Many of you may have heard news reports about adopters returning shelter pets in record numbers.  And while this may be happening in some select communities, it is not a nationwide trend and it is not something we are seeing here at the Roanoke Valley SPCA.
This issue has recently risen to such a level that both the ASPCA and Best Friends conducted a national poll of the general public on the topic of pet acquisition and retention in a post-pandemic world.  This information certainly refutes claims about mass returns.
In the information garnered from the ASPCA poll, the overwhelming majority of dogs and cats acquired during the pandemic are still in their homes!  Some additional important facts gained from over 5,020 respondents include:
  • Close to one in five households acquired a cat or dog since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, which would account for approximately 23 million American households based on the 2019 U.S. Census
  • Out of the households who acquired a dog or cat during the pandemic, 90% of dogs and 84% of cats are still in their homes.
  • Despite some adopter concerns as COVID restrictions are lifted, including potential pet behavioral issues resulting from adopters returning to work, 87% of respondents are NOT considering rehoming their pet in the near future.
While data from 24PetWatch does indicate that, for the first time since the pandemic started, nationally shelter intake began increasing in March of 2021 and continued into April, that is certainly not the whole story. Due to the unique circumstances of 2020, comparing 2021 numbers to 2020 alone isn’t an accurate indicator of pet surrender/returns. 
Information from Best Friends provided some context:  
  • In 2020, intake across all shelters across the nation was down 23% as many shelters faced partial closures and reduced services. However, the number of pets being surrendered or returned in 2021 remain below 2019 levels (a more “normal” baseline) at the 1,191 U.S. shelters and rescues that are part of the 24PetWatch data set.
  • In April 2021, net intake was up 60% over 2020, but remained 14.5% below 2019 net intake.
  • In April of this year, owner surrenders were up 84% vs. 2020, but still down 12% vs. 2019. Returns saw a similar increase: up 52% vs. 2020, but still 29% below 2019. 
While some shelters and regions may be experiencing increases in intake and surrenders, the overall news is still good, and may mean the returns shelters are currently experiencing are simply a normal resumption of pre-pandemic operations and intake. Additionally, based on the Best Friends survey, the vast majority of people are committed to keeping their pets.
Here at the Roanoke Valley SPCA we took in 225 animals between January 1 and April 30 of 2021.  This is indeed a 58.54% increase over 2020 when we took in 142 animals during that same time period.  But if you reflect on our community during that time, we were at the beginning stages of the pandemic and our community was pretty much locked down and people were not venturing out.  If you look at our pre-pandemic numbers, the 225 animals we took in during the first four months of the year is a 54.55% decrease from 2019.
In a review of our recent returns, the primary reasons for surrendering a pet are consistent with prior to COVID-19 and during the pandemic.  Those reasons are primarily due to human issues, not pet issues.  We recognize that there are many legitimate reasons for surrendering a pet – housing, family fit, financial hardship, and medical challenges.  As an organization, during the past 18 months we have significantly increased our services and program offerings to assist owners facing such challenges to help them keep their pets with them in their homes.  Our goal is to make it easier to keep animals and their humans together.
We have increased funding to existing programs such as our pet food pantry and veterinary care assistance fund.  And we have launched new programs such as Dot’s Drive Thru (a monthly drive thru pet food assistance program), pet deposit assistance, fencing assistance, and the Judith Goings Behavior Assistance Program.  This behavior assistance program provides financial support with owners facing challenging pet behavior/training issues to enable them to receive support from local trainers as well as a certified applied animal behaviorist.

At the Roanoke Valley SPCA we recognize that an individual’s financial position does not determine their ability to love a pet.  We are striving to be the first resource for individuals and their pets instead of a last resort.