Animal funds

Bay Area Animal Shelters See Increase in Unwanted ‘Pets’

The day before Thanksgiving, eight fluffy Angora rabbits appeared in cardboard boxes on the doorstep of Marin Humane’s Novato animal shelter. A few days later, San Francisco Animal Care and Control received a crowd of 20 unwanted hamsters. In Vallejo, Ratical Rodent Rescue staff suddenly became the keeper of 44 guinea pigs, all left in a box in the rescue parking lot.

Furry, wiggly pets – cute as they are – have recently become a big deal for animal shelters in the Bay Area and California. “Pocket pets,” as small animals are sometimes called, are being abandoned or dumped in shelters at rates never seen before, and this coincides with adoptions dropping to their lowest level in years, leaving shelters behind. for overcapacity animals and their perplexed and overwhelmed staff.

“This guinea pig and hamster thing is out of hand,” said Jenn Paz, director of Ratical Rodent Rescue. “We’re just slammed and slammed and slammed with more and more animals and we have to find the money, the space, the staff.”

While there have been reports that pets acquired in the early days of the pandemic were being returned in large numbers after people started returning to their workplaces, many shelters have failed experienced this, and the recent wave of pocket animals in particular is unprecedented, shelter officials said. One theory behind this wave is that families have lost interest in animals since the children returned to school in August for the first time since 2020.

“This guinea pig and hamster thing is out of control,” said Jenn Paz, director of Ratical Rodent Rescue, whose site has been inundated with abandoned animals.

Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

In recent months, Paz’s rescue has resulted in nearly 100 guinea pigs being thrown – not surrendered – at his doorstep, and by the end of November his team of three were caring for more than 130 rodents. Normally, “if you have 70, that’s a lot,” she says.

Meanwhile, unlike dog and cat adoptions, small animal adoptions are down significantly, not having rebounded from a sharp drop caused by the pandemic. San Francisco Animal Care and Control is on track to falling short of last year’s already reduced small animal adoptions total, and those adoptions are down 45% so far this year from 2019, according to the data provided by the shelter.

“It’s a problem,” said Virginia Donohue, executive director of San Francisco Animal Care and Control, which had 81 small animals in her shelter on Dec. 1, more than three times the normal number. The small animal room at the refuge is designed to only hold around 24 animals, as they hardly ever have more, Donohue said. They had to expand into other spaces usually reserved for kittens.

A guinea pig watches from its cage at Ratical Rodent Rescue in Vallejo, Calif. On Thursday, December 2, 2021. Ratical Rodent Rescue has seen people surrender or throw small animals more than usual with adoptions down significantly.  They have cages full of little critters and are looking to become a sanctuary with more outdoor space because they have so many animals.

A guinea pig watches from its cage at Ratical Rodent Rescue in Vallejo, Calif. On Thursday, December 2, 2021. Ratical Rodent Rescue has seen people surrender or throw small animals more than usual with adoptions down significantly. They have cages full of little critters and are looking to become a sanctuary with more outdoor space because they have so many animals.

Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

“On the small animal side, everything is out of whack,” Donohue said. “We’ve never had so many, and they’re not leaving.”

Pocket animals started arriving at shelters wave after wave just a few months ago in early fall, said Donohue and other shelter administrators. It’s unclear why people are suddenly dropping off animals in such large numbers – people who drop off unwanted animals usually don’t have to provide a specific reason for doing so – but shelter officials believe it could be due to a mixture of circumstances.

The rise could be the result of children returning to school in person last summer for the first time in more than a year. Some families may have decided that they didn’t have the time or interest to care for the pets they bought for their children during the monotony of distance learning.

A group of guinea pigs sit in their enclosure at Ratical Rodent Rescue in Vallejo, Calif. On Thursday, December 2, 2021. Ratical Rodent Rescue has seen people surrender or throw smaller animals than usual with adoptions down significantly .  They have cages full of little critters and are looking to become a sanctuary with more outdoor space because they have so many animals.

A group of guinea pigs sit in their enclosure at Ratical Rodent Rescue in Vallejo, Calif. On Thursday, December 2, 2021. Ratical Rodent Rescue has seen people surrender or throw smaller animals than usual with adoptions down significantly . They have cages full of little critters and are looking to become a sanctuary with more outdoor space because they have so many animals.

Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

“People were just buying them and now they’re going back to school, they’re back to swimming, they’re back to camp, they’re moving out, they’re traveling, they’re allergic,” Paz said. “From the on-site shelter, it looks like everyone and their brother have bought hamsters and guinea pigs for their children, and now they’re like, ‘OK, we’re done.’ “

Another possibility is that people buy the animals from pet stores, which shelter administrators say are known to sometimes tag animals with the wrong gender, resulting in uncontrolled and usually unintentional breeding once the animals are returned to the home. house in pairs.

Why adoptions are down for small animals has puzzled shelter managers and remains a mystery. Maybe people buy more from pet stores and adopt less from shelters. Many people don’t realize that shelters often have pets available and need stable homes, Donohue said.

Ratical Rodent Rescue volunteer Nicole Perry checks in with a group of guinea pigs at Ratical Rodent Rescue in Vallejo, Calif. On Thursday, December 2, 2021. Ratical Rodent Rescue has seen people surrender or throw small animals more than usual with adoptions down significantly.  They have cages full of little critters and are looking to become a sanctuary with more outdoor space because they have so many animals.

Ratical Rodent Rescue volunteer Nicole Perry checks in with a group of guinea pigs at Ratical Rodent Rescue in Vallejo, Calif. On Thursday, December 2, 2021. Ratical Rodent Rescue has seen people surrender or throw small animals more than usual with adoptions down significantly. They have cages full of little critters and are looking to become a sanctuary with more outdoor space because they have so many animals.

Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Some shelters or rescues, including Ratical Rodent Rescue, have had to stop accepting surrenders. Yet people continue to contact us on social media or by phone, asking if they would take their animals. Some continue to throw their pets at the doors of shelters.

“We turn people away every day,” Paz said. “I don’t even want to answer the phone; I just want to cry. “

Shelters that may have more resources are doing all they can to prevent this. Marin Humane offers a pet safety net service that provides struggling pet owners with funds to pay for pet food, vet appointments and relocation assistance. It’s all part of an effort to keep animals out of shelters and in loving homes, said Lisa Bloch, director of marketing and communications for Marin Humane.

A bald guinea pig sits in its cage at Ratical Rodent Rescue in Vallejo, Calif. On Thursday, December 2, 2021. Ratical Rodent Rescue has seen people surrender or throw more small animals than usual with adoptions dropping so significant.  They have cages full of little critters and are looking to become a sanctuary with more outdoor space because they have so many animals.

A bald guinea pig sits in its cage at Ratical Rodent Rescue in Vallejo, Calif. On Thursday, December 2, 2021. Ratical Rodent Rescue has seen people surrender or throw more small animals than usual with adoptions dropping so significant. They have cages full of little critters and are looking to become a sanctuary with more outdoor space because they have so many animals.

Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

“Even the most beautiful refuge is not a house, and animals are always better off in houses,” she said.

Ratical Rodent Rescue has reached the point where Paz is now looking for land she can lease, or property someone will donate, to convert it into a sanctuary space to house the guinea pigs. surplus.

San Francisco Animal Care and Control, Ratical Rodent Rescue and Marin Humane do not euthanize their animals for lack of space or time. They usually work with a network of other shelters to move adoptable animals as needed, but lately that system hasn’t worked as expected as many shelters are at full capacity, Bloch said.

Ratical Rodent Rescue Director Jenn Paz holds a guinea pig while taking care of animals at Ratical Rodent Rescue in Vallejo, Calif. On Thursday, December 2, 2021. Ratical Rodent Rescue saw people surrender or throw small animals over than usual with adoptions down significantly.  They have cages full of little critters and are looking to become a sanctuary with more outdoor space because they have so many animals.

Ratical Rodent Rescue Director Jenn Paz holds a guinea pig while taking care of animals at Ratical Rodent Rescue in Vallejo, Calif. On Thursday, December 2, 2021. Ratical Rodent Rescue saw people surrender or throw small animals over than usual with adoptions down significantly. They have cages full of little critters and are looking to become a sanctuary with more outdoor space because they have so many animals.

Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

A few weeks before Christmas, the shelters are working hard to publicize their surpluses. Through new marketing techniques, they hope to attract prospective pet owners – or their parents – to shelters rather than the big chain pet stores. Hamsters and guinea pigs have been offered for sale or even for free. At San Francisco Animal Care and Control, a part-time employee does vacation-themed photoshoots with animals and does TikToks featuring some of the available pets, reminding viewers to “keep men and women separate. “,” adopt same-sex pairs “and” adopt, do not shop “.

“Now we really have to make sure that in the market we stay competitive,” Donohue said. “We don’t want to miss an opportunity for a new home.

Andy Picon is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @andpicon