“If you add evictions on top of that, it will quickly become an emergency,” said Kristen Hassen, director of American Pets Alive. Her organization is an advocacy group that works to stop pets from being killed in shelters.
A 2014 Apartments.com survey of more than 3,000 renters found that more than 70 percent owned pets, with dogs and cats making up the majority. Although the reverberations of the eviction moratorium’s end won’t be clear for months, shelters across the nation are bracing for an inundation of pets.
Human Animal Support Services, a project of American Pets Alive, created a way to calculate the number of pets that could be affected by eviction in each county.
If the anticipated influx arrives and the shelters are still full, some will have no choice but to euthanize healthy animals, advocates say.
Although the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) said an increase in owner surrenders is not “evident as a national trend,” shelters across many states are sharing a consistent message: The kennels are packed, and people should consider adopting or fostering an animal.
Pet owners who don’t have stable housing are often faced with a difficult choice, advocates say, because most emergency shelters do not allow animals.
Kitty Block, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said helping pets after evictions is not a matter of focusing on animals over people — it’s about keeping families together.
“The happiness and humanity of people is inextricably linked with their animals,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium ends Oct. 3 and, following a brief lapse, applies only to counties experiencing “substantial or high levels of community spread.” As of Aug. 1, the CDC estimated the new stipulations would protect renters in more than 80 percent of counties, meaning evictions have already begun in some areas.
Hassen said many shelters have seen an increase in pets being surrendered for housing-related reasons. Although owners may not have been through a formal eviction process, she said, people who are behind on rent are preemptively giving up their animals.
“We have more pet owners being vulnerable to losing their pets than ever before in my lifetime,” Hassen said.
Alisha Vianello, program director of foster-based rescue Gateway Pet Guardians in Illinois, said her organization’s pet intake is up about 70 percent from this time last year. She suspects that much of the increase is because so few strays were spayed and neutered last summer, leading to a population boom.
Kerry D’Amato, executive director of Minnesota foster-based rescue Pet Haven, said the state has been overwhelmed by a spike in surrenders — in which an animal is brought to a shelter — and dumped animals, which are left somewhere else and recovered. She said the number of animals found in carriers in parks, tied up to trees or left outside businesses has at least doubled this summer.
“Once [the moratorium] is lifted, I think we’re going to have real trouble,” she said.
Although national organizations have said they haven’t seen a deluge of pet returns, D’Amato said that is what’s happening in parts of Minnesota. As owners notice behavioral issues in their animals, which may have been caused by improper socialization, she said, some decide it’s too much to handle.
When shelters reach capacity, D’Amato said, pet owners are left without good options. She said she’s known people who have chosen to live in their cars to keep a pet until the weather got too frigid to continue. Others might release their animals on farms or in other open spaces.
“People get backed up against a wall and they’re desperate, and they hope that someone will help their pet,” she said.
D’Amato and Hassen said that as shelters run out of kennels, organizations may euthanize healthy animals to make space.
“We have come so far in animal welfare history of reducing needless euthanasia, but if we don’t all step in and be part of the solution, we could easily slip back into euthanasia of healthy and adoptable pets,” Hassen said.
Pet-fostering programs across the nation are asking people to apply to foster and help keep animals out of shelters.
People often think they can’t foster a pet because they have a full-time job, Vianello said, but that’s not true.
“The options are either they can stay in a kennel at a shelter for 24 hours a day, or they can stay in a kennel at your house for 10 hours while you’re at work,” she said.
Hassen said safety-net foster programs, which can help people in crisis who need somewhere for their pets to stay while they sort out housing, are popping up in the United States. The Humane Society created its Eviction Response Toolkit to give animal welfare groups ideas for how to help families being split up by evictions.
The ASPCA has deemed this week National Animal Foster Appreciation Week and “will be recognizing all those who have opened their hearts and homes to an animal in need,” Matt Bershadker, the ASPCA’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.
Fostering doesn’t have to happen through a formal system, D’Amato said. People who want to help can watch Facebook groups or messages on community boards from struggling pet owners in their neighborhoods and offer to help.
“In this moment, we have to turn the entire community into the animal shelter,” Hassen said. “But that’s going to mean we need so many more regular people to get involved in protecting cats and dogs in our community.”
D’Amato said the response to shelters’ calls for help at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic was incredible.
“Well, we need it again now,” she said. “And we need people — probably more than ever.”