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Are pandemic pets now being returned to animal shelters? In Richmond, our data says “no”

Posted on Tuesday, April 13, 2021

About a week ago, a television station in Northern Virginia aired a report titled, “Why adopted dogs are being returned to animal shelters during the pandemic.” While the story never directly says that shelters are experiencing higher numbers of returns as a result of Covid-19, the inference is certainly made, so it inspired a local station to reach out to us. The editor was curious to know if, like Alexandria, Richmond was seeing more returns of adopted pets during the pandemic.

At the Richmond SPCA, we are not seeing an increased number of adopted pets being returned to our humane center. And after watching the news story out of Alexandria, it is not clear to us that returns have multiplied there either since the report shares no quantifiable data and relies instead on limited anecdotal support.

Not only have our returns not increased over the past 12 or so months—they have actually decreased by 2 percent when comparing the pandemic period of April 1, 2020-March 31, 2021 to the pre-pandemic period of April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020. Our friends at Richmond Animal League also report a decline in the percent of adopted pets returned to them.

This good news is not surprising for at least two significant reasons. First, we have heard from our adopters that the extra time spent at home over the past year has led to forming stronger bonds with their animal companions – whether those pets joined their families during the pandemic or were already in their homes. A strong bond is the most important factor in whether a placement will be permanent as it indicates that the adopter will be more likely to seek solutions to keep the pet if any behavior issues or lifestyle changes arise.

The second reason we have seen a decline in returns over the last year is our investment in proactive programs designed to keep pets in homes and out of shelters. During the pandemic, we have witnessed our community increasingly turn to these indispensable services. Our free Behavior Helpline, which provides training support and resources, has responded to more calls and emails. Our Pet Pantry has filled a growing number of requests for free temporary dog and cat food assistance. Our Susan M. Markel Veterinary Hospital has waived more fees for services than ever before. And our Behavior and Training team recognized that as people are vaccinated and returning to work and school, there is going to be a shift in time spent at home. We offered a free virtual workshop in March and have another one coming up on April 19: Avoiding Pet Problems in the “New Normal”.

Since COVID-19 first started impacting our region a year ago, demand for pet adoption has remained high, and we have found this interest very encouraging. The Richmond SPCA will keep doing everything we can to make lasting matches between homeless pets and the people who will love them for a lifetime while also providing essential support and resources to ensure lasting placements. We are deeply grateful to our community for helping us do this important work and for taking care of pets and people in their times of need. 


Tamsen Kingry and Maggie (dog)
Tamsen and Maggie

As the CEO of the Richmond SPCA, Tamsen oversees the development of our organization’s short- and long-term strategies to achieve maximum lifesaving and fulfill with integrity the Richmond SPCA’s mission.

When she’s not busy working alongside our talented and dedicated staff, Board and volunteers, Tamsen enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter, as well as their two cats and a dog—all of whom they adopted from the Richmond SPCA.

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