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The Big Surrender

Val Cairney July 8, 2022 61

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Hi everyone, and welcome to this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  So, this is an episode that I knew was coming but I just didn’t know when.  In early 2020, the world was plunged into a Pandemic and we were all faced with lockdowns, remote learning for schools, closures of businesses, restaurants, and job loss as well as a new working from home schedule.  The working from home, created a huge exponential rise of dog and cat adoptions as people were home and thought this would be a good time to get a puppy or kitten.  The highest adoptions was among puppies and they became known as Covid pups. The amount of people that were seeking puppies from anywhere, and paying whatever ridiculous price they were asked to pay was unbelievable.  And as I have mentioned in some of my other episodes, people were complaining, yes, complaining that there were no dogs in shelters so the rise rip off artists and puppy milling took place.  

Okay, so we fast forward now, to 2022, and we are seeing a lift of many of the restrictions the pandemic had warranted.  People are back to work, travelling, visiting friends, going to events etc.  Basically, people are back on the move.  Just look at all the airport situations lately with huge airport backups, cancelled flights, luggage ending up in seas of areas in airports unable to be claimed.  It goes on and on.  But, something else has changed.  All those covid pups are now 1 to 2 years of age, the kittens have grown up, the other acquired dogs and pets are still looking for food, care, play time, walks, brushing, and all the things that go with pet parenthood.  Well that means that now many people are in a dilemma.  Back to work means being out of the house for 9 hours or more in some cases.  Vacation time whether a road trip or flying to Europe now has taken on an additional responsibility of finding care for the pets or taking them with you.  

Well it seems that for many, their Covid pups or pets have become a burden.  The in Canada, reported on July 4th that Toronto, animal services has seen a 63 percent increase in the number of pets landing in shelters this year compared to the same period in 2021.  They stated that “in the first half of 2021, 520 pets were surrendered to the organization.  At the same point this year, there were 845 pets brought to the shelters.”  And they have a long waiting list of people who are trying to get their animals in!  And then on July 6th they reported the increase had reached 75% over last year at this time.  

So, this is exactly what those of us in the pet industry predicted a year and half to two years ago.  All these pups and dogs and kittens and cats being acquired through any means, we knew that in just a year or two the influx into shelters was going to rise dramatically and it has.  Now, the reasons for these surrenders are not solely due to lifestyle change, and I’ll get to that, but lifestyle change is a major factor.  As I said, going back to the office, commuting again, wanting to travel, all becomes a logistic challenge when you have pets.  Some people have decided that rising to that challenge is just not possible so they have decided to surrender their so sought after pet originally, to a shelter.  Now, one caveat I will make here, is that at least the pet is being put in care as opposed to going to the vet and asking to have a perfectly healthy young animal euthanized because it now cramps ones style.  Thank goodness, many vets will not do this. 

But, you know, you can always find someone if you look.  

This is the heartbreak that we knew was going to take place and this brings up this issue that I have discussed before, which is, that many people think that animals are disposable, that having a pet fulfills that whim of the moment, and when it doesn’t anymore, well, surrender it or have it euthanized.  Because many people were getting their pets from questionable sources, there was no vetting of the new owners by the sellers.  The shelters were empty so the process of an intake was not done where questions about time, energy and finances was not brought to the potential owners attention.  As my regular listeners know, I hammer home the importance of doing ones homework and being informed.  Owning a pet is a responsibility that requires time and money.  When someone went hunting for a Covid puppy, were they just looking to fill the void of time on their hands and lack of interactions with others?  In many cases, yes.  What wasn’t considered was the long term.  Did that person think, well in a year’s time, I might have to go back to the office or we love travelling, once we can again, what do we do with the dog?  Is this really a good decision?  Well for many, it hasn’t been and guess who suffers?  The animal.  This poor little puppy or kitten has known no one but that one person or family and is now in a facility with restricted access to the outdoors and a very different environment.  I’m sure they all wonder what they did wrong.  Well, fur kids, you did nothing wrong, but the person who acquired you and then surrendered you because you no longer fit their post pandemic lifestyle, certainly did. 

 Okay, so let’s see if I can’t maybe prevent someone from making that decision because they don’t know their options.  Those of us who have pets and have always had pets know that hopping in the car for a quick weekend away or going out for dinner after work just really isn’t in the cards.  We have to get home to let our dogs out or forego sometimes time away.  But, there are options.  First things first, having someone who can pop in to let your dog out during the day, or on short notice because you have to stay late at work, or got caught in traffic or wanted to go out after work, is an absolute must.  If possible having a neighbour or a neighbour’s son or daughter as an option to pop into your house is really important.  A key to your house should be given or be accessible.  The other option for this is to have a professional dog sitter or walker available.  There are a lot of little business that offer let outs and walks who can be on your list to call and arrange a let out.  You can use this service on a daily or weekly basis or on an as needed basis.  Don’t forget, pet sitting and walking businesses took a huge hit during lockdowns as everyone was home, so these business are hungry to get back clients.  If there is a bit more money available it can be very beneficial to send your dog to a doggy daycare.  This is a great way to have your dog exercised and socialized while you are at work.  In terms of vacations or quick get always, again, a family member who can take your dog to their home while you are away is helpful.  Sometimes neighbour’s will do the same.  You can also book the sitter to do visits every day or even stay in your home.  The other option is a kennel or dog boarding.  This isn’t an option for everyone, because some dogs experience such anxiety being boarded that it just doesn’t work.  But, there are many really, really nice facilities so it is worth looking in to.  If you have a cat or cats, you can probably get away with someone coming in once a day or every other day to clean the box, top up kibble etc.  Again, a friend or neighbour is great, but the pet sitter can come in as well and sit with your cats for an hour or so as part of their visit.  Bottom line here is that there are options for your pets when you go away, so surrendering a pet for this reason does make me wonder, and not in a good way!  

Okay, so now the other reason that pets are being surrendered at a rapid rate has to do with the rising cost of just about everything right now.  Gas is at an all-time high, the cost of groceries is through the roof and yes, pet food has really gone up and the cost at the vet is also crazy expensive.  So, this is a tough one.  If feeding a pet has become a major burden what is someone to do? Obviously the pet’s health and welfare is forefront, we hope, so I would suspect or again, hope, that surrendering a pet because of cost is something that has done been done lightly and was an extremely difficult decision. 

But, what can someone do before having to come to a surrender decision?  First, talk to your pet specialist about the options for food.  There could easily be a brand that could be still meeting some higher nutritional needs but is anywhere from 20 – 40 dollars cheaper.  If the pet was being fed a commercial level food, say from the grocery store and this is still too expensive, go to your specialty store and ask about discounts on food that is coming up for expiration.  I can tell you, that you have about a 3 month window with expired dry food so you could easily get something for 20 to 50 % off.  Grocery stores do not usually discount on pet foods that are expiring, but pet speciality stores do, so searching around a bit can probably be fruitful.  And if you have a relationship with the store, they may be fine with giving you the expired product after being removed from the shelf at no cost.  Something else to think about is some of the on line clubs for discounted pet food.  I’m not super familiar with these but apparently you can save a fair bit if they have what you are looking for.  An option to get a part time job at a pet supply store would also bring in some cash but also provide an employee discount.  As I said, this is a tough one, because if the rationale is simply, hmm this is getting a bit expensive, then there are options to reduce the cost of the pet’s cost, but if the pet’s health and the person’s health is suffering than that is a whole other issue.  In this case if this very distressing decision is being made, it is important to surrender to a proper shelter where the pet will be cared for and adoption will be actively searched.

Well, there we have it.  The shelters are starting to bust at the seams when only less than 2 years ago the complaint was that they were empty.  So, I really hope that there will be intervention if anyone were to hear about someone wanting to send their pet to a shelter simply because the pet didn’t fit the now freer society.  There are options, but I have to admit, that someone who would want to give up their pet because now that they can travel or visit friends at a whim makes me wonder if they ever deserved or should have had a pet in the first place.  But, if you were one of those people that couldn’t find a dog anywhere, well, now you can.  There are now beautiful dogs and cats in shelters just waiting for someone who will not see them as disposable and will love them for life.  And maybe with some of this info we can help educate someone to options available for having a pet and work and commitments with all working well together, because as I say knowing is caring. 

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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