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Pet surrenders increase as inflation ups the price of ownership

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

You might not see where inflation affects pets. According to Shelter Count, a national organization that collects data on animal shelters, thousands of people are surrendering their pets. At one shelter in northern Indiana, this is partly due to increased housing costs.

Jessica Petalas is shelter director at Humane Indiana in Munster and joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

JESSICA PETALAS: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Are there a lot of pets being - I guess the term is - surrendered at your shelter these days?

PETALAS: Yeah, we have seen a huge influx of owner surrender requests. I'd say in the last eight years, this is the most I've ever seen. It's at least doubled, and sometimes it's triple the amount that we're normally used to. A lot of people, the cost of housing has put them in a position where they have to move in with family or friends, and they can't take their animals with them. We do have some people that are still feeling some of the effects from COVID and being out of work, and they've been evicted. And there's really a lack of pet-friendly housing available in our area.

SIMON: So you can help people who find it hard to afford the cost of kibble, but you can't help them with housing, right?

PETALAS: Right. We do have what we call our diversion program, and a lot of shelters across the country have something similar. If people need to surrender their animal because they don't have the means to provide for them financially, we'll give them pet food or subsidized vet care or free vet care or behavioral help or consultations if needed. We did build a local pet-friendly housing database that's on our website, and I know a lot of shelters are moving towards doing that. But the options are still very limited.

SIMON: Ms. Petalas, this - particularly for someone who loves and works with animals, this must be heartbreaking.

PETALAS: It really is because you can tell they don't want to get rid of their pets. The pet is very much part of the family, and nobody likes giving up a family member. And usually when there's no other options and they have to, it's a very tearful departure from the family.

SIMON: And they must hope that they can take them in again and come back. But, I mean, you can't guarantee that, can you?

PETALAS: No, we can't. And when it has to do with a housing concern where somebody has to move permanently, we usually can't help in that way, unfortunately. We have paid people's pet deposits for apartments...

SIMON: Yeah.

PETALAS: ...When people are going through temporary housing crisis. We do help on that issue. We have what we call crisis foster program. So anybody that's experiencing homelessness temporarily or if they're going into maybe a rehab facility or have an extended hospital stay or if they're fleeing domestic abuse and they have to leave where they're at, we take the pet into our care and custody for anywhere from 30 to 60 days, and then we reunite them with their owner.

SIMON: This must be very hard work for you to do.

PETALAS: It is really hard work. Just like any other industry, we're short-staffed as well. It's really hard to find people that want to come into a field that can burn you out emotionally really quickly.

SIMON: Yeah.

PETALAS: And it's really hard to see the impact on the families, too. It's probably the worst part of it, is seeing families have to separate. Nobody wants that.

SIMON: And to be clear, when you talk about families separating, you mean families that have to say goodbye to their pet, perhaps in the very room from where you're speaking?

PETALAS: Yes.

SIMON: There are people listening who will say, what can I do to help? Is there any direction you can offer?

PETALAS: The biggest thing that people can do, of course, is adopt. The other huge thing that people can do is foster an animal. If you're not in the position to adopt an animal, then definitely foster. If you can't keep an animal, volunteering at a local shelter is a great way to go. Donating is a great way to go. And spay and neuter your animals so we can at least prevent unwanted litters and the overabundance of animals out there already.

SIMON: Jessica Petalas is shelter director at Humane Indiana in Munster. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

PETALAS: No problem. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.