Growing numbers of animals need new homes in Toronto as owners who bought pandemic pets at the height of COVID-19 return to work – or struggle with the rising cost of maintaining them, warn city officials.
According to Toronto Animal Services, a city-run agency, there has been a 63% increase in the number of pets landing in shelters this year compared to the same period in 2021.
“We’ve been getting a ton of calls from people calling, who need to return their animals. It’s been all day, every day since our phone lines opened,” said animal health technician Anneke Miedima.
“We currently have a lot of animals at the shelter and we have a long waiting list of people trying to get their animals in.”
The increase is due to the change in lifestyle of pet owners following the lifting of pandemic measures, as well as the rising cost of living, explains Esther Attard, director of Toronto Animal Services.
“The price of food, everything has gone up. So that also includes the price of pet food. Veterinary care may be less accessible. There are fewer vets. There is a shortage right now,” Attard told CBC Toronto.
“And so people may have a harder time getting their pets in.”
Attard says the increase is also partly due to several situations where pet ownership got out of control in the city, including one case with 80 rabbits in a home and another with more than 200 rats.
“That’s when we have to step in because there are too many in the house. It’s not safe for people’s health to have so many animals,” Attard said.
City bylaws limit pet owners to a total of six cats and three dogs, according to Attard. She says the city will limit rabbits and guinea pigs to four per household.
“This way we can avoid… huge problems around too many animals.”
For the first time since 2019, Toronto Animal Services held a mobile clinic last Wednesday to provide low-cost microchips, rabies vaccines, food and pet licenses to Toronto neighborhoods.
“Prices are too high for pets,” said Taeon Chapman, who bought his puppy Milo just over two months ago and brought him in to be microchipped and vaccinated.
“I feel like they’re human, it shouldn’t be too expensive like that. They should be underpriced with an amount that people can actually afford.”
Brenda Ford, who has had her dog Tiki for more than eight years, says it breaks her heart to hear that other animals are ending up in Toronto shelters, abandoned by their owners.
“Affordability is very difficult,” Ford said.
“If you’re going to have a pet, you have to realize that it’s almost like having a child.”
Back at the shelter, Miedima says Toronto Animal Services is doing what it can to help pet owners facing financial hardship.
“We are here to help and we are not the enemy,” she said.
“Everyone always wants the best for their animals and obviously we want the best for them too. So we are saying very clearly that we want the best outcome.”
“It’s about being in the community, connecting with people and being more available that way as a resource rather than asking people to bring their pets to a shelter,” said she declared.
“Because it is much more difficult to rehouse animals than to help them stay where they are.”