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Inflation, housing issues driving increase in pet surrenders

A tan medium-sized dog stands near the camera with a ball in its mouth.
Meridian Canine Rescue
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So-called ‘pandemic pets’ have largely stayed in their adoptive homes, according to the American Society for the Prevention and Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). But pet relinquishments are trending up nationwide: Surrender requests increased 4% in the fourth quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.

Inflation and housing issues are driving the increase, according to ASPCA and local shelters.

“We [are] getting lately more surrender requests for dogs that are really ... easy,” said Karinna Lozano, Board President with Meridian Canine Rescue. “Senior dogs, they get along with kids, with people, with other dogs, they just kind of can't keep them anymore,” she said.

Meridian Canine Rescue is a small-capacity operation, primarily focused on retraining dogs surrendered due to behavioral issues. They currently have eight dogs at their facility – two over capacity – and another six dogs at a partner program with the Idaho Department of Corrections.

Behavior-based surrenders typically made up around 80% of their requests, Lozano said. Recently, about half of requests came from people struggling to afford or house their dog for non-behavioral reasons.

"Easy" dogs are typically good candidates for fostering, Lozano said. In a social media post, Meridian Canine Rescue begged the community for new foster homes so it could accommodate the requests for rehoming. She said the organization provides training and supplies for fostering.

The share of ability-based surrender requests is increasing at larger shelters like the Idaho Humane Society, too.

“We believe it's just due to the inflation and the housing costs that are increasing here in the Treasure Valley,” said Public Relations and Digital Media Manager Kristine Schellhaas.

Not all surrenders are because of an inability to afford a pet or a rental-related housing issue. Some pets arrive after the death of their owner; sometimes a job change prompts a relocation and keeping a pet is not possible.

Schellhaas says last year, the humane society adopted out 6,763 animals; most dogs are able to be placed in a new home within 48 hours. It’s a huge operation, with around 10,000 animals arriving last year. About 20% of that total were surrender requests, Schellhaas said, but she noted adoptions haven’t slowed down.

The story is not the same nationally, or at Meridian Canine Rescue. ASPCA data show slowing slowing adoption rates stressing capacity at many operations, even though surrender rates are down around 19% compared to 2019.

Lozano said fewer dogs were adopted than they brought in during 2021, and the numbers worsened last year.

“Now they're [ASPCA] doing the predictions for 2023 and they don't see anything going better. We already have a bottleneck of dogs that doesn't get adopted around the country. So how do we keep up?” she said.

They try to keep pets in their original homes with training programs, a pet food bank and resources to help people pay for vet bills. The Humane Society has also stepped up its training program, and offers food assistance and subsidized veterinary care for low-income households, Schellhaas said.

“We definitely want to work with people before they have to say, you know, ‘my dog is acting a little off.’ Don't turn the dog in. We want to help you work with it.”

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.