The pandemic has affected the world in ways no one could have imagined. Whether it’s changing the way we work or buying our groceries, we’ve all been forced to find new ways to meet basic needs, some positive and some negative. In the beginning, in the world of animal adoption, things were looking pretty good.
The extended “stay at home” orders left families bored and desperate to find something to do. Thus, in 2020, the “Pandemic Puppy” was born. For a few months, adoption and intake rates soared across the country. Dogs have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and that’s exactly what we all needed! Welcoming and adopting animals was a great choice for many families and gave their lives meaning. This continues to be a choice families make in 2021. In fact, this year our adoptions at Hearts Alive Village in Las Vegas are up 26% from 2020 rates.
Media across the country wrote about all of the pet adoptions in the summer of 2020. Then they just as quickly reported that once our society started to open up, the people were turning over these puppies en masse. We haven’t seen any of this at Hearts Alive Village, and research will show you other organizations across the country either. Most of the time, deciding to turn an animal over to a rescue or shelter is a devastating decision. Rarely is it a whimsical or inconvenience-motivated flight to return to work.
The abandonment is in place – but not for the reason you think
Our pet abandonment rates are four times what they were in 2020, but not because people lost interest in their new puppy or returned to work.
In 2017 and 2018, Las Vegas was named the worst metropolitan area in the United States for the availability of affordable rental housing for its poorest families. People can’t have pets if they don’t have affordable housing or if they can’t afford to look after an animal after the other bills are paid.
In Las Vegas, the largest industry providing jobs for our citizens is the leisure and hospitality industry – and it was the industry hardest hit during the pandemic. Nevada ranks second in the country for the largest job losses in this category with 20%. This has created even more people struggling to find affordable housing.
Animal restitution rates have increased due to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. To reduce the rates of animals entering the shelter system, we need to help those in need.
Support close-knit families
Access to veterinary care is a growing problem with millions of pets across the United States not receiving the treatment they need, and far too many of them enter shelter systems with devastating injuries and illnesses. Some pet parents can’t afford an office visit and diagnostic tests, while others are assessed for acute treatment that is far beyond their ability to pay.
Faced with astronomical veterinary bills and an inability to obtain credit, pet parents are faced with an impossible decision: let their pets suffer, hand them over to a shelter in the hope that they will receive treatment, or “economically euthanize”.
Although this is a nationwide problem, Las Vegas has approximately 371,000 families with pets at home and approximately 361,000 dogs reside in the Las Vegas Valley. With a poverty rate of over 30 percent and a growing homeless population, too many people are unable to budget for unforeseen veterinary expenses.
Just because pet owners are in financial difficulty and are considering surrendering doesn’t mean they don’t like their pets. Without resources, they are forced to make difficult decisions. Resources like low-cost pet food banks and veterinary hospitals are key to giving families a chance to stay together, giving them time to recover and use precious dollars. We can also reduce the number of returned pets by providing free pet food and veterinary care at low cost and / or subsidized. Hearts Alive Village created these resources, but we are often overwhelmed by the large number of people and animals in need.
Finding ways to wrap our arms around those who vacillate in our community is not only good for the welfare of the animals, but also for all Nevadans. The economic fallout from our tourism activity and the housing crisis show us what we need. Better human social support for the most vulnerable among us will ultimately help us control our population of homeless pets.
Christy Stevens has been a Las Vegas resident for 42 years and the founder and executive director of Hearts Alive Village. Previously, she spent over 26 years building and running a large format printing company, Pictographics, alongside her family.