The challenges of keeping pets and families together during COVID-19

by | Mar 25, 2021 | Life

Pet adoptions increased around the country early in the pandemic, but now millions of animals could be in danger of being abandoned or returned to shelters.

Last year, Humane Canada reported adoption numbers were up between 20 and 60 per cent across the country. Many animal shelters were cleared out completely, and some received up to 100 applications for one puppy.

But some owners may be at risk of getting evicted and losing their pets as COVID-19 has led to unemployment and financial insecurity.

Pets are very vulnerable to separation and can represent a significant challenge to finding affordable housing, especially during this pandemic.

“We cannot enter the dwelling without the property manager, at least, but we prefer to go in with the police,” said Jen Ciszek, a registered veterinary technician at Burlington Animal Shelter. “We will try to obtain any owner information to try to contact them and let them know we have their animals at our shelter.”

She said the shelter holds an animal in trust for 10 days or longer, allowing for the owner to reclaim or make arrangements for the animal to stay somewhere else.

Pets are often not allowed in temporary shelters and government-subsidized housing, forcing pet owners to make hard decisions. Some hopefully have family members or friends that will take a pet during an eviction.

Jane Clarke, vice president at Alliston and District Humane Society, recalled seeing a video on Facebook about a property manager who showed an apartment where an occupant had been evicted.

“In the middle of the video, is a cat, obviously left behind when the occupant exited in haste,” Clarke said. “I commented about that insensitivity and told the manager to message me if the owner didn’t return for the cat, so we could pick it up and give the animal a new home.”

She said the adoption rate is very high right now, as people adopt pets when they are home.

“What we are afraid of, is the ton of surrenders in a year or two when the pandemic is over,” Clarke said.

Housing — moving to homes where landlords don’t allow pets — is among the top reasons people surrender pets to shelters, according to The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP).

“I would suggest that the pet owner makes sure they do their research to ensure that they know their rights,” said Lindsey Narraway, supervisor at Pickering Animal Shelter.

“Many areas have local pet food banks to assist people financially with food. They can also look into funding from the Farley Foundation if they require medical care for their pet,” she said.

The Farley Foundation was established in 2002 by the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association and has assisted more than 11,500 pets in need.

It helps low-income pet owners in Ontario by subsidizing the cost of non-elective veterinary care for their sick or injured pets. Pet owners who cannot afford medical care for their sick or injured pet, should speak to their veterinarian about funding from the Farley Foundation funding.