animal Care and Control had never closed to the public, but confirmed to Nexstar that as of March 19, 2020, it had transitioned to an appointment-based intake system (rather than enabling owners to surrender their animals anytime they wanted). This system is still in existence, and it's one of the reasons why some people abandon their pets on the street, according to Fasseas.
That kind of thing happens, she asserted, but it's occurring a lot more lately.
If someone truly needs to give up a pet, Fasseas recommends giving themselves plenty of time — even months — to find a suitable refuge. Those who wish to adopt, she says, must be prepared to make a long-term commitment, no matter what the pandemic throws at them.
Everyone's life is changing at a much faster rate, Fasseas explained. It's also critical that this new family member is looked after.