The scene is always heartbreaking – a crying pet owner, embracing a beloved animal companion, comes to an animal shelter to deliver a pet. But it happens every day now in some shelters, where the number of surrendered dogs and cats has doubled. The numbers are higher for rabbits.
This was not the long-awaited and never materialized COVID rebound that predicted that the record number of adoptions in the pandemic era would collapse once people returned to the office or resumed their normal lives. Most say give up animal shelter in Auckland Director Anne Dunn, stems more from a rapidly rising cost of living, a pandemic-led veterinary care crisis that has seen fewer vets and shorter working hours, and a housing shortage that allows landlords to be more selective, preferring renters who don’t have pets.
“Part of it is people’s inability to afford veterinary care,” Dunn says. The biggest problem is the lack of affordable housing. People are often unable to find accommodation or find rentals that allow pets. Specifically in Auckland, much of what owners call “pet friendly” isn’t really the case. Many pets that do allow pets, do not allow large dogs or certain breeds.”
Last year, Dunn says, the Oakland shelter took in 282 surrendered dogs and 158 cats. This year, the shelter had taken in 473 dogs and 328 cats by July.
“It’s a situation we see all the time,” Dunn says. The owner tells them that they will be evicted if they do not dispose of the animal. Many people do not have the flexibility to move or find a place that accepts pets. They come in grief. These are people who give up animals who have no other choice.”
It’s not just cats and dogs that flock to shelters. Returns may be fairly constant at Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA, But there is one major exception.
“It was very stable, except for the small animals – rabbits and guinea pigs,” says Buffy Communications Director Martin Tarbucks. “We have 64 rabbits, almost four times what we normally have, and 27 guinea pigs where we normally have about three. It was a massive increase.”
A shortage of vets and reduced hours that began during the pandemic meant pet owners were scrambling for appointments. The result, Tarbox believes, is that people have not been able to spay or neuter their rabbits, and the breeding process has spiraled out of control.
East Bay Rabbit Rescue He works closely with the Auckland Animal Shelter, which has over 40 rabbits in its zoo. The Richmond Rabbit House, another rescue group, has 76.
Joan Wegener, head of East Bay Rabbit Rescue, says they’ve never seen anything like this before.
“Our adoptions don’t affect us,” Wepner says. “For every rabbit that is adopted, there are three who take their place. Interest in adoption has suddenly waned. Instead of emails from potential adopters, we are overwhelmed by people wanting to hand over their pets or needing a rescued stray situation as they escape into their neighborhood.”
Wegner says calls to help capture strays are also growing.
“People think their best option is to free their rabbit, without realizing that rabbits can’t survive in the wild,” she says. Rabbits get hit by cars, starve and fall victim to predators. We have seen a slight increase in stray rabbits arriving at shelters due to health problems and injuries. It is illegal to free any pet.”
A website called Home-to-Home allows people to list their pets for free, then sort offers to find a match that works for them, avoiding the shock of bringing pets into the shelter system, where they can stay for an extended period.
“If we can keep them away from the shelter, it’s better all the way and less stressful for the pets,” says Kelly Mutt, director of the Tri-City animal shelter in Fremont.
Shelters and rescues across the country are now banding together as they see more animals entering than leaving, and increased surrenders contributing to the overall crowding at animal shelters. To help combat this trend, more than 100 shelters and rescues have joined together to launch Share the Care, a nationwide campaign encouraging the general public to contribute to the care of shelter pets.
“The Share the Care campaign hopes to educate the public that by adopting, sponsoring, volunteering, donating, or even sharing profiles of adoptable animals on social media, you can help give amazing animals a second chance at a wonderful life,” says Jeffrey Zurich. BERKELEY HUMANExecutive Director.
Many shelters have opened or expanded pet food banks to help residents in their service area, offering pet food, and sometimes discounted veterinary care.
When people say they want to hand over their pet, Dunn says, “The first thing we ask is if there’s anything we can do to help: food, supplies, medical care. From an animal shelters perspective, it’s best for everyone that we allocate resources to raising our pets.” People will often say they have to give up, but not many ask if there is help.”
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