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Pandemic-Related Hardship Hasn't Caused Spike in Pet Surrenders, Dallas Advocates Say

Animal shelters have been seeing interesting trends since the start of the pandemic.EXPAND
Animal shelters have been seeing interesting trends since the start of the pandemic.
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Earlier this year, Dallas Animal Services readied itself for a deluge of pet surrenders as people started losing their jobs because of the pandemic. Fortunately for local animal advocates, though, that wave has yet to crash.

Instead, the city’s overall intake has dropped and the pet adoption rate has climbed, said Ed Jamison, director of Dallas Animal Services. The area’s animal lovers have been able to retain their pets by and large, but Jamison said he’s still worried about the upcoming months.

“I think once certain eviction moratoriums lift, that’s what we’re all really, really scared of,” he said.

The federal eviction moratorium expires Dec. 31, meaning unless Congress acts to implement another, there could be a surge in North Texas evictions. (The Dallas eviction ban expires whenever Gov. Greg Abbott terminates the COVID-19 State of Disaster.)

When displaced people must move into a new home that prohibits pets — or worse yet, lose their shelter entirely — that’s when there will be cause for concern, Jamison said.

Meanwhile, the SPCA of Texas is witnessing a decrease in overall adoptions this year when compared with last because of the number of canceled adoption events and lower animal intake, said Madeline Yeaman Arnold, senior marketing communications specialist, in an email.

During the spring, news outlets across the country covered the nation’s sky-high pet adoption rates. In the first few weeks of the pandemic, for instance, the ASPCA reported a nearly 70% increase in animals going into foster care through its Los Angeles and New York City programs.

Months later, the media began warning of a spike in surrenders.

Today reported in October that Americans are beginning to give up their pets because of COVID-related economic hardship. In August, the ASPCA released data indicating that more than 4.2 million cats, dogs and other animals would enter poverty over the following six months.

Although Jamison said there’s currently no indication that surrender rates will soon be rising in Dallas, the shelter is still working on its preparedness plan. If this pandemic has taught them anything, it’s that no one knows what’s going to happen next.

“We’re very concerned about the potential of the economic housing crisis,” Jamison said.

So far, though, Dallas Animal Service’s intake rate has been much lower than it was compared with 2019, according to the national database Shelter Animals Count. From January to October, it took in 12,167 dogs and 3,676 cats; last year those numbers were 29,659 and 8,999, respectively.

The lower intake could reflect the fact that many people are still working from home. The pandemic may have prevented some from making rash pet decisions, Jamison said, such as ditching their dog after they return from work to a chewed-up coffee table.

Dead animal pickups for dogs and cats have also decreased in recent months, and the number of abandoned dogs has dropped, he said. Most people who can no longer care for their pet will drop them off at the shelter rather than abandon them somewhere in the city.

“Most people want to do right by their pets,” Jamison said. “They’ll follow whatever process there is in place as opposed to doing that worst, like, ‘Let me go dump it on Westmoreland in front of the shelter where it’s going to get hit by a car.’ That just doesn’t happen very often.”

Although there hasn’t been a significant shift in animal returns at the SPCA, that could change as people resume their normal routines, Yeaman Arnold said. Many don’t really know how their pet will acclimate to their regular lifestyle, which could include less time spent at home.

People should know there are other options to explore before surrender, Jamison said. The city’s shelter has partnered with other organizations, such as Operation Kindness, to provide hard-up owners with pet food and other resources. Of the people who call the city's 311 call center to surrender their pet, only 33% wind up doing so in the end.

In addition, Dallas Animal Services recently announced its partnership with Home To Home, an online platform that allows residents to find a new home for their pets when they can no longer keep them. The program allows owners to skip the shelter and find the right person to adopt their pet themselves.

As with humans, who boast a 50% divorce rate, sometimes a pet relationship just doesn’t work out, Jamison said. When that happens, he said Dallas Animal Services will be there.

“It’s a traumatic enough thing that they’re having to up and move, lost their job, can’t keep their pet with them,” Jamison said. “We want them to know, the city, we will be there to help and do what we can to find another placement.”

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