Animal associations

US shelters see surge in abandonments – and one animal ‘has returned en masse’ | Pets

JAccording to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the big boom in pet adoption peaked in April and May 2020 with nearly one in five American households – 23 million in total – giving animals a new focus during the pandemic. But as our return to a sense of normalcy has coincided with historic inflation rates, pet owners have been forced to reevaluate their priorities.

Pet food prices have outpaced general inflation by 0.6%, and one surprise vet bill can send 42% of pet owners into debt, according to a recent Forbes study. As a result, shelters in the United States are seeing an increase in owner abandonments and a sharp drop in adoptions with no signs of improvement.

“We are packed right now. We put animals in cages in the hallways,” says Katy Hansen, director of marketing and communications at Animal Care Centers (ACC) in New York, a no-kill shelter that has seen a 25% increase in abandonments this year compared to last year. “It’s really sad, people cry, it’s part of their family. But if you’re choosing between feeding your family and feeding your pet, your choices are limited.

Some have argued that the rise in buyouts can be blamed on some kind of “buyers’ remorse” following the adoption boom, though shelter professionals disagree, saying instead that owners of animals are desperate to cut costs. Most people who adopted during the pandemic kept their pet – 90% of dog owners and 85% of cat owners, to be exact (in 2021). There is, however, one animal with less resistance.

“Guinea pigs purchased during the pandemic have been returning en masse,” Hansen says. “On average, at this stage of the year, we have collected 200 guinea pigs. This year, we are more than 650.

There are several culprits for the sudden influx of guinea pigs, but almost all roads lead to pet stores. Pet chains and mom and dad stores stock a revolving door of these – furry rodents are easy to breed and sell for around $40.

Unlike animal shelters, pet stores do not vet potential buyers who likely think that a smaller animal that is content to spend its life in a confined space would require less work, energy and money than a dog or a cat.

But guinea pigs need a decent-sized enclosure as well as daily changes of their bedding and hay. Veterinary bills can also be more expensive as it is difficult to find a supplier with the appropriate expertise. Many potential buyers or adopters view guinea pigs as a temporary hobby rather than a substantial investment of time and money (they can live up to 10 years). The problem is that the owners are bored with them.

ACC is the only shelter in New York that accepts guinea pigs. Last year, he worked with the Voters for Animal Rights organization to gain support for a bill banning the sale of guinea pigs in New York pet stores. So far, the hard work is done – the bill has received the necessary supermajority vote – but the city council is stalling in the final stage of the approval process. The ACC is desperate for a hearing soon. Overall, shelters are themselves in need, experiencing staffing shortages, shortages of veterinary care, reduced adoptions and reduced interest in foster families.

Even if the ACC weren’t plagued by guinea pig returns, it would still be overwhelmed with the most anticipated cats and dogs. “All these abandonments happen and it’s really difficult for the staff. When someone walks in with their pet and you see the animal’s gaze, not knowing what’s going on but you knowing what’s going on – it’s heartbreaking,” says Hansen.

Although redemptions are up, the overall inflow is not higher than pre-pandemic figures. But there has been a substantial drop in adoptions, compounding the overcrowding problem. “We have a high population at all times,” says Hansen. This is partly due to the backlog of animals needing sterilization across the country after services were slowed down or stopped altogether during pandemic shutdowns.

“I’m not sure there’s any light at the end of the tunnel,” Hansen admits. But she says there are ways, even small acts of kindness, to make a contribution. “We need community support. We need volunteers, we need people to share the profiles of our animals. If you have a neighbor struggling with their pet, help them! If you have an elderly neighbor, walk his dog, offer him pet food.

And all is not gloomy. Most shelters around New York have remarkably high success rates when placing pets in forever homes. The ACC boasts a placement rate of 93% for cats and dogs and 96% for guinea pigs – numbers worth working hard for. Before getting into animal care, Hansen worked on Wall Street for 26 years — but today, choosing the shelter over the stock market is a no-brainer. She says, “I have never felt more fulfilled than working in animal welfare. It really makes you feel good about your life journey.