Local shelters say they are struggling to find space for surrendered pets as households face displacement due to economic hardship.
According to service providers, the dislocation is due to a constellation of factors that have built up over the past two years including the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recession, end of the eviction moratorium and rising inflation. All these factors have led, they say, to an increase in people being unable to continue to care for their pets as they struggle to meet their basic needs.
Libby Jones, chief operating officer at Seattle Humane, said that Seattle Humane received a larger than usual number of pet-surrender requests in the first half of 2022 compared to the previous year. Pet surrenders generally happen when a person can no longer afford to care for their animal. The shelter is one of the biggest in the Pacific Northwest, and Jones said that more people are relying on their services.
“We’re seeing a lot of those requests are due to housing or that their animal has a medical condition that they can’t afford or behavioral condition that, previously, maybe they were living in a home with a yard, and now they’re moving into the apartment and their animal’s having a hard time adjusting to that transition. And so they need that behavioral help and support,” she said.
The shelter has already received almost 1,500 pet surrender requests in the first six months of 2022, more than half the total requests they received all of last year — 2,400.
Gene Mueller, a manager at the Kent-based Regional Animal Services of King County, said that they haven’t seen a spike in pet surrender rates compared to 2021. However, he said that they are not accepting new animals since they are busy caring for a lot of big dogs who have more needs.
Mueller also said that the pet food bank they stock two to three times a week has been running out of supplies more quickly in recent months.
Seattle Animal Shelter also hasn’t seen a big uptick in pet surrender requests, according to spokesperson Melissa Mixon. In an email to Real Change, Mixon wrote that the shelter has seen a small increase of pet relinquishment, from 134 to 141 in the first halves of 2021 and 2022 respectively.
Jones stressed that people are not making the heartbreaking decision to let go of their animals due to a return to in-person work or a lifestyle change. Instead, Jones said, the factors are much broader and more systemic and that the forcing out of people due to factors such as housing instability has a big impact on pets as well.
Animals are facing other challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, most notably the lack of routine veterinary care. According to Jones, many dogs and cats have not been able to be spayed or neutered, leading to a boom of new puppies and kittens. In particular, Seattle Humane is seeing an influx of kittens because some cats had multiple litters during this year’s mild spring. Jones also said that the region is facing a shortage of as many as 200 veterinary professionals, driving up the costs for pet health care.
Mixon wrote that Seattle Animal Shelter has seen stray intake nearly double between 2021 and 2022, from 175 to 314, suggesting a population spike in new animals.
Vickie Ramirez, a senior research and program coordinator at the University of Washington Center for One Health Research, said that requests to service providers for pet fostering have increased sharply in the past few months. The research center, which works to support the health of both humans and their animals in tandem, is part of a network of service providers offering veterinary and other pet services in the Seattle area.
She pointed to Beck’s Place, a shelter in Snohomish County that saw a 250 percent increase in requests to find temporary homes for people’s pets while they deal with life changes, forcing the shelter to pause new pet foster requests.
People often turn to fostering when they need someone to temporarily take care of their animal due to circumstances such as getting medical treatment. However, Ramirez said that many more people who are now facing homelessness are also turning to pet fostering as they try to get more stable housing or shelter that accommodates their animals.
“And our working hypothesis is that, because the eviction moratorium is over, more housing-insecure folks are being evicted,” Ramirez said.
“They’re seeking fosters until they can find a new location that will allow animals. And then, at the same time, the folks who used to be able to access these services, particularly those already living in homelessness, can’t access it anymore because there’s so much more need within the newly unhoused community,” she said.
Ramirez said that she’d like to see greater coordination between service providers in the future so that organizations serving houseless people and their pets can get the resources they need.
“If we only do work by ourselves with our little funds, we don’t get as far as if we pool all the little funds,” she said.
Guy Oron is the staff reporter for Real Change. Find them on Twitter, @GuyOron.
Read more of the July 6-12, 2022 issue.