September 13, 2023
The New Times
By: BULBUL RAJAGOPAL
Published: January 5, 2023
It started with a Facebook rumor. People on the Lost Pets of San Luis Obispo County group wondered and debated in December if pet owners surrendered their older dogs to shelters to make room for new puppies arriving as Christmas gifts.
“Please tell me people really don’t do this!?” commented a user named Abby Allen.
“All the time,” replied community member Scott Hamelin.
But Woods Humane Society Communications Manager Jamie Relth told New Times that they aren’t seeing any older pets being turned in in favor of new puppies. However, Relth noticed a change that has gripped the country is mirrored in SLO County.
“I can say that, overall, we have seen about 28 percent more surrender requests this year compared to last year, or about 12 more requests for dogs and seven more for cats per month, on average,” she said.
According to the national database of the Shelter Animals Count, the total number of animal outcomes (adoption, being returned to the owner or field, transferring, dying, being lost in care, and shelter- and owner-intended euthanasia) decreased by 18 percent from 2019 to 2021.
“Additionally, we have seen an increase of about four to five days, on average, in the length of stay for shelter animals this year, which indicates that adoption rates have cooled down a bit,” Relth said via email. “This may be a result of the fact that many people adopted in the previous two years during the height of the pandemic (and, therefore, are not available to adopt more pets currently).”
Lower adoption rates could also be attributed to locals purchasing pets from locations other than shelters, according to Relth. But the longer length of stay in shelters is contributing to less space. Woods Humane currently has a waiting list for owner surrender requests because they need to make more room for animals transferred from other shelters.
“We also know that other communities outside of SLO County are dealing with much higher than usual numbers of surrenders and strays at their county shelters. Primarily, they are seeing large numbers of large breed, young dogs being surrendered and found as strays,” she said. “We have continued to transport as many of these dogs as possible from these highly overcrowded shelters to help them make space and to rescue animals from unnecessary euthanasia.” In neighboring Santa Barbara County, Dori Villalon, the chief operating officer at Santa Barbara Humane, saw similarities. She said that claims of swapping old pets for newer holiday ones haven’t been proven true statistically over the 30-plus years she’s been in the industry. But Santa Barbara Humane also has seen a rise in surrendered pets. In 2022, the independent nonprofit received 976 owner-surrendered animals, which is an increase of 18 percent from 2021.
“When owners inquire about surrendering a pet, we offer a variety of services, including low cost or free veterinary care, affordable or free dog training classes or consultation with a certified dog trainer, emergency boarding for temporary situations, and pet food and supplies,” Villalon said.
Both Villalon and Relth said that the two main reasons for pet surrenders were a lack of time to spend with the pet—especially among owners who adopted animals during the height of the pandemic and now have to return to in-person work—and moving where the housing isn’t pet-friendly. Large dogs—specifically, German shepherds, huskies, and pitbulls—are the most frequent shelter residents.
“Sometimes, people will reach out and they are temporarily homeless,” Villalon said. “In those cases, we can offer emergency boarding and reunite them in a couple of weeks when everything is settled.”
Over the past year, Woods Humane brought in shelter animals from places in the Central Valley, and Santa Barbara Humane transported animals from regions in Tulare and Los Angeles counties. Santa Barbara Humane saw a 62 percent increase in transported animals in 2022 compared to 2021.
“We operate on a capacity-for-care space. When we transfer animals in, it’s because we do have space,” Villalon said. “We make sure that [they] get prompt medical care and prompt behavior assessments. Our average length of stay is eight to 10 days for cats and dogs.”
She added that most of the shelter overpopulation comes from people either abandoning their animals or presenting their own animals as strays. County-operated animal services, which are open admission, then have to accept them all.
“If there isn’t a strong internal process to make sure those animals are quickly reunited with their owners, or quickly undertaking the medical and behavior processes and get them adopted,”
Villalon said, “then what can happen is that the population can grow beyond the capacity for care.” Villalon and Relth encouraged people to take advantage of the resources both groups offer, like medical care, dog training, pet supplies and food, and general advice, especially because it’s stressful for animals to go into a shelter, even if it’s for a short period. Relth told New Times that prior to adopting, Woods Humane encourages potential owners to carefully consider their lifestyle and the temperament of the animal to find a successful match.
“We also provide 30 days of pet insurance for those who wish to enroll upon adoption and encourage adopters to maintain pet insurance thereafter to be prepared for unexpected medical expenses,” she said. “Our animal and customer care teams are available to provide guidance on choosing appropriate pets for adopters’ lifestyles and living situations.”
September 13, 2023
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