Several animal rescue workers have told journalists they experienced a spike in returns at their local shelters. However, it was erroneous to frame those isolated experiences as part of a larger national trend.
In spring 2021, as more Americans got vaccinated against COVID-19 and returned to in-person gatherings, reports highlighted an alleged downside to the latest stage of the pandemic: People who had adopted pets during lockdowns to keep them company were supposedly regretting their decision.
"We were afraid of that when this first started,” a Florida animal rescue worker told the Tampa Bay Times.
Other news outlets attempted to ring an alarm on the supposed trend, as well. A BBC video that published on May 5 said rescue agencies across the U.S. were "struggling to keep up" with an influx of returns as more people's schedules returned to pre-pandemic busyness. That story package was titled, "What happened after the pandemic puppy boom" and featured the experience of one animal rescue based in Virginia.
Citing that rescue's perspective, as well as a leader of an animal rescue in Colorado who also reported a higher-than-normal rate of returns as COVID-19 restrictions lifted, a May 12 USA TODAY story also alleged in a headline:
"Everyone wanted a puppy when the pandemic began, but now those dogs are being returned."
But, ultimately, the claim was significantly over-stated.
While it was certainly possible individual animal rescue organizations in the U.S. documented a "surge of sent-back pets" in spring 2021 — and it was also simultaneously plausible that some, or a majority, of those returns were animals that had been adopted during the pandemic — there was no evidence of a nationwide problem, as of this writing.
"Despite alarmist headlines tied to regional reports of a surge in owner surrenders, this trend is not currently evident on a national level with many organizations simply seeing a return to pre-pandemic operations and intake," the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) said in a May 26 statement.
In other words, the New York City-based nonprofit said rescue groups were noticing a shift in return levels — not because new pet owners had a change of heart — but because COVID-19 restrictions had previously hindered rescue operations. For instance, rules on social distancing could have challenged volunteer groups from canvassing neighborhoods for stray dogs, or limited shelters' hours of operation.
According to monthly reports from PetPoint, a website that aggregates data from more than 1,100 animal welfare organizations in the U.S., yes, shelters were experiencing an increase in pets getting dropped off in spring 2021, but the rate appeared to be returning to pre-pandemic levels, according to The New York Times.
“We will be watching this closely over the next several months,” Michael San Filippo, a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association, told the news outlet. “Certainly we’ve been aware of this as a possibility since we began hearing about more people bringing pets home during the pandemic. But so far we haven’t seen any evidence of a corresponding increase in surrenders.”
Furthermore, the ASPCA's statement highlighted findings of a roughly 5,000-household survey that showed 90% of dog owners and 85% of cat owners who adopted in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak still had the pets in their homes.
The organization's CEO, Matt Bershadker, said in another article on its website:
"[No] — large numbers of people are not returning the pets they fostered and adopted. Instead, they are benefitting from the compassionate actions they took during the darkest moments of the pandemic, and joyfully doubling down on those commitments."
In sum, we rate this claim "False."