When pet sales began rising at the onset of the pandemic, as people were urged to stay at home as much as possible, many animal activists worried that trend would lead to an increase in the number of animals being surrendered to shelters.
That fear hasn’t been realized in Guelph … at least not yet.
The number of cats and dogs surrendered to Guelph Humane Society (GHS) was down sharply in 2020 and is projected to see only a slight comparative rise by the end of this year.
“The concern that many of us had was what was going to happen when everybody was going back to work,” said Lee Niel, associate professor at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College. “That hasn't obviously come to fruition.”
While some individual shelters have reported increases globally, “across the board it doesn’t seem like there is a clear indication that there are these relinquishments happening,” continued Niel. “And we’re still watching because most people are still working from home.”
There were 273 cats and 119 dogs surrendered to GHS by their owners in 2019. Those figures were 296 and 271 respectively in 2020.
GHS is on track to see 221 surrendered cats and another 73 dogs by the end of this year.
To Natalie Thomas, marketing and communications manager for GHS, this suggests most people are keeping their pandemic pets, “which is a great thing, of course.”
Speaking generally, Niel said a lot of new pet owners were looking to fill the gap in their social life left by lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings.
“The data on whether or not pets can actually fill that gap is a little bit mixed,” she said. “To adopt the perfect pet for you, in theory it should, but the problem is pets are individuals and they have individual challenges.
“Although they can bring a lot of joy to people, they can also bring a lot of challenges in terms of behavioural issues and things like that,” she said. “Sometimes there are unanticipated side effects to adopting an animal.”
While the number of surrendered cats and dogs is down, the quantity of relinquished rabbits has seen a sharp rise in 2021, projected to reach 69 – more than three times the quantity seen in 2020 (22) and 2019 (26).
The total projected intake for rabbits this year is 163.
While rabbits are a “very common pet,” there simply isn’t the kind of information and understanding there is for cats and dogs, said Thomas.
“Everyone knows to spay and neuter their cats and dogs. People don’t think about that for rabbits as much,” she said. “There’s a lot to be done in the messaging around rabbit ownership.”