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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

Pet adoptions are up, so are returns

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

We’ve all done whatever was necessary to feel comfort and joy during this pandemic. Though the news is mostly good now, and about half the country has had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, hope wasn’t always in the air. This time last year, with most everyone on lockdown, Americans were finding new ways to connect.

One of the more widely publicized avenues of comfort was a booming pet adoption industry. Shelter Animals Count, which runs a database of 500 rescue organizations tracking shelter and rescue activity, reported there were about 26,000 more pet adoptions in 2020 than in the year 2019. But now that kids are heading back to in-person school and many adults are back in their offices, those same shelters and rescues are seeing the flipside of this phenomenon.

“We have seen an increase in surrenders,” said Ashlee Sprague, head of marketing and public relations at Priceless Pets, a nonprofit pet rescue with an adoption center in Claremont. “It seems as though it’s across the board. People lost their homes due to COVID, or they’re selling, or they’re just moving and they don’t want to bring their pets. We’ve seen a lot of that.” Sadly, the pets that seem to be given up most frequently have been full-grown dogs.

Priceless Pets is now averaging about 200 adult dog surrenders per month, up from the pre-pandemic range of 100 to 150. “It’s dogs with behavior issues, or just people who have been home with their pet and have been trying to work on the behavior issues and now they’re going back to work and they just don’t want to deal with it anymore,” Ms. Sprague said.

The good news is Priceless Pets is a rescue, not a shelter. They take in as many owner surrenders as they can. An army of some 500 volunteers foster sick and very young pets, nurturing them until they’re ready for adoption. They don’t give up on any pet until it finds its “forever home.” “Usually when they’re finally reaching out to a rescue to take their pet they’ve exhausted all other options with friends or family,” Ms. Sprague said. “We are kind of their last resort. So we know with those pets, their next step is the shelter, and we want to try and prevent that, because the shelters are very stressful, especially if it’s a kill shelter; if that pet behaves bad in any way that could reflect negatively on them, and that could end badly.”

People have always surrendered their pets, for myriad reasons. “It’s really everything from ‘I want to focus on my kids more,’ to ‘I’m having a baby, it’s too stressful, I’m going back to work, I lost my house due to COVID.” The most common complaint Priceless Pets receives now is that owners simply not cannot afford to keep a pet. “I feel like during the pandemic we have seen that a lot more than we have over the past three to five years,” Ms. Sprague said. “We haven’t usually seen in the past that it’s a financial issue.”

When someone makes an online request to surrender an animal to Priceless Pets, they receive an automated response offering solutions, such as help with training, technical assistance, discounts at its Chino Hills veterinary clinic, and options to surrender. “We try and offer those first, but if it ends up being surrendered, we of course take the animal on a case-by-case basis if we have the space and availability,” Ms. Sprague said. Priceless Pets’ three adoption centers, in Claremont, Chino Hills and Costa Mesa, can house 30 dogs each. “We try to take in as many as we can. It’s just dependent on space and kennel availability.”

The job, Ms. Sprague says, is both heartbreaking and life-affirming. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and it is very sad. But we try and look at the silver lining that we are a resource for them. There’s nothing better than being able to provide that family with the closure of knowing their pet went to a good forever home, and not to worry about it being euthanized or something happening to it in the shelter. “It is nice to be able to provide that resource and service to the community, and to be able to tell them, ‘Nothing will happen to your pet. It will stay with us until it finds a forever home.’ That is really rewarding to know that you are saving the life of that pet,” she said.

Among the most difficult parts of the job is watching a pet react as its family walks away. “That’s the most heartbreaking thing, when the family puts them in a kennel and the dog has to watch them walk out the front door and never return,” Ms. Sprague said. On the other hand, these previously unlucky animals really hit the jackpot. New adult dogs are pampered with particular care at Priceless Pets, with volunteers cooking fresh chicken and rice for them for their first few days at the rescue.

“It’s the best case scenario,” Ms. Sprague said. “In our adoption centers we have volunteers that change the bedding every single day. They’re lying on comforters. I walked in the other day and a new dog had a Tempur-Pedic bed one of the volunteers had bought for her because she felt bad that she had that at her old home. “Our volunteers truly have the biggest hearts, as well as our staff. We truly love animals.

It’s not just a job to us. We’re not just shuffling animals around just for adoption numbers. We truly love them while they’re waiting for their forever homes. So, that’s really rewarding,” she said. To donate to Priceless Pets, go to www.pricelesspetrescue.org. Its three adoption centers are also always in need of supplies such as laundry detergent, bleach, dish soap, paper towels, and of course, puppy, dog, kitten and cat food.

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