RECORDER – Shelters are crowded with pet owners struggling to keep their animals.

Less than 48 hours after the no-kill rabbit sanctuary reached capacity, the organization welcomed four new additions looking for homes.

“We’re never below capacity (55 rabbits) for more than a day or two,” said Jordana Starr, co-founder of Western Mass. Rabbit Rescue. Is.”

Western Mass. Rabbit Rescue began in the summer of 2020 when Starr and Jessica Reel rescued a group of domestic rabbits in an east Longmeadow backyard. Starr and Rail continued to respond to social media posts about abandoned house rabbits and soon realized that there were no rescues specifically for rabbits in the area.

Since then, the Northampton-based nonprofit has matched dozens of rabbits with new homes, but the end of the pandemic lockdown has increased bills for veterinarians and pet care, for pet owners. Less time at home and a large number of newly adopted animals that are homeless or unsafe. . The result: Lots of rabbits surrendered and rescued by Rabbit Rescue but very few adopters to take furry friends home.

Rabbits in Starr’s care aren’t the only animals waiting for homes. Shelters and rescues around the area are inundated with requests for pet food from dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and everything else in between.

A marked increase in demand for animal adoptions and foster applications during the pandemic was a welcome development for animal rescue. While the pandemic has boosted adoptions — data from the Shelter Animal Count shows that adoptions of dogs and cats during the lockdown were higher than before the pandemic — the surge in interest in pets has led to an increase in animal adoptions. allowed to move out of shelters faster and save into new homes.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, an estimated one in five households adopted a cat or dog in 2020.

But many people who adopted pets during the pandemic underestimated the attention and financial commitment required to raise animals. Coupled with increased costs of pet products and veterinary bills during and after the pandemic, animal rescues have been flooded with requests for surrenders, rescues and rehabs.

“The number of animals we’ve euthanized has increased by about 48 percent year over year,” said Meg Talbert, executive director of the Dawkins Humane Society. “We may have several hundred animals that we are giving medical care or going through an adjustment period. In the summer we had close to 400 animals, between adoption centers and foster families.

Without epidemic levels of enthusiasm for adoption, animal rescues and shelters are permanently at capacity and strained by the financial burden of rising pet care costs.

Commitment

Starr said Western Mass. Rabbit Rescue receives rehoming requests from pet owners who misunderstand the rabbit’s commitment. Rabbits are generally seen as low-maintenance pets, but in reality these furry friends act more like dogs than guinea pigs. These critters live up to 12 years and need open play pens, enrichment toys and lots of cardboard, grass and food to chew on.

Between the animal’s desire for cuddles and a wandering mouth ready to chew on the first houseplant or cable in its path, rabbits require a lot of attention, a fact that Starr says can make her surrender. affects many applications.

“They don’t have time for them anymore and they want a better home for them,” he added. “Unfortunately, they don’t understand that they’re not doing that. They’re not giving their rabbits a better home. They’re surrendering to save them.”

Surrender and rehoming requests aren’t the only reason for the increasing number of pets in rescue centers. During the pandemic, spay and neuter procedures were considered elective operations. The most common and effective tactic to control cat, dog and rabbit populations has been off for more than a year, leaving pets outside and coming home with unexpected litters.

Even worse, according to Anna Zena, founder of In Honey Memory, are tenants whose leases prohibit pets but adopt one anyway. Once evictions resumed after a temporary suspension during the pandemic, tenants left their animals behind.

“I think the biggest problem after the pandemic is that a lot of people got pets and then, because it was during COVID, landlords couldn’t evict[tenants],” Zeina said. said “People take in pets that can’t be allowed to keep pets. Those pets aren’t spayed or neutered, so when they leave those pets behind, there’s a perfect storm.”

‘Part of the Family’

As a female cat rescue from Huntington’s, Xena can handle up to 20 cats before it becomes difficult to give each animal the attention, food and medical care they need. For Zina, it’s about the animal’s quality of life rather than how many cats she can save.

As a result, she has become a community cat resource. She took a foster kitten with two cataracts to the vet while the foster parents were at work. He provided hyperthyroid medication for a cat. It even helped a cat owner stop their cat and four other strays from urinating on their property.

“When you adopt from me, you’re adopting from part of my family, so I’m always in touch with them because they’ve become part of my family,” Xena said. “Loving a cat or dog isn’t just about love. It’s about caring for them though regular vet visits and good nutrition.

Honey’s memory has a small but powerful network: one of Zanna’s adopters donates a chicken coop for a cat that should be outside, and another connects Zanna with contractors who work at her shelter. Can build a roof. Community donations and fundraiser support keep small, no-kill, open shelters open and help larger rescues like the Dogin Humane Society use more.

“We’re seeing the other side of people struggling with the economy. People have lost their homes, bills are going up and families are having to make tough choices to return their animals to the dog.” Talbert said.

Unlike smaller shelters, Dakin’s adoption numbers continue to parallel intake numbers. Talbert explains that the nonprofit hired more staff in anticipation of the increase in animals, but Dakin’s network of volunteers, volunteers and partner rescues eases the burden of excessive food. Community members and staff share photos of animals up for adoption. Donations from volunteers and donors help cover the cost of vet bills, and partners take in rescue animals when dogs are at capacity.

“Our community, foster families and certainly our staff have risen to the occasion to care for more animals this year,” Talbert said. “The community really allows us to respond to this increase in food and care for these animals. It makes a world of difference.”

Western Mass. Rabbit Rescue has grown its community considerably since its inception, another reason behind the rescue’s increase in intake. However, the adoption process is much slower than Dakin’s: A brown rabbit named Aphrodite has been in foster care for two years. Red-eyed white rabbits like llamas, who have been waiting for a home for a year and a half, are especially hard to adopt despite word of her network spreading the word.

“Despite the fact that they act like stupid, stupid dogs, it’s very difficult to find them a home,” Starr added, “People understand Monty Python, but this is like a golden retriever. ”

But the star is not discouraged by the challenge.

“We need more adopters! More of these amazing people who come in,” Starr said. “I know they’re out there, we just need to find them.”

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettenet.com.

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