Defying predictions and anecdotes, Midstate and national pandemic pet shelter surrenders are down, not up

York

YORK COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — “Animal shelters brace for surrenders,” warned a June 24, 2020, headline in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“I understand why they would think that,” Steven Martinez, executive director of the York County SPCA, said Tuesday of expert predictions and public perceptions alike, based stories of individuals surrendering their pets as (for example) they began commuting again to offices.

The truth?

“If they’ve heard of people surrendering their pets, that’s just an anecdotal data point,” Martinez said. “But it doesn’t really represent a greater trend that we’re seeing at a local level or even at a national level.”

In fact, the local trend is exactly the opposite: The York County SPCA — which, like many shelters, adopted out nearly all of its animals early in the pandemic — has received 24 surrendered pets so far in 2021, down from 36 during the same period (Jan. 1 through May 11) in 2020.

National organizations corroborated the local data.

“We aren’t aware of data to support this is a trend,” Kirsten Peek, media relations manager for the Humane Society of the United States, said of reports of pet surrenders. “Our understanding is that these reports are anecdotal.”

“Based on our conversations with animal welfare and sheltering professionals across the country, this trend is not currently evident on a national level,” the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) said in a statement issued by a spokesperson. (The full statement is below.)

To be clear: People are surrendering animals — just not, based on available data, in greater numbers than usual. Pandemic or no pandemic, Martinez said surrendering an animal is the last resort and can often be avoided by calling a shelter like his.

“Oftentimes, the challenges that people are experiencing can be overcome with just education, practice, resources and training that we’re able to provide,” he said.

Even shelter employees, some of themselves sheltered at home early in the pandemic, couldn’t resist an impulse pet adoption or two. Tiffany Franck, York County SPCA’s development director but not (prior to the pandemic) a pet owner, wanted a cat. Her husband, Ethan Pfautz — working in a different industry but alongside her at home — was partial to dogs. The compromise?

“We first met our cat raven in April of 2020, and then Penny came to join us in July,” she said, pointing to the couple’s dog. She says the four of them are happy together.

Martinez said even if the idea that surrenders would surge seemed plausible, the reality is just as easy to understand — precisely because of how long the pandemic has lasted.

“That’s 14 months that people have been managing the transition into their household,” he said. “That animal is now a part of their lives. So they’re not going to return a family member.”

Here’s the full ASPCA statement:

We are not experiencing an increase in owner surrenders at the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City, and based on our conversations with animal welfare and sheltering professionals across the country, this trend is not currently evident on a national level. We attribute this to the fact that even as animal shelters and rescue organizations have adapted their adoption policies during the pandemic, they continue to have conversations with adopters to ensure they are making good matches and that pets match their adopters’ lifestyles, even when those owners return to a post-pandemic schedule. We encourage any pet owner who may be considering rehoming their pet to reach out to the shelter or rescue organization they worked with so the staff can provide advice and assistance.

During the first year of the pandemic, the ASPCA saw a 64 percent increase in animals going into foster homes through our New York City foster program and we expect that foster caregivers will continue to play an important role in supporting shelters in New York City and across the country. We hope that shelters can lean into this heartwarming response of eager foster caregivers for any owner surrenders they may receive. As there is always a risk that pet owners will not be able to provide adequate care for their pets during any crisis or disaster situation, it’s important for people, shelters, and communities to prepare for any animal welfare consequences that may result from this ongoing crisis.

-ASPCA statement

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