Pandemic pets are being returned to shelters at alarming rates — or are they?

Yogi, young dog being cared for at AHS

In 2020, amid stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, adoption rates across the U.S. soared as many Americans found comfort in bringing home new four-legged companions.

Now, local and national headlines indicate that adoption returns have increased dramatically as COVID-19 restrictions have loosened and new pet parents return to work and their normal routines. However, it’s a trend that doesn’t ring true for many animal welfare organizations, including Animal Humane Society.

That’s not to say AHS remained unscathed by the impacts of COVID-19.

Our day-to-day operations were hugely affected by the pandemic. In March, our adoption centers closed to the public, and today adoptions are still by appointment only. In addition, we’ve had to completely reimagine how we offer services in our veterinary centers, training classes, and education programs. We’ve introduced curbside pick-up for all vet center appointments and launched dozens of virtual options for our training and education participants.

Happy puppy

AHS adoption return rates remain steady with previous years

The number of changes we’ve endured as a result of COVID-19 seem endless, however, a rise in adoption returns isn’t one of them.

At AHS, there’s no evidence that suggests pets adopted in 2020 are being returned at a higher rate. In a typical year, our adoption return rates average about 8-10% of all adoptions. So far this year, that figure has remained steady — even as restrictions have been lifted and our lives begin to look more like our pre-pandemic normal.

In fact, the total number of animals surrendered to AHS in 2021 is less than what we’ve seen in previous years. Prior to COVID-19, we took in around 550 surrendered animals per month. In 2021, that monthly average is 480. Review our month-to-month intake and outcome statistics for 2021 (updated through July).

This reported trend is not evident on a national level either

The ASPCA recently conducted a survey, and results show that "despite alarmist headlines tied to regional reports of a surge in owner surrenders, this trend is not currently evident on a national level." Learn more about the ASPCA poll and its findings.

Post-adoption support services

One possible explanation for this decline is the post-adoption support services AHS offers and continues to expand upon, including:

For now, it seems that pandemic pets are just as safe and loved as any other pet adopted before our worlds were turned upside-down by COVID-19. As we move forward, we’re paying close attention to the needs of our community, and actively working to support pet parents, preventing surrenders before they happen. Because whether you’ve had your beloved dog, cat, or critter for 10 months or 10 years, we know pets are family.

For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

Contact the Pet Helpline