Defying predictions and anecdotes, pandemic pet shelter abandonments across Midstate and nationwide are down, not up

YORK COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) – “Animal shelters brace for surrender,” warned a June 24, 2020 headline in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“I understand why they think that,” Steven Martinez, executive director of the York County SPCA, said Tuesday of expert predictions and public perceptions, based on stories of individuals abandoning their pets. as (for example) they started going to the office again.

The truth?

“If they’ve heard of people abandoning their pets, that’s just an anecdotal data point,” Martinez said. “But that doesn’t really represent a bigger trend that we’re seeing locally or even nationally.”

In fact, the local trend is the exact opposite: The York County SPCA — which, like many shelters, adopted almost all of its animals at the start of the pandemic — has received 24 abandoned pets so far in 2021. , compared to 36 during the same period. period (January 1 to May 11) in 2020.

National organizations corroborated local data.

“We are not aware of any data to support this trend,” Kirsten Peek, media relations manager for the Humane Society of the United States, said of the pet abandonment reports. “Our understanding is that these reports are anecdotal.”

“Based on our conversations with animal welfare professionals and shelters across the country, this trend is not currently evident on a national level,” said the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in a statement released by a spokesperson. (The full statement is below.)

To be clear: people are abandonment of animals – but not, based on the available data, in greater numbers than usual. Pandemic or no pandemic, Martinez said surrendering an animal is the last resort and can often be avoided by calling a shelter like his.

“Often the challenges people face can be overcome with just the education, practice, resources and training that we are able to provide,” he said.

Even shelter workers, some of whom took refuge at home at the start of the pandemic, couldn’t resist the impulsive adoption of a pet or two. Tiffany Franck, director of development for the York County SPCA but who was not (before the pandemic) a pet owner, wanted a cat. Her husband, Ethan Pfautz – working in a different industry but by her side at home – had a thing for dogs. The compromise ?

“We first met our raven cat in April 2020 and then Penny came to join us in July,” she said, pointing to the couple’s dog. She says all four of them are happy together.

Martinez said that while the idea that surrenders would increase seemed plausible, the reality is just as easy to understand — precisely because of the duration of the pandemic.

“It’s been 14 months that people have been dealing with transitioning into their homes,” he said. “This animal is now part of their life. So they’re not going to fire a family member.

Here is the full statement from the ASPCA:

We do not know of an increase in owner abandonment at the ASPCA adoption center in New York, and based on our conversations with animal welfare professionals and shelters across the country, this trend is not currently evident at the national level. We attribute this to the fact that even though animal shelters and rescue organizations have adapted their adoption policies during the pandemic, they continue to have conversations with adopters to ensure they make good matches and that animals match the lifestyle of their adopters, even when those owners revert to a post-pandemic timeline. We encourage any pet owner who is considering rehoming their pet to contact the shelter or rescue organization they worked with so that staff can provide advice and assistance.

In the first year of the pandemic, the ASPCA has seen a 64% increase in the number of pets placed in foster homes through our foster program in New York and we expect foster families continue to play an important role in supporting shelters in New York and across the country. We hope shelters can build on this heartwarming response from enthusiastic foster carers for any ownership assignments they may receive. As there is always a risk that pet owners may not be able to provide adequate care for their pets in the event of a crisis or disaster, it is important that individuals, shelters and communities prepare to any animal welfare consequences that may result from this ongoing crisis. .

-ASPCA Statement

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