No, "Pandemic Pups" Aren't Being Returned to Shelters at High Rates

What happens to these “pandemic pets” when people return to work and no longer have the time or resources to care for them? If we are to believe recent headlines in the media, people are heartlessly dumping their “pandemic puppies” in shelters. USA Today published an article earlier this month, “Everyone wanted a puppy when the pandemic began, but now those dogs are being returned.” But are these headlines accurate?

No, "Pandemic Pups" Aren't Being Returned to Shelters at High Rates

“Pandemic Puppy”: Dog brought home during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

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If anything, the COVID has shown us that people in quarantine and working from home want the company of pets. Foster Dogs Inc.’s rates of foster applicants to our Foster Roster database skyrocketed from 140 people per month in March 2019, to 3,000 people in March 2020; and for extra context, our February applicant numbers no different than those in 2019. On average our March and April numbers went up 17x our usual foster application rates. The New York Times reported in April 2020 about our statistics, and ABC News and The Associated Press published an article that same month, “‘Shelter dogs are really winning in this entire coronavirus experience,’ [Sarah Brasky, founder of Foster Dogs] said. ‘It’s a strange phenomenon because there was always interest in fostering and rescue but now it is exploding.’”

People were ready and willing to foster a shelter dog.

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2020 saw record numbers of pet adoptions and foster rates from shelters, as well as breeder purchases, as people across the country sought the companionship of furry friends of all shapes and sizes while working from home and/or quarantining. 

As Susanne Kogut, President of Petco Love (formerly Petco Foundation), describes in her recent article, “Don’t believe the hype about pandemic puppies being returned”:

These pet parents shared almost every moment of the day with these pets, bonding and experiencing their unconditional love like never before. We collectively rejoiced in the stories of pets helping people cope with the anxiety and stress of the pandemic; their love providing some much-needed joy during this time.

What happens to these pets when people return to work and no longer have the time or resources to care for them? If we are to believe recent headlines in the media, people are heartlessly dumping their “pandemic puppies” in shelters. USA Today published an article earlier this month, “Everyone wanted a puppy when the pandemic began, but now those dogs are being returned.”

But are these headlines accurate? Are shelters at risked of being overwhelmed with abandoned pets? The New York Times published an article last week, responding to the sensationalist headlines about returning dogs previously welcomed in the “pandemic puppy boom.” Says Michael Levenson for the Times, “Monthly reports from PetPoint, a website that aggregates data from more than 1,100 animal welfare organizations in the United States, suggest that while shelters have experienced an increase in pets coming in, their numbers are merely returning to the levels reported before the pandemic.”

According to Kogut, this supposed crisis is simply not real, and it is not supported by national shelter data. 

Kogut writes:

It is assumed that these pet parents are not aware of or will not expend resources to send their pups to doggy daycare, hire dog walkers and dog trainers, or even advocate for pets at work programs, like so many other pet parents have done in the past. Does this sound like a reasonable conclusion? No, and we haven’t witnessed that trend at shelters . 

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The ASPCA conducted a national survey on COVID-era pet retention rates, with over 5,000 respondents, stating that “Close to one in five households acquired a cat or dog since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. […] Out of the households who acquired a dog or cat during the pandemic, 90% of dogs and 84% of cats are still in their homes.” Adopters are preparing for their return to work, with some dogs facing behavioral challenges such as separation anxiety after being together 24/7 from the get-go. Despite these worries by a number of pet parents, "87% of respondents are not considering rehoming their pet in the near future.”

Pet homelessness will continue to be an issue long after life returns to “normal,” so our work isn’t done. Animals still need homes. Learn more on our Resources about how to get started.

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Read Susanne Kogut’s article in full, on LinkedIn..

Photos by Marshall Boprey, Sarah Brasky, and Gayathri Gopalan