Since the Start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, One In Five Households Has Welcomed a Pet Into Their Home.
This has resulted in an incredible number of “pandemic pet” adoptions locally and nationally. As restrictions have started to lift, many people are wondering: Are these pets being returned to shelters due to pet parents returning to work?
The short answer is no. While the number of pets entering shelters is on the rise, it’s not due to uncaring owners. Rather, these pets are often from families who have lost their jobs and are facing financial burdens —and who now have to make the heartbreaking decision between keeping their pets and keeping their homes.
The Pet Housing Help AZ Task Force (PHHAZ), a coalition of the top seven animal welfare organizations in the Valley, was established in October 2020 in response to pet owners impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting housing crisis. The task force works to keep pets and people together so owners don’t have to choose between a place to live and keeping their beloved pets. The task force also believes in the importance of shedding light on the misconceptions surrounding inaccurate reports of pets adopted during the pandemic, or “pandemic pets,” being returned to shelters due to life returning to normal. Because if our community isn’t focused on the real issue at hand, we aren’t focused on the right solutions.
Although every shelter experiences a certain number of pets that are returned after an adoption, these are different from “owner-surrendered pets” whose owners can no longer care for them. Most owner surrenders are due to causes such as pet behavior, family allergies, a new baby in the home, or moving. In Maricopa County, there is no data to suggest that pandemic pets have caused a higher-than-average percentage of adoption returns. In fact, studies show that quite the opposite is happening. According to the ASPCA, approximately 87 percent of pet owners say they are not considering rehoming the animal they brought into their homes during the pandemic. Additionally, in a survey conducted by Rover.com, 93 percent of pandemic pet owners believe their furry friend has improved their mental or physical well-being.
But while Valley shelters are not seeing pandemic pet adoption returns, there is an increase in owner-surrendered pets making their way into local shelters and rescues due to families’ loss of income and housing from the pandemic. This is especially true for vulnerable and at risk households.
Comparing to pre-pandemic years, Maricopa Animal Care and Control (MCACC) has seen an approximately 36 percent increase of owner surrenders due to housing-related reasons, including evictions and homelessness. The Arizona Pet Project has also reported a 40 percent increase in requests for assistance for housing-related reasons, with an overall increase of 32 percent year-over-year. Additionally, two-thirds of the applications that the Arizona Humane Society’s Pet Resource Center is receiving for its Project Home Away from Home foster program for owned pets are due to housing instability caused by the pandemic.
With the eviction moratorium set to expire on July 31, these situations are only going to increase and it is critical for the community to address the root causes of why people are unable to keep their pets, and to offer real-time solutions to help keep pets in homes and out of already overcrowded shelters. From the beginning, it has been estimated that 22 percent to 39 percent of renters will be affected by the pandemic-driven housing crisis, along with approximately 5,000 pets in Maricopa County each month. This doubles animal shelters’ current monthly intake.
The Pet Housing Help AZ Task Force efforts include:
- Expanded owned-animal foster programs
- Increased surrender prevention options
- Increased collaboration with human and health service agencies
- Landlord education regarding pet-friendly housing
- A specialized rehoming website – www.PetHousingHelpAZ.org
To learn more about the Pet Housing Help AZ Task Force, resources available or how to help a pet owner in need, please visit www.PetHousingHelpAZ.org. Resources are available in Spanish and English.