Homeless for the holidays: Pet shelters see spike

WASHINGTON — It could be changing family situations. Sometimes there were financial troubles, or a just a spur of the moment decision by a pet owner:  In recent years, area animal shelters saw a sudden…

WASHINGTON — It could be changing family situations. Sometimes there were financial troubles, or a just a spur of the moment decision by a pet owner:  In recent years, area animal shelters saw a sudden spike in the number of family pets who wound up homeless for the holidays.

Something about the pressures of the holidays prompted the seasonal surge in pet give-ups.  “People were going out of town, just deciding they weren’t going to board the animal, and would give it up,” says  Rodney Taylor, associate director of the Prince George’s County Animal Management Division.

But this year, that trend seems to be changing. For the better. At the Washington Humane Society, Zenit Chugtai, the online communications specialist for WHS, says, “In the past we did see a lot of surrenders around the holiday season,” but she believes the shift is in part due to a change in attitudes about pets. “The conversation around shelters has been changing.” She believes that in the past, “People were more concerned with having a pet around for the sake of having that pet around, versus realizing that it’s a commitment,” one that lasts for the life of that pet.

Taylor says the December figures at the Prince George’s facility aren’t complete yet, but he sees a similar shift: The number of surrenders are down. He says shelters work very hard with pet owners to find ways to keep their animals, offering training tips if there’s a behavioral issue, or working with family or friends who might be able to take on the animal so it won’t end up in a shelter.  Despite their best efforts, Taylor says sometimes, a cat or dog—or rabbit or ferret—is surrendered by an owner who says they’ve run out of options “and it’s sad for our hearts to hear that.”

The good news from both shelters is that the holidays can also be a great time for people who’ve been thinking about adopting to act on their wish. Chugtai says one method that’s been successful is the gift certificate. Instead of finding a pet under their tree, the gift recipient gets a certificate, and can head to the shelter to begin the search for the special pet they’ve always wanted.

Here are just a few places where you can find information on where and how to adopt your new best friend:

In D.C.:

In Maryland:

In Virginia:

 

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this story.

 

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