Shelter volunteers with pug
Photo courtesy of Depositphotos
A little over a year ago, the world seemingly fell apart overnight. A pandemic was declared, and everyone and their co-worker was sent home on lockdown. The next step for many was to get a new pet. Today, those decisions are bringing consequences as we begin to emerge from our stay-at-home cocoons.
When the pandemic began and we started the year-of-a-thousand-days that has been a hallmark of COVID-19, many people got a furry companion to keep them company through the times. Pets were phenomenal at helping people survive the endless days without much, if any, human interaction. They provided solace to many who might have succumbed to severe depression otherwise. For animal shelters, it was a blessing! Many actually emptied of all adoptable animals. If a shelter pet wasn't adopted, then it at least went to a foster home. People who didn't find a shelter animal shopped pet stores, Craigslist, and breeder websites. In many cases, they found a new, joyful addition to the family. In other cases, they were saddled with a pet that cost a fortune and had numerous problems. For instance, many veterinarians have seen French bulldogs and other breed-fad-of-the-moment dogs with a laundry list of problems identified on their well-pet examination.
For some unscrupulous folks, producing puppies – any puppy of any quality! -- was a gold mine during the pandemic. The demand for puppies far exceeded the supply. Unsuspecting buyers may have wanted a puppy but got a lemon at a higher price than they would have paid pre-pandemic. Unfortunately it's not uncommon for owners to then tell veterinarians that they cannot afford basics like vaccines and heartworm prevention, or more involved care such as surgery for an elongated palate, all because the pet funds were spent on the animal itself and basic supplies. There is nothing more frustrating for a veterinarian than knowing a pet could be helped if only the money were available to do so. (And please, no comments about how veterinarians would work for free if we really loved animals. My accountant loves his job, but I still get a bill at the end of tax season.)
For other people, the love was temporary, like a summer fling. The joy is gone and owning a pet has now become a chore. As folks head back to the office or plan that long postponed vacation, some are realizing they don't really have the time for a pet and they don't want to pay for doggy daycare or boarding. Perhaps the puppy wasn't ever trained properly (it was definitely harder to do during the worst of the lockdowns) and now it's a full-grown, destructive dog. Maybe the pet that loved having people home at all times is suffering now that their people are away at work or school. Whatever the reason, the love was temporary, just like the pandemic will ultimately be, and now the pet is unwanted.
Some folks lost income or jobs during the past year. They have less income from 2020 because of the pandemic and the pet is no longer affordable. Perhaps they've had to move and the new landlord doesn't allow pets or the pet deposit is more than they can afford in addition to first and last month's rent. As much as they may want to keep their companion animals, as much as they love them, they can no longer afford them.
But perhaps the worst scenarios are for those who got a pet during the pandemic and then became severely ill or died from COVID-19. Those people had found their ‘fur-ever' companion and then that bond was lost or damaged. If the owner died, the pet may have gone to a new family member or friend, or may have been surrendered to a shelter. The disability associated with long-haul COVID may make it impossible for some to continue to care for their pets, so those pets may also be returned.
Shelters are starting to see the increase in numbers of surrendered animals. We expected it to happen, we just didn't know when. If you have decided pet ownership isn't really right for you for whatever reason, please try to responsibly rehome your pet yourself. That will leave space at the shelter for other animals. Of course, surrendering your pet to a shelter is always better than abandoning it on the streets or leaving it behind when you move. The following resources may help with ideas on how to rehome a pet or, if you want to keep your pet but are having trouble, with the costs:
Humane Society of the United States
Red Rover Links to Financial Assistance
Best Friends Animal Society
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.