More pet owners giving up animals for adoption amid housing shortage

More pet owners giving up animals for adoption amid housing shortage

Opal, a 4-year-old mixed breed, prances in an outdoor pen at Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland while being watched by the shelter’s canine team lead Faith Paglierani. Opal was surrendered for lack of pet-friendly housing. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

More pet owners in Maine are giving up their animals for adoption, and animal shelters say the biggest reason is a lack of housing that allows pets.

Pet-friendly housing is especially challenging to find in the state’s tight apartment market, said Jeana Roth, suitable for the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. The Westbrook shelter, which doesn’t turn pets away, had taken in 510 surrenders this year as of the end of June, a 31 percent increase from the 390 surrenders during the first half of last year. Roth said the shelter gets around three or four surrendered pets every day.

Joanne Adams, vice president of a small rehabilitation house for cats in Bath called A Paw in the Door, said she’s been getting more calls from people who are losing their homes in the past few months.

“It’s hard enough to find an apartment or a house with the housing shortage as it is … let alone if you have a cat,” Adams said. She said she gets around 15 calls a week, which is three times more than she used to receive. The small shelter only has space for four cats at a time and puts those it can’t accommodate on a waitlist.

Pet owners who suddenly find themselves needing to move on short notice are left with limited options. Fewer people in Maine can afford to buy homes and nearly half of all Maine tenants are having difficulty paying rent. With increased prices and a shortage of available apartments, homelessness is also on the rise.

Another reason for increased surrenders is fallout from the pandemic. Pet shelters say that following the surge in pet adoptions during the pandemic, some owners are now realizing they don’t have the resources to continue to take care of the animals.

At the Animal Refuge League, the number of surrendered small animals – rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, gerbils, hamsters – has doubled since last year, Roth said. During the pandemic, she said, these had been the pets that many people chose to adopt.

“It takes a lot to care for small animals and critters, more than people probably realize at first,” Roth said. “Critters and small animals are generally acquired at farms or bars or pet stores. And I think during the pandemic, a lot of families, a lot of people wanted companionship with pets.”

People who’ve surrendered their pet often call the shelter to check in on how their pet is doing and if they’ve been adopted, Roth said.

“It’s hard … especially when an animal is much loved but the family can’t find a place to live with them,” said Roth. “Makes it hard for everyone involved.”

Jess Townsend, executive director of Midcoast Humane, which has locations in Brunswick and Edgecomb, said the shelter often gets visitors who have lost their jobs or have housing difficulties.

“We talk to people all the time on their absolute worst day,” Townsend said. “When … your option is to be homeless with your children or move to a place that doesn’t allow pets because that’s the only option, then you pick the option that allows you to house your kids.”

A DIFFICULT DECISION

The Animal Welfare Society, in Kennebunk, started seeing an uptick in pet surrenders this past month, taking in 62 surrendered animals as opposed to 46 last June, said Adam Ricci, director of operations and programs. Ricci said people who decide to surrender their pets are trying to make a decision that they feel is best for their pets.

“We’ve helped some individuals (whose) house was burned down, living in a hotel with vouchers with their pet, and then when the summer season hit … they got booted out, became homeless,” said Ricci. “These are the types of stories of the people that are reaching out to us for assistance. In this situation, we were able to provide boarding assistance … (and) medical care for this older dog.”

Opal, a 4-year-old mix-breed dog, plays with a toy in an outdoor pen at Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Some shelters are focusing on supporting families in hopes of preventing pet surrenders, providing programs such as low-cost spay and neuter and pet food pantries.

“I think the role of shelters in Maine is to support pets, and their people,” Roth said. “If a pet is well-loved, we want the pet to stay at their home.”

Roth said they haven’t had capacity or budget constraints – adoptions have been kept up, with 10 to 15 pets being placed with new owners each day. She said the shelter is fortunate to have a community that is willing to adopt.


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