PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – When rising inflation rates in 2022 made it challenging for families in the United States to afford basic needs like groceries, some families began making the difficult decision to rehome their pets. 

The Humane Society of Southwest Washington said it has seen an increase in the requests from families who need to rehome their pets, although the specific reasons for rehoming them aren’t always clear. 

According to the Humane Society of Southwest Washington’s 2022 data, 16% of the reasons for surrender were because an owner was moving; 14% were for behavior incompatibilities; 12% were due to housing and homelessness; 10% were due to the health of the owner; and 9% were due to financial reasons. 

Sam Ellingson, director of communications and marketing for the Humane Society of Southwest Washington stressed that this accounts for only a portion of the animals that were surrendered to the shelter. It does not include the requests from families trying to rehome their pet that the shelter couldn’t accommodate and it also doesn’t account for the 16% of surrenders from owners who don’t give a reason. 

FILE: Rescue dog. December 21, 2022 (Courtesy Humane Society of Southwest Washington).

“The best we can do is assume that there are going to be some families who are maybe not comfortable talking about why they are surrendering their pets. It may be the social stigma attached to feeling like a failed pet owner, right?” Ellingson said. 

He said so far, the reasons for surrendering pets in 2023 seem to break down similarly to those in 2022. 

By and large, Ellingson said “people needs” are what cause families to rehome their pet, whether that’s losing a job, a difficult family dynamic, medical needs, or difficulty paying for food and housing. 

That’s why the Humane Society of Southwest Washington doesn’t just try to support pets, but their owners as well. 

The shelter’s community services program offers low-cost spay and neuter options, pet food assistance, financial support for pets’ medical needs, emergency boarding, and end of life services.

Ellingson said there’s no longer an income requirement for people in need of pet food. Anyone can request it.  

One thing he wants pet owners to know is that the more information they can share with the shelter when they submit a request to rehome their pet the better. There’s always a chance the shelter could help them avoid giving up their dog or cat. 

“If a family comes in, if they’re struggling to provide food for their pet and they don’t want to say that they’re struggling to provide food for their pet, we can’t help meet their needs,” Ellingson said.

The Oregon Humane Society in Portland and Salem said according to its data, it has not seen an increase in animals being rehomed recently, but said it is a regular occurrence. People reach out to the shelter and ask to surrender their pets due to cost, illness or housing issues. 

The Oregon Humane Society’s Community Veterinary Hospital, which provides reduced-cost veterinary care, has seen a very high demand for its service, according to Laura Klink from the shelter’s communications team. 

Oregon Dog Rescue, a shelter in Tualatin, said they’ve seen a wide range of reasons for why people are re-homing their dogs. Lindsey Quinn, public relations coordinator for Oregon Dog Rescue, said the adoption rate also seems to be fluctuating unpredictably lately. 

“There just doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason lately that we can pinpoint,” she said. 

The Cat Adoption Team, which is based in Sherwood, said admissions numbers for 2023 are in line with those from 2022. 

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Heather Svoboda Cat Adoption Team (KOIN)

Both years have seen more cats come to the shelter than during 2020 or 2021, but Karen Green, executive director of the Cat Adoption Team, said levels aren’t back up to what they were during the pandemic. Currently, the Cat Adoption Team is not overcrowded and Green said they’ve seen good outcomes with the cats they place in homes. 

However, she said the situation is very different for shelters that handle dogs. 

“Many shelters and rescues have found themselves overwhelmed in 2022 and so far in 2023, especially with medium-sized and large dogs. These organizations are overcrowded, seeing more behavior and health decline of dogs in their care due to long length of stay, and struggling with more difficult decisions about dog outcomes,” Green wrote in a statement. 

Data from the Shelter Animals Count national database shows that the number of dogs nationally who were surrendered to shelters by their owners decreased 2% in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the first quarter of 2022. However, the number of dogs who arrived as strays increased 14%. 

In Oregon, from January through April 2023, the Shelter Animals Count data shows 3,421 dogs and cats were relinquished by their owners compared to 3,084 during the same time period in 2022, a nearly 11% increase. In 2023, 24 shelters have shared their data with the organization compared to 30 in 2022. 

Washington, on the other hand, has seen a 31% decrease in the number of pets relinquished in the first four months of 2023, according to the data.

Green points out that not all shelters report their data to the Shelter Animals Count, but said it’s the most complete and accurate source for shelter data nationally. 

One thing Green notes is that while dog admissions are still lower than they were pre-pandemic at shelters, there haven’t been as many dogs leaving shelters, which can at times cause overcrowding. 

As Ellingson said, the Humane Society of Southwest Washington can’t always accommodate pet rehoming requests, but the shelter will always try to provide families with options. If possible, he encourages pet owners to try to find new homes for their pets on their own. 

If they can’t find a new home on their own, then the humane society is there to help them.