Many DC-Area Shelters See Drop in Pet Surrenders During Pandemic

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Many people added furry friends to their families over the past year during the pandemic. Now that restrictions are lifting and people are going back to work, is there a surge in surrenders? 

Turns out that's not the case for most of the shelters we contacted — some even saw a drop in surrenders. 

Loudoun County Animal Services and Prince George’s County Animal Services reported they did not see an increase in people bringing back pets. The Animal Welfare League of Arlington said they’ve seen a drop in surrenders over the last few months. From March 2020 to March of this year, the Humane Rescue Alliance of Washington had a 24% drop in surrenders, and Montgomery County Animal Services had a 28% drop.

Rodney Taylor with Prince George’s County Animal Services thinks COVID-19 restrictions, such as county shelters being closed for a period of time or requiring appointments to bring pets back, may have been a contributing factor.

“You just can’t come to a shelter on open hours and just drop it off, and I believe what that does is it makes the owners now, you know, think about what they’re really doing,” Taylor said.

Those appointments are typically one to two weeks out, compared to those with private shelters such as Knine Rescue, which serves the D.C. area. Board member Amy Creel said since their establishment in 2005, this has been their busiest year.

"We have seen a huge increase in surrenders," she said.

Creel believes staying open throughout the pandemic and offering more flexibility for surrenders added to the increase. She said other factors may have been pet owners who died from COVID or were hospitalized with nowhere to put their pets; people becoming overwhelmed after taking on a pet; financial difficulties or job losses, and limited access to in-person pet training during the pandemic. She also said there’s been a huge increase in pregnant dogs, because a lot of people were unable to get spay or neuter appointments with so many vets' offices being closed for some time.

Retention programs are often a shelter's best bet for keeping pets with their owners. Loudon County Animal Services Community Manager Relations Manager Talia Czapski credits those programs with keeping their surrenders down. (Find more on those programs here.)

"We have a pet pantry program to help with food and supplies. We have a care medical program to help with funding for medical needs," Czapski said. "We have low cost resources to help you identify places you might go to find low-cost resources you're in need of. We even have a program that helps people fleeing domestic violence keep their pets with them."

The takeaway: There are resources out there to get help if you are struggling. Shelters also want to remind prospective pet owners to reflect and realize they're adding another member to the family, which is a serious commitment.

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