Jun 28, 2022 - News

Richmond animal shelters fill up after COVID adoption boon

Illustration of dog treats spelling out “HELP”.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Around 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, and now, two years later, animal shelters are reporting a surge in pet surrenders.

Driving the news: Animal shelters across the country and here at home are filling up as multiple factors push pet owners to give up their furry friends, representatives from multiple Richmond animal welfare organizations tell Axios.

State of play: Since January, 607 pets were surrendered to Richmond SPCA, Tabitha Treloar, the agency's director of communication, tells Axios.

  • "That's 30% of the 1,960 animals we've brought into our care [this year]," she said.
  • And the total number is about 200 more animals than the SPCA typically has in their care, she added.

Meanwhile, Chesterfield County's animal control tells Axios it started to see an increase in pet surrenders around May of this year, coupled with a decline in adoptions.

  • "Our number of on-hand animals went from an average of 77 earlier this year to 131 at the end of May to 102 as of today," says Carrie Jones, Chesterfield's animal services manager.
  • Henrico County Animal Control has accepted 436 surrendered pets halfway through the year, about the same number it sees in a typical full year.
  • Richmond Animal Care and Control tells Axios it too is seeing a surge in surrendered pets, plus other pets in need, including more than a dozen kittens and around the same number of puppies brought in over the weekend.

What they're saying: "The world of animal welfare is hard right now. So many (many, many) people giving up on their pets and filling shelter kennels near and far. We are bombarded with requests to help at every level," RACC posted on Facebook last week.

What's happening: Not all shelters track the reason for surrenders, but animal welfare workers point to two main drivers lately: financial worries and housing.

Cost: The ASPCA estimates the annual cost for owning a dog is around $1,391 and $1,149 for a cat, an amount that doubles the first year of ownership.

  • The price of pet food alone is up 9% year-over-year.
  • And with inflation, animal welfare experts speculate that many households are worried they don't have the financial security to afford their pet.

Housing: According to a 2015 ASPCA rehoming survey, pet behavior is the primary reason people surrender their pets — except in the case of renters, whose housing and lack of pet-friendly options are the No. 1 reason for surrender.

  • In Richmond, 56% of all households rent versus own, according to the latest census.

Plus: It's up to individual landlords to allow pets or not, but Treloar with the Richmond SPCA said that property owners who allow pets may add fees, plus breed and size restrictions, that make the housing inaccessible for many pet owners.

  • While pet restrictions in rentals aren't new, the tight housing market is exacerbating the problem, Treloar said. Housing issues account for 65 of the animals the Richmond SPCA has taken in this year, with a lack of pet-friendly rental options being the biggest driver.
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