From cost of living to COVID, changing fortunes lead to crisis for animal rescue shelters

Animal shelters are facing a surge in surrendered pets as cost-pressures drag on desexing rates.

Animal shelters are facing a surge in surrendered pets as cost-pressures drag on desexing rates. Photo: The Lost Dogs' Home/Facebook

Across Australia, thousands of pets are currently in need of a new, loving home and are stranded in rescue shelters.

Sherralea Cassidy, Petspiration Foundation’s charity and events lead, told The New Daily there is a misconception that rescue animals might have behavioural issues.

In reality, she says, very few animals are surrendered due to behavioural issues. Instead, it is usually for reasons beyond the owner’s control that lead to animals going to rescue shelters.

Natural disasters, increasing living costs, inflation and access to housing are among the reasons people are surrendering their pets.

Suzana Talevski from the Lost Dogs’ Home said the shelter has experienced a 60 per cent increase in surrenders since Christmas, and it is at capacity.

The cost-of-living element is one of the driving factors behind the surrenders and she thinks it’s going to continue this way for some time.

It’s heartbreaking for a family or an individual to have to surrender their pet, when they are faced with the decision of being able to put food on the table for their family, or feed the pet,” she said.

Ms Talevski understands that times are hard and has compassion for people struggling financially.

She would much rather people surrender their pets than for the pets to end up as strays.

Every day Ms Talevski sees people making the devastating decision to surrender their pets due to their financial situation.

pictured is a dog from The Lost Dogs' Home rescue shelter

Cost-of-living pressures and freedom after COVID-19 are among reasons why people are surrendering their pets to rescue shelters.

Is COVID-19 to blame?

During the pandemic, particularly during lockdowns, it seemed as though everyone was adopting or buying a new pet.

On Facebook, Port Macquarie Animal Shelter has been sharing a series of blog posts detailing the challenges shelters are facing.

In the second post, published on February 19, the shelter noted that during the pandemic, when travel was not an option and people were staying at home, demand was at an “all-time high”.

People were turning to adoption during COVID, as some couldn’t source from breeders, or the cost of a puppy was too high.

For just a few nights, there were no dogs in the shelter for the first time in its history.

But when the lockdowns ended, it was a different story. Port Macquarie Animal Shelter said soon enough there was an increase in stray animals and surrender inquiries.

“People were travelling again, they had bought the wrong dog for their needs, they couldn’t handle the dog, they’d lost jobs or had financial concerns and the housing crisis had a huge impact,” the shelter said.

“We are still continuing to see all these follow-on effects from COVID, and it doesn’t appear to be easing up any time soon. Adoptions have slowed, animals are being abandoned and our phone rings constantly with people trying to surrender pets.”

Pictured is a cat from The Lost Dogs' Home animal shelter

Pets adopted during COVID are now being left behind.

Ms Talevski has a similar story: Amid the pandemic the Lost Dogs’ Home saw a huge demand and now, dogs are needing a new home.

Although some people are off travelling or too busy in the office, some COVID pets may have missed out on being socialised and instead of putting in the work, their owners surrender them.

Some dogs who were brought home during COVID have behavioural issues, the most common being separation anxiety, Ms Talevski said.

However, it’s usually an easy fix and there are ways to make pets feel more safe and secure, if you’re willing to put in the work.

Aside from cost-of-living pressures and COVID, there are other serious issues.

For example, with an ageing population, some pets are ending up in rescue shelters because their owners have died.

What can people do to help rescue shelters?

Petspiration Foundation is asking people who can to “adopt differently” in March.

Ms Cassidy suggested people consider adopting a larger dog, an older pet, a cat or even a bonded pair.

“Abandoned pets are filled with unconditional love. So they’ve got more love to give,” she said.

“They don’t want to have to go back to a rescue cycle. They really appreciate the loving care of a warm home.”

When adopting differently, people are able to meet potential adoptees at PETstock stores on March 18-19.

Ms Talveski says having a pet is about a 15- to 20-year commitment, so if you’re thinking of adopting a pet, you need to be ready to take that on.

The Lost Dogs’ Home has launched its Adopt A Footy Mate campaign, to coincide with the AFL season starting up.

She hopes dogs will stay in people’s homes well beyond the footy season and adds there’s likely a dog out there that will complement the way you enjoy sport – be that kicking a footy or watching a game on the couch.

During this time, people can adopt a pet from the Lost Dogs’ Home for $95, something to help “kick start” the commitment, Ms Talevski said.

However, people should be mindful that having a pet is costly, with food, vet bills and if you’re going away, potentially accommodation. So this is a decision that should not be made lightly.

“If you are looking to adopt, just make sure it’s a long-term commitment,” she said.

If you do have a pet and you’re under financial strain, Ms Talevski suggests chatting to the vet to see if there are financial plans you could be on, or if they have any advice.

“It’s never a good idea to not take your pet to the vet. Also they might give you some tips on how to cut your bills down with food as well,” she said.

“So, there are things you can do.”

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