Stalling pet adoption rates create issues at rescues across Ontario

Stalling pet adoption rates create issues at rescues across Ontario
HALDIMAND—Baron was found tied to a fence in Texas and is described as “wonderful with all people.” Last year this pure-bred Akita would have had many families vying for him, but falling adoption rates meant he spent seven months in boarding with little interest, only recently being taken into a foster-to-adopt home. —Photo from R.E.B.E.L Dog Rescue.

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

HALDIMAND—One of the popular trends during the early days of the pandemic was to adopt a pet. With families housebound due to lockdowns, it seemed a perfect solution to fighting off the COVID blues. However, two years later, that surge in adoptions has slowed significantly while pet returns have risen, with Toronto Animal Service reporting a 75% increase in surrendered pets at GTA shelters and rescues compared to the first half of 2022. 

We reached out to the Niagara SPCA, who handles animal control and shelter services for Haldimand County, as well as two dog rescues, R.E.B.E.L Dog Rescue and Full Circle Rescue, both of whom offer adoption services to residents around southern Ontario, including Haldimand County.

“Before the pandemic, there was a steady incline in people wanting to go the adoption route. The desire to adopt in order to help reduce the number of abandoned and euthanized pets from shelters has been steadily on the rise for quite a few years. Lately, the adoption rates and interest in adding a canine family member is at an all-time low,” said Leah Picone, Cofounder of R.E.B.E.L Dog Rescue, who did note however that summer is traditionally a low point in the year for adoption rates.

Luckily, Niagara SPCA is faring above the provincial average when it comes to stability: “Our interest in adoptable pets has remained pretty consistent over the last three years. We did see a small uptick during the pandemic for 2020 but we continued to screen well for potential adopters,” said John Greer, Executive Director, Niagara SPCA and Humane Society.

Amber Drake of Full Circle Rescue said that while the initial surge in COVID-related adoption caught her rescue off guard, she had a feeling at the time that many of those animals might be headed back to a shelter once the lockdown ended: “Adoption rates have definitely changed since the early days of COVID. Perfect, friendly, family-oriented dogs are sitting in foster homes waiting. Applications are now just trickling in for most places.”

R.E.B.E.L was founded in February 2020, less than a month before the first lockdown took place. Picone said that during that first year they received an incredible community response, successfully saving and adopting out more than 300 dogs. That eagerness from the public has seemingly evaporated recently.

“We are barely getting interest in beautiful and healthy eight-week-old puppies. Whereas in the past, it would be hard to narrow down our top applicants,” said Picone.

Over at Niagara SPCA, Greer is taking the lower rates in stride, “Currently our adoption numbers are low, but that is more consistent with our numbers before the pandemic.” 

However, for both Full Circle and R.E.B.E.L, the nosedive in interest has led to a series of problems.

“We have had to close intake and cease transport twice since December. Foster homes are hard to come by, which means dogs are having to be placed in boarding. This is exceptionally costly, and not particularly conducive for the animal,” said Picone, noting that the decision to close intake was so that the animals under their care would not be forgotten as they sit in boarding facilities awaiting a forever home.

Drake laid out some of the reasons she has heard pets are being returned: “Some reasons are ‘not enough time/going back to work’, others have been very truthful and admit that they thought it would be easier and less of a responsibility. Some surrender requests are for financial reasons, moving, or lifestyle changes. Some situations cannot be avoided and are not what owners want, but they have no other choice. As with everything, we listen and work with the owners and try to facilitate the best choice for them and their pet.”

Niagara SPCA, which has three facilities to house animals, is sitting at about 80% capacity currently, with Greer noting that their records show a return rate of roughly 6%: “I believe part of the large return of animals some are experiencing is the rising cost of everything, such as pet food, etc. People are struggling financially.”

Niagara SPCA currently offers door drop service for pet essentials, including food and litter, through their Community Engagement Team, a practice Greer says is at least partly responsible for their lower return rates.

While SPCA locations are funded largely by donors and the local government, rescues like R.E.B.E.L and Full Circle rely on fundraising, donations, and adoption fees to fund operations.

“With dogs not being adopted, we simply run out of funding to continue to save more dogs,” said Picone.

“There is an increase in stray pets, because people are essentially dumping their animals because they don’t want to wait for intakes to reopen,” added Drake. “Money is becoming tight for many people. Not only does that translate to them not being able to adopt a dog, but it also means that some people who have adopted, are having to make very hard decisions.”

“I know some shelters are struggling with staffing issues which greatly impact services,” said Greer. “We are lucky to have retained 95% of our staff who have many years of service between them and are very dedicated to the care of animals in our care. As for overcrowding we are quite active in getting out in the community with our adoptable animals,” noting a recent ‘kitten shower’ held by the SPCA, which saw 40 kittens adopted out.

Picone said part of the problem is public ignorance, “A lot of people are just ignorant to what is going on in terms of euthanasia, overpopulation, and the shockingly high number of animals that need rescuing. The more people we can educate, the more animals we can save. A lot of people don’t know that you can rescue any kind of dog, including pure-breds and puppies.”

Drake said that combatting the issue starts with doing your homework before an adoption: “Research your local rescues – see what they offer, how they operate, what their mission is, do they resonate with you? Volunteering, fostering, donating supplies, monetary donations – these all go a long way to assisting rescues. Sharing social media posts from rescues is a big help. Sometimes all it takes is a lot of sharing for that deserving pet to finally find their perfect person. Ask questions of your local rescues. Most rescues are 100% volunteer-run. No one gets paid in any way to run them. They have families, jobs, pets, and still put in hours upon hours of work to make sure that the dogs find their forever home.”

For more information on our local SPCA, visit niagaraspca.com. To find out more about R.E.B.E.L and Full Circle, visit rebeldogrescue.com and fullcirclerescue.com.