Trying Times Call For The Comfort Of Pets — But Don’t Worry, Adopted Animals Aren’t Being Returned in Droves Like You Might Think They Are.

During the stir-craziness of the pandemic, many have turned to local animal shelters to find furry friends to make their quarantine lives a little less lonely.

As people have returned to work, rumors have swirled around that shelters are over-occupied from a record amount of pets being returned due to owners no longer having the time to care for them. But good news, that doesn’t seem to be the case in most shelters across the country.

And to gauge the situation in Dallas, we turn to organizations like Dallas Animal Services which released quarterly reports detailing adoption data. In the third quarter report, April to June of 2021, DAS saw the least amount of pet surrenders and euthanasias compared to the past four years. So really, it’s been a great year for Dallas pets.

In addition to the report, we chatted with Leah Backo, the public information coordinator for DAS, back in August to get further insight on how post-lockdown life has affected adoptions and what sort of support is available for pet owners.

What are some of the main reasons for pet surrenders — not just during the pandemic, but in general?

A little bit of everything. A pet not getting along with another pet in a home, people struggling financially and can no longer keep the pet, or moving. There are lots and lots of reasons. Even before the pandemic, we were sort of laying the groundwork to kind of look at all those reasons and figure out which of those that we could potentially help.

The quarterly reports include “the number of lives saved.”  What does that all encapsulate? 

It includes all positive outcomes for dogs and cats. That would include adoptions and RTO, which stands for return to owner. We take in a lot of stray and lost pets, especially lost dogs. So RTO is how many of those dogs that we can successfully get reunited with their owner. We do work with a lot of rescue partners within Dallas and beyond who pull dogs from us regularly, so if they get transferred to another facility, we consider that a positive outcome. We also have a Shelter, Neuter, Return program for cats. Through a couple of partner organizations, we work to bring in cats that are feral community cats, and then we’ll spay or neuter them and return them back to their community that they live in. It includes those numbers as well.

Of the surrenders that you have gotten this quarter, how many of those have been pandemic-related?

We ran the numbers of all the pets that were adopted during the pandemic, and of those returned, it was like 1%. Overall, our adoption return rate has gone down this year. [The pandemic] is definitely not something that we’re seeing the reasons for surrender. We do see some reasons like housing, but our intake form isn’t always as specific as, ‘was that related to COVID?’ I can definitely say that some of the reasons for surrender are definitely due to financial hardships, but with our programs and services, it’s something that we’re trying to help with long term.

There’s stories of shelters around the country getting an influx of pandemic-related returns, do you have any idea why Dallas would be an exception, if that’s the case?

Large municipal shelters, they’re not seeing adoption returns. I’m pretty sure that the news articles about the pandemic puppy stuff, most of them interviewed small organizations to get those numbers. We are in talks with organizations across the country, because we do know that there is going to be a housing crisis potentially, and we’re worried about when the eviction moratoriums end, what’s going to happen to those pets. So that is something that Dallas Animal Services and a number of other organizations throughout the country are talking about now and trying to prepare for.

What kind of pet owner support does DAS offer?

We are a resource center in addition to being a shelter, and we’re able to either directly provide support, or work with our community partners to provide that support.

We have a pet support helpline, which goes through the Spay Neuter Network, where people can call 311, and tell the operator that they’re looking to re-home their pet. It’s a case by case basis, but for things like, needing to get their pet vaccinated, Spay Neuter Network offers low-cost vaccines. If they need behavior support, Dallas Pets Alive offers them some behavior support. If they’re struggling to feed their pet, we would link them to our food pantry. [The pet support helpline] is kind of where they triage those calls and help.

We also have several services that help with RTO. We have a tech support line, where you text “lost” to a number, and it’ll send essentially everything that’s on our lost pet page on our website, but in an easier way to digest.

What are some things people should know before they adopt?

At Dallas Animal Services, we have a lot of pets, so it does help to know what they’re looking for. They can visit our website ahead of time and kind of pick out a handful that they want to see. That’s a great way for us to have a good starting point, and we can go from there if you want to actually meet them.

When you do decide to bring a pet home, allow for some time for them to adjust. It’s very stressful for the pet to go from a shelter environment to a home environment; new place, strange smells and new people. Just give them some time to adjust and kind of settle in and go slow.

I would also say don’t necessarily be steered away from any pets that might have health problems. We have heart worm positive dogs, but we cover treatment, free of charge. Some of those dogs are great dogs and they go on to live wonderful, happy, active, normal lives.

Are you a dog or cat person?

Oh God. Oh no. I love kitties. I really, really do, but I think I’m on team dog. And at DAS we have plenty of cats, but we overwhelmingly have more dogs, so hopefully you have more dog people!

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