“I've been living in my car. I just can't do this anymore.”
“We can’t afford to take care of them.”
“We’re getting evicted.”
Lately, this is what pet owners have been saying before handing over their cats and dogs to one of Summit County’s animal rescue groups.
And those are the better-case scenarios.
Other animals are being found in boxes or tethered to a shelter’s front stoop – no name, veterinary history or reason for abandonment to be found.
Local animal rescues attribute this influx of returned and surrendered pets to inflation, which has caused the price of pet food, pet supplies and veterinary services — including flea, tick and heartworm medication — to rise.
More surrenders than adoptions
Foster-based rescue Paws and Prayers received more applications for surrendering pets than adopting them in May, a rarity for the organization, according to Marty Habas, its founder and president.
Surrender applications have increased 45% for dogs and 27% for cats compared to January through May of 2021. Habas notes that these statistics do not count the more than 100 emails the organization receives each month asking to surrender that don’t complete the surrender application.
The surge of surrenders didn’t hit Maggie’s Mission Dog & Horse Rescue until February, a similar timeline to what other rescues and shelters across the nation are seeing.
The same economics that are causing owners to give up their pets are slowing down the rate at which animals are being adopted. Paws and Prayers accepted 38 dogs and 54 cats during the first five months of 2021. Over the same time span in 2022, those numbers have declined to 24 dogs and 31 cats, including eight puppies and seven kittens born in their care.
“Because of the backlog, we now have an office full of crates of dogs waiting to get into a foster because we just can't don't have [room],” Habas said.
The number of pets who have been returned, meaning they were originally adopted out from Paws and Prayers, has also taken a drastic climb. Five dogs were returned to the rescue over one week in May.
“These were dogs that were out two to three years,” Habas said. “It’s not that they were behavioral problems or anything. It really has been bad.”
Hit on all sides
Because the mission of each rescue and shelter is unique, some are being hit on more fronts than others. One of A Kind Pet Rescue, for example, gets its animals from shelters and puppy mills that are about to euthanize them. Adding kitten season and pet returns on top of that has filled the rescue to the point where it cannot take surrenders.
“Puppy mill breeders really ramped up breeding to accommodate the demand during the pandemic, and now people aren't buying puppies like they were,” said Tanya Jonda, the rescue’s executive director. “So, they're calling us every week, ‘Hey, will you take these six female Bernedoodles or Bernese Mountain dogs or Newfoundlands?’ Some of them are only two or three years old. They said, ‘We're not breeding them anymore. If you don't take them, we'll just have a vet come in and euthanize them.’”
Recently, four to five dogs have been returned to One of A Kind each week, doubling their normal average of two dogs. On one recent week, nine dogs were returned to the Akron organization.
Molly is one of those nine. She was originally adopted at eight weeks old. But now, two years later, she has found herself back at One of A Kind. Molly’s previous owners returned her because she did not get along with their grandchildren due to a lack in proper socialization as a puppy.
“She just sits in her crate and cowers — she's shutdown...she’s petrified, she’s devastated,” said Jonda.
While Molly’s previous owners did not explicitly mention finances or lack of housing in their explanation for returning her, that is the reason given for many other dogs and cats entering the shelter.
“Everything's kind of becoming more expensive for everyone and unfortunately, when that happens, pet food is not necessarily a priority or pet care as far as grooming and vet services and stuff like that,” Jonda explained. “They're not essential to people when they don't have the extra income to support them.”
Higher prices, more puppies
The veterinarian shortage as well as inflation have caused prices at the vet to rise, leading some pet parents to delay or cancel certain procedures.
This was the case for Stephanie Weese, a New Franklin resident whose been searching for affordable spay and neuter appointments for her intact male and female dog over the last two years. Weese was able to make appointments at the beginning of this year but couldn’t afford them because of Christmas expenses. Soon afterward, everything started getting more costly.
She later booked a spay appointment in March, but her female dog got pregnant at the end of February and birthed 10 puppies on May 1. Those puppies are now living with Habas, who is still recovering from her knee replacement 15 weeks ago.
“Now we're getting all these surrender applications and we just can't keep up with them,” Habas said. “I mean, we have to say no to a lot of them because it's just not working."
Contact Beacon Journal reporter Tawney Beans at email@example.com and on Twitter @TawneyBeans.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Area shelters see surge of economy-related pet surrenders, returns