Recently, as people are starting to head back into the office, I’ve been getting questions about what’s happening with “pandemic pets” — dogs, cats and other animals who people brought into their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Reporters want to know whether we have noticed any trends — are these pandemic pets being surrendered to shelters? Are they being abandoned now that the lockdown is over? Some articles have even reported on animal shelters bracing for an influx of returns, and in a few instances pandemic puppies have even been referred to as “problem pooches” at risk of being surrendered as pet parents return to work, school and other post-pandemic schedules.
Thankfully, we have looked at the data and have not observed a trend of people surrendering or rehoming pets they acquired during the pandemic. Monthly reports from PetPoint, a website that reports on data from more than 1,100 animal welfare organizations in the U.S., suggest that while shelters have experienced an increase in recent months in pets coming in as they reopen to the public, their numbers are still below levels reported before the pandemic. This seems to be the takeaway from a recent survey, as well.
Those of us fortunate to share our home with four-legged family members know that giving up a pet would be incredibly difficult — not simply a response to workplaces reopening. The human-animal bond is as strong as it ever has been, especially after people have had more than a year to fall in love with new pets, spend lots of quality time with their animal companions and benefit from the unconditional love a pet brings during tough times.
However, there is an incredibly important story to tell about the impacts the pandemic has had on some animal lovers. There are true challenges that pet caregivers across the country were already facing, problems that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
How economic crises impact families with pets
Tens of millions of people who were already struggling to access care and supplies for their pets before the pandemic have an even tougher time now due to loss of employment and other economic hardships. Many pet families find themselves struggling to afford veterinary care, or even food, for their pets due to the devastating economic consequences of the pandemic. Add to that the ongoing shortage of veterinary professionals, and we have a perfect storm for animal lovers who have fallen on hard times and are trying to balance necessities for their whole families, human and animal.
Even before the pandemic, due to economic crisis, far too many people were heartbreakingly left with no other option but to rehome or surrender a pet. This inequity will continue until access to veterinary and behavioral care and basic pet supplies become available to all pet owners, regardless of socioeconomic status or geography. Just as troubling is the fact that 30 to 40 million renters across the country are at risk of being evicted from their homes because of the pandemic and 72% of renters own pets. Again, pre-pandemic, the lack of affordable, safe and pet-friendly housing was already a leading reason for pet surrender. Until there are long-term housing policy changes, families nationwide will continue to face an impossible decision: your home or your pet.
How to help
Many shelters and rescues are already stepping up to address this crisis. Organizations are expanding their pet support services to include pet food pantries, assistance with veterinary care, free behavioral support, temporary foster care for owned pets, housing assistance programs and resources to support families in rehoming their pet when no options remain. To support these community efforts, our Pets for Life program led the effort to create an Eviction Response Toolkit in collaboration with the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement and Human Animal Support Services. This toolkit offers helpful guidance to shelters on various strategies to avoid pet homelessness during this health and economic crisis.
We have also coordinated a nationwide delivery of pet food, generously supported by corporate donations, via our Pets for Life program, Rural Area Veterinary Services and Shelter Partners networks. Through our local community partners, we’ve facilitated the distribution of over 2.6 million pounds of pet food to people and pets in need. And, despite the challenges presented by the pandemic for veterinary service providers, we’ve continued to support and work with our veterinary partners to provide spay/neuter services and other medical care to families through Pets for Life, RAVS and Spayathon.
The pandemic created many challenges for families, including caring for pets, and communities are coming together to help animals and animal lovers alike. Here are some ways you can help:
- Ask your local animal shelter or rescue group how you can become involved in supporting the community. This may be by volunteering, donating or fostering. We have historically seen higher numbers of kittens throughout the spring and summer. If your local shelter is seeing this spike, consider fostering!
- Homeless pets are not the only ones who benefit from a temporary spot in your home. Consider temporary fostering of someone else’s pet in need. Whether owners are searching for pet-friendly housing or need to undergo a medical procedure, temporary foster care can be a lifeline to reunification.
- Consider donating supplies and pet food, both through your local animal shelter and other agencies like human food banks.
- Advocate for rental assistance and rental forgiveness programs in your community.
Advice from veterinarians on preparing your pet for post-pandemic life
If you’ve been spending lots of time with your animal companions over the past year and are worried about how they’ll transition as you return to work, school or other outside the home activities, check out this webinar from our veterinary affiliate, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Veterinary behaviorists Dr. Nicholas Dodman and Dr. Susan Krebsbach discuss tips for dealing with potential separation anxiety issues as well as other transitional challenges, such as catching up on puppy socialization, changing dog walking schedules or switching cat feeding times. With a little guidance, we can all make an easy transition back.