A crisis has hit animal shelters and pet owners across the country, including those in Manatee County.
The number of pets being voluntarily surrendered by their owners is on the rise, and shelters, particularly those that are county-run, are overwhelmed.
According to Hans Wohlgfahrt, Manatee County Animal Service’s outreach and events specialist, MCAS currently houses 272 pets across its three locations – Palmetto Adoption Center, Cat Town Adoption Center and Bishop Animal Shelter. The shelter has taken in over 200 owner surrenders so far this year, a similar number to the first six months of 2021, but one marked by a sudden rise in recent months.
As a result, MCAS is “close to reaching critical capacity.”
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“We’re a government agency, so we’re mandated to take in strays,” Wohlgefahrt said. “And the strays that we’ve been getting every day are averaging right now about 20 pets per day…so it’s a huge increase.”
The source of the problem, however, is difficult to reduce to a single issue. According to Alana Ruszczyk, Shelter Manager at the Humane Society of Manatee County, a combination of the generally declining state of the economy – specifically rampant inflation – and a lack of attention to the responsibilities of pet ownership are contributing factors.
Inflation impacts all sectors, including pet ownership
In May, inflation reached 8.6%, the highest rate since December of 1981. Resulting increases in basic necessities such as gas, food and rent have priced many out of being able to care for a pet, whether it is food, vaccinations or a pet fee if they live in a rental property.
The Sarasota-Manatee area has also seen some of the largest increases in rent in the country.
Wohlgefahrt, although having only anecdotal evidence, agreed that housing concerns are a major factor. When the national moratorium on evictions was lifted last year, those who were evicted tended to simply leave their pets behind, according to Wohlgefahrt. Even those who keep their pets sometimes “show up at the shelter with their pets in the car, and they have said that they don’t have a place to stay that night.”
Since pets cannot advocate for themselves, Ruszczyk said that “animals are not being put to the forefront” when it comes to making tough financial decisions.
In response, MCAS has adopted a $15 adoption fee through June 30. Previously, the adoption fees for dogs, puppies and kittens were $50, while the fee for cats was $25.
Adoptions include spay/neuter, microchip and rabies certificate, which comes to a value of over $300.
Wohlgefahrt acknowledged that other pet expenses, such as flea prevention and veterinary visits, are still obstacles. I have emphasized, though, that pet owners are encouraged to come by to utilize MCAS’s resources, including their food pantry and connections to animal welfare nonprofits.
“We try to just act as a network and help these people in their sort of individual circumstances try to overcome it and keep their pet in their home for as long as they can,” he said.
Additionally, the Humane Society is also trying to plug some of the holes.
According to Ruszczyk, the shelter has a food pantry, which includes dog and cat food available to community members. This is so[pet owners] don’t have to feel like they have to surrender their animal because they can’t afford food.”
In addition to food, the shelter has beds, crates, litter and treats, which Ruszczyk emphasized are better used by pet owners instead of the shelter itself. All of the supplies are donation-based.
‘You are adopting it for the rest of your life’
When dealing with owner surrenders, Ruszyczyk said that oftentimes, the reason given is that owners simply do not have time to care for their pet anymore. That, in her eyes, she needs to change if current trends are to be reversed.
“There’s a fine line between needing to surrender your pet due to a change in living and lifestyle, and needing to surrender or return because you’ve just changed your mind, and you don’t want to deal with that animal anymore,” she said.
As for MCAS, Wohlgefahrt noted that the shelter’s current goal is to “give people resources about rehoming their own pet.”
“We’ve emphasized that you’re making a commitment to this pet. So, we try to really tell people how important it is to take this seriously, these animals depend on you, to consider all these factors before you decide to adopt a pet,” Wohlgefahrt added.