Pets handed over to Erie shelters as childcare costs rise

Pet adoptions skyrocketed in the early months of the pandemic when adults and students working remotely were at home training, acclimating and enjoying a new dog or cat.

People are still adopting pets, but pets are also being turned over to shelters as people return to work and face rising prices for everything from pet food to gasoline.

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“The reasons we hear are that people don’t have time for a pet, can’t afford one, or need to find a second job,” said Ruth Thompson, Founder and CEO of ANNA Shelter.

The shelter, located at 1555 E. 10th St. in Erie, receives 15 to 20 calls a day from owners requesting the release of their pets, Thompson said, and welcomes about 40 animals each week.

Rising costs are driving most dropouts, said Nicole Leone, executive director of the Erie Humane Society at 2433 Zimmerly Road. The shelter has taken in 130 animals since January, an increase of 15%, Leone said.

“From what we see, it’s not because people have gone back to work in the office, but because they are having economic difficulties,” Leone said. “We’ve had a huge influx of pets from people who say they can’t afford vet care and pet food and even struggle to afford food for themselves- same.”

Erie Humane Society staff member Emily McCullor plays with Fiji, a rescue dog who wanted some fresh air, at the Millcreek Township facility on July 28.

Recent surrenders included a Cane Corso weighing just 57 pounds.

“It’s very, very thin for this kind of dog,” Leone said. “The family couldn’t afford to take care of it.”

Rising costs fuel ‘tough choices’

Retail pet food prices have risen 5.4% since December 2019, according to Pet Age tracking, a pet industry magazine.

Rising costs have also increased the prices of veterinary care. Glenwood Pet Hospital in Millcreek emailed customers in June saying it had delayed raising prices for several months but could no longer absorb all the increased costs.

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“As we are sure you know, the market is constantly changing and these changes have resulted in price increases in the cost of goods, personnel and maintaining the high quality care we provide to our patients,” said Glenwood in email. “The endless wave of inflation has also hit us, forcing us to raise our prices.”

The rising cost of pet care did not happen in a vacuum. Pet owners, like others, pay more for just about everything, including groceries and gas.

Prices for food at home, or groceries, rose more than 12% in the 12 months to June, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is the largest 12-month increase since April 1979.

Gasoline prices rose nearly 60%, the biggest 12-month increase since March 1980.

“Unfortunately, we hear that with inflation so high, families have to make tough choices,” said Leone, of the Humane Society.

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Erie Humane Society staff member Emily McCullor plays with Fiji, a rescue dog who wanted some fresh air, at the Millcreek Township facility on July 28.

Animal shelter costs are also rising

Shelters continue to accept pets that their owners cannot keep and face higher costs to care for them.

“The cost of the (food) we usually buy has gone up by at least 5%,” Leone said. “For a small nonprofit, that’s a lot.”

Utilities and drug costs are also on the rise.

“The biggest expense we have is medication, for everything from upper respiratory infections to skin infections to foreign surgeries,” said Thompson, of the ANNA shelter. “It’s so expensive, and with the quantities we have to buy, it’s difficult.”

Shelters have also sometimes struggled to obtain certain foods due to supply chain disruptions, said Megan Duckett, executive director of Because You Care in McKean Township.

“Canned food was hard to come by for a while when there was a shortage,” Duckett said. “It was hard, especially for our kittens.”

Supporters are helping the three shelters by donating pet food despite rising costs.

“We are blessed with the support of the community and the food that the community provides,” Thompson said.

And while pet abandonments have increased, so has community support, Duckett said.

“People have been so generous,” she said. “We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people donating supplies this year.”

Helping Owners Find Alternatives to Abandoning Pets

Shelters work with owners who are considering returning a pet to help them find cheaper food and care, including care at shelter-run clinics and wellness centers. Shelters have even made donations or found donors to provide pet food to families in need.

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“(Erie Humane Society) is here to be a resource and work with families to keep their pets in their homes,” Leone said.

“If the time they can spend with a pet is the issue, we try to suggest dog daycare and other things they can do to keep their pet together,” Thompson said.

Owners who can’t keep their pets are doing the right thing by abandoning them to a shelter that will care for them until they find new homes, shelter directors said.

“If someone has absolutely no way of keeping their pet, we will always find a way to bring them here or to a foster home,” Leone said.

Shelters continue to accept pets

The ANNA shelter and Because You Care also continue to accept abandoned and stray animals.

“We’re going to manage and get by one way or another,” Duckett said. “We always do.”

“I’m a one day girl, one animal at a time,” Thompson said. The ANNA shelter houses an average of 70 dogs and 130 cats at a time. “We say, ‘Let’s make it happen,’ and it does.”

And despite the economy, people are still adopting pets, including older cats and dogs, Duckett said.

“A lot of people are specifically looking for older pets to adopt to give them good last years of life.”

Contact Valerie Myers at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ETNmyers.

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