Deanna Thompson says she often feels like she’s screaming as loud as she can in a room full of people and no one can hear her.
That’s how she describes running the Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS), which has been receiving high volumes of surrendered pets since March.
“I really feel that way some days where we have been begging for help, (saying) ‘we’re full, we’re full.’ And it’s like, at some point, it’s kind of falling on deaf ears,” Thompson told Global News.
She says the number of animals in need far outweighs the capacity of both the shelter and the animal welfare industry as a whole.
Thompson, who is AARC’s executive director, adds that while the shelter is still taking in pets, there are times staff have to turn them away.
“Basically, if one gets adopted, another one can come in,” she says.
“The result of that has really been that animals are getting abandoned in the countryside. We’ve had them tied up to our front door.”
Thompson says she doesn’t know the exact number of pets AARCS is taking in this year compared to previous years, but the number of pet owners asking for help has been especially high through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID’s just lingering with us. And as an industry, as people, it’s just really had an effect on how we manage,” she says, adding that volunteering and fostering is also down.
High costs of care leading to abandonment
Thompson says the rising cost of living is a big contributor to the troubling trend within the animal welfare industry.
The price of pet food, grooming and medical care are all going up while wages stay roughly the same. Meanwhile, owners are also having to factor in their own expenses, such as groceries and rent.
In Canada, the cost of owning a dog works out to an average of $460-$3,140 per year, according to Rover.com.
When it comes to the initial costs of ownership, Rover.com found that dog owners typically spend between $1,395 and $4,270 up front. They also advise owners to budget between $2,060 and $5,600 in surprise costs.
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The annual cost of owning a kitten is approximately $3,378 to $3,538 a year, according to the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association.
Thompson notes that the rising costs of veterinary care has been especially troubling for owners who have had to surrender their pets.
According to Rover.com, a spay or neuter surgery for a dog can cost up to $1,500.
“We’re not seeing as many people spaying and neutering their pets, which means we’re seeing way more puppies and kittens in shelters that we could have prevented. So we’re doing our best to try and intake as many as we can, but also to divert them,” Thompson says.
A survey by Angus Reid Institute published in November 2022 found that three in five Canadians believe vet bills are too expensive.
Despite high praise for the quality of care, owners felt the cost of keeping their pet healthy surpasses an affordable rate as inflation continues to rise.
Pet surrenders on the rise in Alberta
Louise Hindle, founder of Cat Rescue Network in Ottawa, echoes Thompson’s observation about the impact of high veterinary care costs.
“Our rescue is getting more calls from owners wanting to relinquish sick or injured cats because they cannot afford the vet care,” Hindle told Global News.
She notes that Quebec’s Moving Day, a tradition in the province that falls on July 1, has also always had an impact on nearby shelters and rescues.
Though Cat Rescue Network doesn’t have a physical space of their own, Hindle says a number of shelters across the country have had to close pet intakes recently due to high demand.
High demand, but low resources and staff
It’s not just smaller shelters that are struggling.
Ottawa Humane Society CEO and president Sharon Miko says her agency has also been strapped for resources recently, as demand shoots up.
“It’s been quite common that we receive over 30 calls a day for support from people who just don’t feel able to keep their pet anymore,” Miko told Global News.
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The Ottawa Humane Society (OHS) has also had to turn away pets, or at least put them on a waitlist, until space opens up in the shelter or they have enough staff to provide adequate care, Miko says.
With fewer people looking to adopt a pet due to high costs, less space becomes available for animals being brought in. Even when there is space, Miko says it’s difficult to find staff to help.
Fifty-two per cent of respondents in the Ottawa Humane Society’s 2023 Community Consultation survey rated affordability and access to care as their number one concern when providing for their pet.
She says the agency was able to adjust fairly well to the surge of rehoming that other communities saw following the peak of the pandemic, but recent hikes in the cost of living have posed a significant challenge.
Miko notes that it’s not just pet owners requiring help, but breeders too who are unable to find homes for litters of puppies. Especially in the last few weeks.
“So we’re seeing that double impact,” Miko says.
In November, 11 puppies and 17 cats arrived at the OHS in a single day.
As the holidays roll around, shelters are also facing surges of pet surrenders during a time of year when gifting pets is popular.
Miko says that, in general, gifting pets for the holidays “is not a great idea.”
She says adopting a pet as a gift often ends up being a last-minute decision when “in reality it really needs to be something that’s thought through.”
“Our goal now is to work with clients to prevent surrender wherever possible,” she says.