Cats and dogs adopted from animal shelters at the beginning of the pandemic are starting to be returned as the world increasingly opens up.
Last April and May, animal shelters across the country celebrated as their adoption and fostering rates spiked so high that some completely ran out of adoptable animals. In some cities, the fostering rate increased 90%. Animal shelters in NYC saw adoption applications increase tenfold. Shelters posted videos on social media of empty kennels and cheering workers.
It’s no wonder why. Lockdowns, working from home, no business trips — people were stuck at home and had the time and availability to care for pets. Pets also provided a companion and a mental health boost for people living alone. It seemed like a win-win for humans and animals.
But even in the midst of celebrating empty shelters, the question of what would happen once the pandemic ended was already being considered.
So many pets were adopted at the beginning of the pandemic that some shelters ran out of animals.
"One of the concerns is animals currently in foster care being returned to shelters when their caregivers go back to work," said Jim Tedford, head of the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, in April 2020. "There is concern that shelter intakes will skyrocket after the pandemic."
And unfortunately, that’s what is happening now. Many shelters are seeing higher than average return rates of “pandemic pets.”
As the world opens up and people return to their offices and business trips and vacations, many feel they can’t take care of their pets anymore.
Aron Jones, executive director of Moms and Mutts Colorado Rescue, said, "We made a lot of changes to our adoption process to prevent people from returning dogs once pandemic ended. But for the past four months, we have had an extreme number of returns. We have doubled more than what we normally do during a year. I think what is happening, the world is opening up, people are going back to work, they’re traveling. People aren’t just lonely anymore, so the dogs are not necessarily fitting into their lifestyles, and they are returning them instead of trying to make adjustments to keep their dog now that the world is opening up."
Ashley Roberts, with Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, has also seen a high rate of return of pandemic pets. She said that “not everyone who adopted an animal during the pandemic was prepared to keep that dog or cat as things started to return to normal.”
Financial reasons are also contributing to returns as some families can’t afford to keep their pets due to prolonged unemployment.
Pets are being returned for schedule, lifestyle, and financial reasons.
There are some shelters that have not seen an increase in returns, and this may be due in part to their adoption approach and programs they offer to pet parents.
Ashley Bouck, CEO of the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, credits her shelter’s normal rate of return to their adoption process, which stresses that pet adoption is "a lifelong commitment."
The Richmond, Virginia SPCA has seen a decline in returns. They offer several programs to help pet parents: a free Behavior Helpline to provide training support and resources, a Pet Pantry that provides free cat and dog food assistance, and waived fees at their veterinary hospital.