Companion animals were all the rage during the COVID-19 pandemic, but shelters say they’re now observing a different trend as animals are surrendered by owners who can no longer afford to house or care for them.
“The primary reasons that we’re seeing people surrender animals currently is that they are moving or having landlord issues,” Monica Schmidt, assistant director of OC Animal Care told The Epoch Times.
“Most typically, it’s because they’re moving and cannot take their pets to the new property, where they might be downsizing because of financial reasons, or can’t afford the pet deposit, or perhaps they’re moving in with a relative and the relative will not allow the pet in the home.”
Schmidt said at least one-third of their owner relinquishment requests at intake are from people with housing issues, and that the uptick is indicative of the underlying issues people are struggling with as they try to recover and stabilize from the pandemic lockdowns.
With inflation steadily rising, the cost of feeding household pets has left some facing tough choices when it comes to being able to take care of their four-legged family members.
To help mitigate the strain of buying pet food and other supplies, OC Animal Care has been lending a “helping paw” since June 2020, providing pet food at no cost through its Family Fur-st Drive Thru Pet Pantry, held the second Saturday of each month. The pantry provides both food and other important animal-related resources to any pet owner in need.
“When people are looking to make ends meet, if having to decide between feeding their children or feeding their pets, it’s tough, and there are people facing these struggles every single day,” Schmidt said.
She pointed out that beloved pets are important members of families, whether large or small, and help to reduce stress, anxiety, and loneliness, providing crucial companionship during challenging times.
“If we’re able to help provide and alleviate some of that financial burden that enables a family to keep their pets in the home, it’s less stress on them as well as the pet,” she said. “That’s a win-win for everyone.”
Schmidt said that while dog and cat food is typically the main request, the center is also able to help other domesticated animals.
“We can provide food and hay for rabbits or guinea pigs, and hamsters, and we get requests for bird food as well,” Schmidt said. “We’ve had folks come through the line with an African Grey parrot, and the next person might have two cats, the next person two big dogs and a cat.”
While OC Animal Care serves the unincorporated areas of the county and contracts with 14 cities that don’t have dedicated animal control services, Schmidt says that everyone in need is welcome to utilize the pet pantry.
“We don’t limit our pet food pantry to the areas and cities we serve; everyone is welcome who needs help feeding their pets,” Schmidt said.
To date, the pantry has distributed over 72,500 pounds of food, helping to feed more than 6,000 pets around the county.
The next pet food drive will be held Aug. 14 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at OC Animal Care, 1630 Victory Road in Tustin.
For pet lovers who would like to help, an Amazon Wish List has been established to facilitate convenient donations.
The wish list has turned out to be one of the pandemic blessings in disguise, alleviating the necessity of donors having to haul 50-pound bags of dog food or cases of kitty litter to the facility.
“During the pandemic, the pet pantry wish list has been very successful, and people seem to really enjoy being able to help in a safe, contained, convenient way,” said Schmidt. “We wouldn’t be able to continue to help people and their pets in this way without them.”