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No, there is not a nationwide spike in animals surrendered to shelters in 2021

Adopting an animal during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic was very popular as stay-at-home orders left people feeling isolated.

More than 23 million American households acquired a pet since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

As lockdowns lifted and more people returned to work or resumed their social activities, some wondered what would happen to all of the “pandemic puppies” or “pandemic pets” that were adopted. 

VERIFY audience member Ama M. asked about the number of dogs returned. 

She asked: “In the pandemic ... everybody seems to have gotten a puppy. But I heard, right now, is the time when most people are trying to put their dogs up for adoption. Is that true?”

People on social media have also commented about cats and other animals adopted during the pandemic being returned.

THE QUESTION

Has there been a nationwide spike in animals being surrendered to shelters in 2021? 

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, there has not been a nationwide spike in animals surrendered to shelters in 2021. 

WHAT WE FOUND

VERIFY interviewed several national organizations that track shelter adoptions and found there has not been a significant increase in owners surrendering dogs or other animals to shelters this year, even after an increase in adoptions during 2020. 

According to a survey from the American Pet Products Association, 70% of households own some type of pet, up from 67% reported from 2019 to 2020. That equates to roughly 90.5 million households across the nation with pets. 

The ASPCA surveyed 5,020 Americans aged 18 and over and found 90% of households who acquired a dog or cat during the pandemic still have the dog, and 85% still have their cat. 

Credit: ASPCA

Stephanie Filer, the executive director for Shelter Animals Count (SAC), told VERIFY there has not been a significant increase in pets returned to shelters this year, compared to years past.

SAC is an organization that works with shelters across the country to track animals coming to and from shelters. The organization published its findings in a report that tracked data from 300 shelters, between January and June 2019, 2020 and 2021. The data tracks both dogs and cats.

“Despite a number of alarmist headlines, pet owners and adopters do not appear to be returning or surrendering animals en masse. 2021 saw only a 0.56% (less than 1%) increase in intake over 2020,” the report said. “From 2019 to 2021, we see nearly a 25% drop in intakes. ‘Owner surrenders’ — pets given up by their owners to animal shelters—are down 23% in 2021, from 2019.”

“While lower intake means fewer animals available to be adopted, the data shows a greater percentage of the animals who are in shelters are getting adopted. In 2019, 53% of shelter pets were adopted, and in 2021 that has increased to almost 58%,” the report said. In 2020, the adoption rate was also at 58%. 

Those “alarmist headlines” may have started because one organization saw a large number of animals returned, but that’s not the case nationally, Filer said. 

“That's not the case across the board, which is really to be celebrated, especially because these headlines can really make individuals look like the villains. And that's not the relationship animal shelters are interested in having with our communities. We want to be there to help keep pets in homes, we want to be there to support pet owners,” Filer said. 

“And when we have these adversarial headlines, it looks like shelters are accusing pet owners of doing something. And in this case, accusing them of doing something they're not. So that's why we really want to follow the data and what our organization really looks at -- data-driven statistics versus anecdotal evidence,” she added. 

Ilene Schreibman, communications manager for North Shore Animal League America, also told VERIFY in an email the organization has not seen an uptick in returns. 

“While there have been stories of this happening elsewhere, fortunately, North Shore Animal League America has not experienced an increase in animal surrenders as post-lockdown protocols have been lifted and life begins to return to ‘normal,’” she said. 

North Shore Animal League is the largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization in the world.

“Like many animal rescue organizations, North Shore Animal League America experienced an increase in people interested in fostering and/or adopting animals during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially last year as more and more people were in lockdown and began working from home,” Schreibman said. “Our team discovered a silver lining, witnessing older dogs and cats who may have previously been overlooked being adopted.  Once restrictions were lifted and rescues were able to begin, we continued to find loving, responsible homes for as many animals as we could place.” 

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