The real reasons Bay Area shelters are flooded with dogs

Worldwide, the narrative of the unwanted “pandemic pet” has clogged up news outlets, suggesting that the millions of dogs adopted in the US during the COVID-19 crisis are now flagrantly being surrendered to shelters as lockdown restrictions ease.

While shelters across California are indeed filling up at alarming rates, the Bay Area has mostly avoided this influx of animals—until now. This past week, numerous reports stated that the Oakland Animal Services (OAS) has an “unprecedented” number of large dogs. And according to Ann Dunn, OAS director, it’s not for the reasons you might think.

She says that the popular story line of the unwanted or burdensome “pandemic pet” doesn’t capture the whole picture, and “heartbroken” owners simply can’t afford to take care of them.

“There was a narrative of people adopting on a whim during the pandemic and returning [animals], and we’ve never seen that and so it does not seem to be related to that,” Dunn told SFGATE over the phone. “…I think that the biggest driver is the economy. And you know, I’m sure a lot of people struggle through the pandemic.”

According to Dunn, the reasons for returning a beloved pet are much more complex. She says that having to return to the office is partially to blame, but lack of affordable housing that specifically allows large dogs is also forcing owners to surrender their pets. Above all, economic hardship seems to be the main culprit. Given rising inflation rates and the Bay Area’s notoriously expensive housing market, unfortunately, it’s not a surprise. “It’s not people going back to work and not [being] able to keep their pets. It’s really people who just financially can’t afford them,” Dunn says.

According to a May 2021 report from the ASPCA, 85% of people who adopted cats and 90% of people who adopted dogs during the pandemic are not planning on returning them. Changes in lockdown measures are also not inspiring pet owners to simply ditch them at a shelter.


“As COVID-19 restrictions continue to be lifted across the country, the majority of surveyed pet owners are incorporating pets into their lifestyles with little reported concern about having enough time to spend with their pet or wanting to travel more but feeling limited by an animal ,” the report said.

Still, Dunn said that the influx of large dogs in shelters is a “growing phenomenon” across the US “It’s not just Oakland, it’s, it’s something that’s happening everywhere.”

To ease the adoption process, Oakland Animal Services is extending adoption hours from May 5 to 8, and will be open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, from 12 to 7 pm, and Sunday from 12 to 3 pm Adoption fees will be just $20 for all animals.

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