Inflation Is Causing People to Surrender Their Pets
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Since the pandemic began, adopting a dog seemed just as competitive as getting front-row Beyoncé tickets or getting your kid into the preschool of your choice. But as of June, the pandemic rescue storyline seems to have reversed. Not only are fewer people adopting new animals, but they’re surrendering them in alarming numbers.
This June, as the inflation rate hit a 41-year high, in areas where housing has been hit the hardest, pet parents are surrendering animals in striking numbers. Despite knee-jerk assumptions, these are not Millennial first-timers, but long-time pet owners being forced to give up animals they love.
“I’ve seen stories saying, ‘Oh, people adopted during the pandemic, and then they got tired of their pets, and that’s who’s coming back in,’” says Katy Hansen, director of marketing and communications for Animal Care Centers of NYC. “And that is absolutely not who's coming back in.”
It All Points to Inflation
In New York City, with its 24 percent increase in rents this year, there has been a 25 percent increase in pets being surrendered by longtime owners.
“The shelter industry is about ready to implode,” says Hansen. Animal Care Centers of NYC has tracked the pets it places in homes for many years. “If an animal comes back to us, we know,” Hansen says. “And the pets coming back are from families who’ve had them for, like, 10 years, or their whole lives. These people saying they just can’t afford to keep them.”
Not only are people losing jobs, having to relocate, or being priced out of pet-friendly buildings. Costs of everything from pet food to vet care has risen faster than many can manage. “Dog food costs have surpassed the consumer price index,” Hansen says. “And we’re seeing a serious shortage of vets, which drives up the costs of those covering greater needs. And I know this is what my counterparts nationally are finding as well.”
While the ASPCA’s data does not show the same surge in intakes and rescues nationwide, it acknowledges the reality that services in cities like New York and Los Angeles report.
“People [in Los Angeles] are surrendering pets, and most often the reason is housing” says Ana Bustilloz, Director of Communications and Marketing for Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA).
Bustilloz continues: “It is extremely difficult to find housing in Los Angeles for a renter that will also accept pets. It’s a factor of how difficult the renting landscape is now, and what that does to people. Other programs that help people keep their pets, providing assistance for medical or veterinary bills, or food — they’re extremely helpful. But when it comes to something like housing, that’s something we can’t help.”
The scenarios in which pets are surrendered now are quite different from those before today’s economy and the pandemic. “Perhaps the No. 1 reason people might surrender a pet would be behavior,” Bustilloz says. “So spcaLA and other organizations created programs to address that. But if the number one problem is housing, the programs to address that have to be city wide, county wide nationwide.”
Hansen adds that shelters and agencies are “struggling to manage a crisis” with a decrease in adoption and pets staying longer in shelters.
While both cats and dogs are being surrendered, the most commonly unhoused are large-breed dogs. Again, those surrendering their pets tend not to those who first adopted pandemic pets. “We found a lot of Millennials were adopting, and they were doing better financially,” Hansen says. “Many of them work from home, which is one of the reasons why they opted to adopt during that time.”
Those in a position to help might hear this tale as a call to arms — and it should be.
“The main thing people can do is to foster animals,” Hansen says. “That’s the biggest thing that we need, and with fostering there's no commitment. You do it for a couple of weeks, it gets that animal out of the shelter, opens up cage space for another animal coming in.”
In this case, the upside cannot be overstated: fosters would find some of the best potential roommates that animal shelters have seen in years, including pets that previously had stable, loving homes.
As an added plus, agencies tend to be well-informed about the animals up for adoption. “If the people we serve must relinquish their animals, we accept them back,” says spcaLA’s Bustillo. “We always try to look on the positive side, like, ‘Yes, it’s sad that someone has to give up their pet but you’re giving us great information about what the pet likes and doesn't like and what sort of family would be a good for them.”
People fostering or adopting now have excellent odds of housing a loving, grateful animal that thrives in a family—and truly appreciates a new bed. “Many times, when our fosters first bring a dog home, that dog will sleep for eight hours straight,” Hansen says. “The stress on them is so great.”
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Chris Norris is a writer, reporter, author, and longtime companion to West Highland terrier Gus, recently departed but intensely loved. Chris Norris is has written for The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, GQ, Details, and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” He lives in New York City with his wife and 8-year-old son.