ARL provides real data behind "pandemic pets" headlines

posted on Thursday, May 13, 2021 in News

Teriyaki WATNSome national news stories have been circulating recently claiming a trend in which animals who were adopted or purchased during the pandemic in record numbers are now being surrendered to animal shelters in record numbers as life is beginning to return to normal. While that may be the case for the couple of animal shelters who were interviewed for these articles, the data shows this is actually not the case for most shelters across the country, including the Animal Rescue League of Iowa.

According to Shelter Animals Count, an independent organization that collects data from animal rescue organizations across the United States, out of nearly 2,000 animal organizations who reported data on Covid-19 impacts, there were 23% fewer animals entering shelters overall in 2020 compared to 2019 (from all sources – strays, owner surrenders, impounds, etc.) and 23% fewer animals who were surrendered by their owners. Early 2021 data also appears to reflect similar results. (View the interactive report here.)

The Animal Rescue League of Iowa (ARL) is based in Des Moines, IA, and is the state’s largest animal welfare organization, taking in animals from 43 out of Iowa’s 99 counties in 2020 (over 10,000 animals). The ARL continues to see Covid-19 impacting the organization, animals, and the people who love them, but not in the ways that are currently being reported. Instead, the ARL reports:

  • Pets surrendered by their owners decreased 12% in 2020 compared to 2019, and 2021 surrenders through April are still 2% fewer than 2019

  • The top reason people were surrendering their pets to the ARL in 2020 was due to the health of the owner, but in 2021, the top reason is due to housing issues, which is primarily due to the lack of affordable pet-friendly housing and due to pet restrictions based on number, size, and breed of pets

  • The ARL saw a record number of adoptions in the first 3 months after the pandemic began, but those numbers leveled off to normal levels afterwards and those levels have sustained into 2021

  • We saw an increased need for Pet Food Pantry services throughout 2020 for families who were struggling to feed their pets, but that need has dramatically decreased in the past couple months

  • As people began to start a routine outside of the home again, there has been an increase in calls to our Pet Behavior Helplines and an increase in enrollment for our dog training classes, demonstrating that people are committed to their pets, even when presented with training challenges

  • Foster program enrollment increased in 2020 and continues to increase in 2021 as people who cannot make a lifetime commitment to a pet are electing to help on a temporary basis instead. For those who are able to work from home, there has been an increase in fosters for “bottle babies” (kittens or puppies who need to be bottle fed every 2-3 hours)

  • In 2020 the ARL Animal Services division, who provides animal control services for the city of Des Moines, reunited twice as many lost cats with their owners and 61% of lost dogs with their owners, compared to 2019

Overall, while the pandemic presented many challenges to animal shelters and pet owners alike, the trend is showing that now, more than ever, people love their pets and the Animal Rescue League of Iowa is continuing to expand our programs and services to help support the human-animal bond, as the need of our community continues to evolve.