As the cost of living in Collier County continues to rise, more and more people are being forced to make sacrifices to make ends meet. With rising rent rates and a lack of available workforce housing, pets are becoming more commonly sacrificed, as local animal shelters report higher surrender rates than ever due to housing disputes. is being seen.
As of December, the Humane Society Naples had received 882 requests to surrender a dog or cat in 2023, about 40 percent of which were due to housing issues. Housing for dogs is 75 percent higher than in 2022 and for cats about 20 percent higher.
“You want to hate the thought of someone giving up their animal, but usually they’re coming to us because they’ve tried everything they can,” said Sarah Beckler, CEO of the Humane Society of Naples. They can think about and they don’t want to,” said Sarah Beckler, CEO of Humane Society Naples. .
In Collier County, many homeowners associations and rental communities are placing restrictions on pet breeds and sizes. The Humane Society doesn’t visit homes before turning animals over to new owners, so it’s up to people to find out what the restrictions are when it comes to pets.
“Often, either the requirements change or they don’t know about them, and that will result in withdrawal or surrender,” Beckler said. “That, honestly, is the biggest barrier to bringing animals into homes in Collier County—restrictions on rent and HOAs.”
Beckler said only allowing dogs up to 15 pounds is a common rental restriction that doesn’t help shelter breeds. Bully breeds, such as pit bull terriers or bulldogs, make up the majority of animals in Collier County shelters.
According to the 2021 Pet Inclusive Housing Report by the Michelson Foundation Animals and Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, 72% of 1,200 American households surveyed nationwide said it was difficult to find pet-friendly housing. . Of these, 59% said pet-friendly accommodation is too expensive.
Autumn Albright lives in an apartment complex in Collier County that limits its residents to two pets. It charges a fee of $400 per pet at the beginning of the lease, and then charges $30 per pet per month. Although her pets are one of her top priorities, she said sometimes it becomes difficult to manage their needs along with her living expenses.
“When I do my expenses each month, their prescription food needs to be budgeted as a top priority. I can’t just cut that expense, so I have to make sure that if I have Even if the funds are tight, I have to raise that money for their medical needs,” Albright said. “With the rent going up, it’s hard to do, but it’s just something you have to manage. “
Beckler said she’s seen people give up their lives to keep their pets. Through a program called Operation Rescue, the Humane Society can protect pets while their owners are experiencing homelessness. It will provide temporary housing through foster care or boarding until the owner is out of crisis and able to be reunited with their pet.
“We see a lot of people who are willing to experience homelessness to be with their pets,” Beckler said. “So we coordinate with St. Matthew’s House and other partners in the community to try to make sure they’re getting at least the veterinary care they need.”
Collier County Domestic Animal Services, the only open intake shelter in Collier County, focuses primarily on stray and lost pets. To try to manage the number of animals at the shelter, it often has an adoption waiver. In December, all animals available for adoption are $1.
“If you love a pet, we want you to adopt a pet. We don’t want to put any obstacles in the way,” said DAS Director Marcy Perry. “Research shows that people love their pets just as much whether they pay $1, $5, $20 or $500 for their pet.”
Collier DAS held its first Home for the Holidays program this month, where people who are on the fence about committing to a pet are able to adopt a cat or dog during the holidays and have or So they have the option of giving them back to the shelter or adopting them for $1.
“If they need to bring a pet back, at least he got out during the holidays and got some enrichment, saw new things, met new people,” Perry said. “Then he comes back and his house is right here, waiting for someone else.”
According to Beckler, Humane Society Naples is usually as full as it can be at all times, trying to stay at less than 90 percent capacity in case of an unexpected influx of pets. In an effort to keep surrenders as low as possible, the organization has a community services team that will discuss with pet owners ways to help reduce problems with pets. She hired a social worker last year to look at ways to help the whole family by providing resources to help with rent or more extreme cases like outlets to handle domestic violence cases.
“There’s someone on both ends of the leash, and if one end of the leash is struggling, so is the other,” Beckler said. “So we started looking and thinking, ‘How do we help the whole family unit instead of just the animals?’ Because if the animal is in bad condition, giving it a bag of food is not necessarily the answer.
Beckler said local residents should talk to their HOAs about pet restrictions to try to make changes.
“When you’re talking about habitat, animals don’t come to mind first, but it’s so integrated,” Beckler said. “And we’ve gone through a million different iterations of ‘What does (human society) have to contribute to this puzzle?'”