Dog Days: As Pandemic Adoption Boom Cools, Pet Shelters Are Overwhelmed

U.S. animal shelters will begin 2024 at their most overcrowded. According to a, are in years Extensive survey Animal rescue facilities, a sign of continued economic concern as the nation’s pet adoption epidemic finally cools.

There are approx. A quarter of a million more pets in animal shelters This holiday season compared to the same period in 2022, according to the Shelter Animal Count, a nonprofit that tracks the shelter animal population.

The number would be higher if shelters weren’t already overcrowded and had more space to house the animals, said Stephanie Filer, the group’s executive director.

Pet adoptions surged during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, about 1 in 5 households adopted a pet during the pandemic. President Biden even adopted a dog, Commander, and A Cat, Willow.

At the height of the pandemic, 70 percent of American households owned a pet, and 54 percent of all households owned a dog, according to the American Pet Products Association trade group (APPA).

But as the economy soured and inflation reached historic highs, consumer purchasing power waned and adoption slowed. That in turn puts pressure on rescue facilities, which have limited space to house unwanted cats and dogs, Filer said. About two-thirds of households now own a pet, according to APPA, and half own dogs.

The pet population, though, is growing; Owners skipped nearly 3 million spay or neuter surgeries in 2020 and 2021. According to research conducted by the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Shelters experienced a dramatic influx of puppies, including sought-after breeds, such as French Bulldogs, or purpose-breed crosses such as Labradoodles.

The pandemic, and the thousands of dollars in stimulus funding that individuals and households received, made pet ownership unaffordable for many families. The end of the pandemic, and the federal government’s fiscal austerity, threatened for a time to make pet ownership a stark economic divide between the middle and working classes.

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates in a largely successful attempt to cool inflation. But that led to a dramatic increase in the cost of animal care, according to Brandi Keck, head of veterinary and pet care facility lending for Live Oak Bank. Veterinarians and pet care businesses raised prices to cope with both higher demand and business costs, including borrowing, payroll and materials. The cost of veterinary services increased by 9 percent. November 2022 to November 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pet food prices rose 5.6 percent. in the same period.

All of this added up to one result: pet ownership became more expensive. And too many pets have ended up in shelters because of it.

“How we got to this point is really a three-year snowstorm,” Filer told The Washington Post.

Although these crises may be beginning to subside. Prospective pet owners typically make the decision to adopt an animal based on their economic outlook, experts say, and financial forecasts are looking brighter.

Consumer sentiment rose 14 percent. In December, there are indications that general Americans are significantly more optimistic about the economy than they were the previous month. Inflation in 2023 also fell by more than most economists had predicted.. The Fed indicated that it might as well. Interest rate cut in 2024Borrowing costs reduced for the first time after March 2022.

That could be a boon in particular for the pet industry, which relies on cheap money to finance expensive equipment — such as X-ray machines in medical offices — and to meet growing demand. Expand the

In the first half of 2023, Keck said, the veterinary and pet care facility business put the brakes on new projects amid fears the economy is headed for recession.

By June, she lamented, “it was like the floodgates had opened again.” Pet industry businesses, seeing positive signs for adoption rates and consumer spending, began taking on more debt, expanding services and increasing competition, which could lower consumer spending in the long run.

But this holiday season, animals in overcrowded shelters still need help. Households can volunteer to foster the animals, which dramatically increases the dogs’ chances of being adopted, Filer said. According to a 2023 study by researchers at Arizona State University and Virginia Tech, taking dogs out temporarily or fostering them for a night or two can increase their odds of adoption by 1,400 percent. Is. Published in the journal Animals..

Filer said pet owners who are struggling to provide for their animals should contact shelters or rescue organizations for help as soon as possible. Organizations are often able to provide financial or material assistance so that households do not have to surrender their pets.

“Don’t approach when you have no other option,” Filer said. “Get in touch as soon as possible to see what your options are.”

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