Pandemic Pet Returns

Lily Botelho

Pet adoptions exploded in 2020 as the pandemic relegated many families to their homes for the foreseeable future. Previously busy households now had enough time on their hands to adopt that cat or dog they had always wanted. This was great for shelters as so many of their animals were now going to their forever homes, so much so that there often weren’t enough pets to go around. As more people are now becoming vaccinated and some aspects of normal life are coming back, people’s busy lives are returning as well. This has led to an alarming trend that was first noticed by Moms and Mutts Colorado Rescue: pandemic pet returns.

Photo: Erick Pleitez

“I think what is happening, the world is opening up, people are going back to work, they’re traveling. People aren’t just lonely anymore, so the dogs are not necessarily fitting into their lifestyles,” says Aron Jones, the Executive Director of the Moms and Mutts rescue. That rescue in particular has seen more than double the amount of returns they get in a normal year in just four months. The shelter is struggling as it now has over 200 dogs in its care and just can’t afford to take care of them. The rescue relies on adoption fees to keeps itself afloat, but with more returns than adoptions, it’s become reliant on donations.

“It’s awful. We watch these dogs come in the front door. Their people fill out all the paperwork and drop them off and the dog sits at the door and cries,” says Aron Jones about the pet returns. This shows an alarming trend of selfishness and irresponsibility in pet ownership that has peaked in recent years, as many have begun to see animals as props for social media. Last year posts about new pets got a lot of attention, influencing many to adopt pets without thinking about the future. The concept of pets as a tool for likes isn’t a new concept and is most clearly seen in the reluctance of people to adopt black and other darker-colored dogs in favor of their lighter counterparts. These dogs are more difficult to photograph and often don’t stick out as well from the background, making them less appealing for Instagram and other social media.

Adopting a pet should never be done on impulse, but rather only after considering whether you have the time and financial ability to do so, for both the short and long term. Animals are not accessories; they are companions and family members and should be treated as such. Returning a pet is traumatic to the animal, as they can bond strongly with their owners. If your dog is older, returns can often mean relegating the animal to the shelter for the rest of its life, as senior dogs only have a 25% adoption rate. If your family adopted a pandemic pet and is now seeing their lifestyle get too busy, consider a pet sitter, dog walker, or doggy daycare before you think about returning. Returning your pet to the shelter needs to be the last resort, for the sake of the animal and the shelters as well.