No, Most People Aren't Giving Up On Their Pandemic Puppies

But many shelters and rescues are still overwhelmed this time of year.

foster puppy Evie
Foster puppy Evie strikes a pose.

Mary Jo DiLonardo

Puppies are hard. I say this as I stare at my computer screen, bleary-eyed and awake since 3:45 a.m. when my deaf foster puppy Evie decided she was up for the day. She impatiently alternated between barking and playing in her pen until it was actually time for the morning to start. She, of course, is sleeping now when I have to work.

Puppies are also incredibly cute. And it’s no wonder that so many people rushed to animal shelters, rescue groups, and breeders early on in the pandemic to scoop them up. If you’re going to be stuck at home for days or months on end, why not spend the time with a wriggly, fun, little ball of floof?

But now, so many months later, some animal shelters and news stories are reporting that some pets adopted during the pandemic are being returned as people are returning to work.

Fortunately, that doesn't appear to be a national trend.

It’s hard to actually track the statistics, according to Best Friends Animal Society because of the unique circumstances of our weird world over the past year-plus. Comparing shelter and rescue intake numbers from 2021 to pre-pandemic 2019, however, shows that pets being surrendered or returned are actually down.

(Surrenders are animals being given up to shelters and rescues that were acquired from other sources; returns are animals going back to the shelter or rescue where they were originally adopted.)

In April of 2021, owner surrenders were up 82.6% over 2020 but down 12.5% vs. 2019, according to 24PetWatch, which has data on 1,190 U.S. shelters and rescues. Returns were up 50% compared to 2020, but 30% below 2019.

One reason these numbers may seem misleading is that in April of 2020, most shelters and rescues were closed and not accepting animals.

“The other tricky thing about this, is the data may not tell the complete story because there may be other things going on beyond shelter surrenders,” Temma Martin, public relations manager for Best Friends, tells Treehugger.

She points out that the statistics have data from about one-third of the shelters in the U.S.

“It's a sound sample—both in size and representation—but other things are probably happening too. People could be giving up their pets in the form of reselling/rehoming, which wouldn't (yet) show up in shelter numbers,” she says.

“This shows that so far, we're not yet in an alarming place, but we do need to urgently motivate pet owners to commit to their pets and do the work to help them become well-behaved members of the family. Turning dogs into shelters because they are untrained, out-of-control, mouthy, etc. means those animals are less adoptable, and may stay much longer before they find a home. If they get adopted at all.”

Other organizations agree that so far, any information on pandemic returns is only based on anecdotal reports.

"We are not aware of data that indicates this is a trend in the U.S.," Kirsten Peek, manager of media relations for the Humane Society of the United States, tells Treehugger. "It is our understanding that these reports are anecdotal."

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a similar report.

"We are not experiencing an increase in owner surrenders at the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City, and based on our conversations with animal welfare and sheltering professionals across the country, this trend is not currently evident on a national level," the ASPCA said in a statement to Treehugger.

"We attribute this to the fact that even as animal shelters and rescue organizations have adapted their adoption policies during the pandemic, they continue to have conversations with adopters to ensure they are making good matches and that pets match their adopters' lifestyles, even when those owners return to a post-pandemic schedule. We encourage any pet owner who may be considering rehoming their pet to reach out to the shelter or rescue organization they worked with so the staff can provide advice and assistance."

Shelters and Rescues are Swamped

Pandemic puppies or not, summer is always a tough time for shelters and rescues. They fill up for all kinds of reasons.

"I’m just seeing the normal summer throwaways," Mindy Diffenderfer, founder of Louisiana-based Walking in the Sun Rescue tells Treehugger. "Normal puppy season. People go on vacation and get rid of their dogs so they don’t have to board them."

In summer, some families drop off their dogs at a shelter when they leave to go on trips and just get new ones when they come home. Others get overwhelmed with having the kids and the pets home all summer so they give up the pets. It’s also a busy time for puppy and kitten births.

Although I’m in the Atlanta area, I foster for Speak! St. Louis, a special needs rescue. For 9 years straight, Missouri has had the most sellers on the Humane Society of the United States’ Horrible Hundred list of puppy mills.

“Currently, we are seeing the shelters fill back up and they are pleading for rescues to step up as they are again having to euthanize for space,” Speak! St. Louis director Judy Duhr tells Treehugger.

“Unfortunately, seniors and dogs with disabilities are seen as not as adoptable and the first on the list. Because people were tied down for so long with COVID restrictions, people do not want the commitment of a pet anymore. They are surrendering them to shelters and rescues.”

In addition, she says, many people who are thinking about adopting don’t want to do it now because they have travel plans or other social gatherings that they’ve put off for so long.

Duhr also wonders if some of the reason behind the influx of puppies and kittens at shelters right now might be because people had limited access to vets over the last year so owners weren't able to get their pets spayed or neutered.

Just in the past few days, Speak has agreed to take two blind and deaf puppies, a blind puppy, two deaf puppies, and a puppy with a leg that likely needs to be amputated. They have several senior dogs and a whole bunch of other adult dogs. One had no place to go because his owner died, another had an owner who is critically ill, and others just ended up at a shelter. The rescue is overwhelmed. (If you want to help, you can donate here.)

Behavioral Issues

Since last spring when the pandemic first hit, I have fostered 16 puppies. I fostered the three Treehugger polar bear puppies and most recently fostered two blind and deaf puppies, which was particularly challenging.

At times it has been really hard, especially trying to socialize when we were in lockdown. And when puppies had to meet their potential adopters, we often did meet-and-greets virtually before they met in person.

Most of the puppies I foster are blind, deaf, or both. So we do either touch training or sign commands in addition to all the usual puppy work.

A lot of the adopters knew what they were getting into. Many of them had raised dogs from puppyhood before. But I try to always gently remind them that puppies are sweet little piranhas and potty training is frustrating, but the payoff is huge in the end.

Evie is learning hand signals for sit, down, and shake. She's working on stay, but that is awfully hard for a puppy who is very busy and has lots to do. (She is also very good at telling me when it's time to eat. See the video above.)

One of the hardest things for pandemic puppies has been separation anxiety. Because everyone was home for so long with their new pets, it was only natural to hang with them around the clock. But the problem is that when you do run to the store or when you eventually head to the office, your BFF freaks out that they have to be alone. They can bark constantly and actually do serious damage to your home.

That’s why with Evie, and with all my puppies, we practice time alone in her pen or crate where she gets to chew on a peanut butter-stuffed Kong or she gets to play with some amazing toy. Hopefully, it will help her be better prepared when she gets adopted and finds her perfect new home.

And they get up with her at 3:45 a.m.

Follow Mary Jo's dog Brodie and his foster puppies on Instagram @brodiebestboy.

View Article Sources
  1. "The State of Animal Welfare Today." Best Friends.

  2. "The Horrible Hundred." The Humane Society.