Prepare for the great doggy dump.
At the height of the pandemic, animal shelters reported record high adoptions, as bored home dwellers sought out new four-legged friends to keep them company in lockdown. But with reopenings afoot, the same shelters are braced for an influx of pets due to a countrywide epidemic of buyer’s remorse.
“People can be very selfish,” Penny Smith-Berk, who owns the Rescue Right animal shelter in Bedford, NY, told The Post. “Life is opening up again. You can impulsively buy a pair of shoes and never wear it again, but there are consequences for a dog — it’s excruciatingly sad.”
Many new dog owners bit off more than they could chew during the pandemic. Now, Smith-Berk said, “People like me are left to pick up the slack, because quite a few people throw up their hands and say, ‘I can’t do this.’”
This past week, she’s been spending extra time with Blue, a newly surrendered 100-pound Cane Corso. His owners — who spent thousands of dollars on him at a pet store — admitted it was too much work taking care of him, and called it quits after only eight months.
“They impulsively got him as a puppy … Everybody was home then and it seemed like a great idea to amuse their children, but now their children are back in school,” said Smith-Berk, adding that Blue was clearly “depressed” after getting kicked to the curb.
And she fears for the fate of other dogs who are the victims of this rampant second-guessing. “I’m quite sure that animal shelters are seeing a lot of owner surrenders, which are the first dogs to get euthanized,” said Smith-Berk. “I’m concerned about large numbers of dogs losing their life because of this.”
Earlier this week, Fox 35 news aired a segment profiling a shelter in Sanford, Fla., that’s recently seen a big influx of pet returns. And the problem extends beyond just the US — Bloomberg Quicktake found that the same heartbreaking trend can be seen across the pond, too.
“I think that’s going to happen as people gradually return to offices, people start thinking about taking holidays as well,” Peter Laurie, chief executive of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in London, told the outlet in response to news that returns of dogs and cats to local shelters had doubled over the past few months.
Greenwich, Connecticut-based dog trainer Jessica Del Guercio said she’s witnessing the same thing going on among her well-heeled clients.
Del Guercio, who charges upward of $5,000 to train a dog and has seen a huge spike in business throughout the pandemic, told The Post that overwhelmed owners are now throwing in the towel. “They’re like, ‘I’m going to Kennebunkport — I don’t feel like bringing my dog,’” she said.
The founder of Paws of Greenwich said people made emotional decisions during lockdown, but the realities of pet ownership can be sobering. “People are like, ‘We’re going to buy all these puppies because we have nothing to do.’ They assume it’s easy, but they haven’t had a dog since their childhood.”
Now, “I know at least a dozen personally” of returned dogs, Del Guercio said, and she has “re-homed” a handful of hounds herself. And mutts, they were not — some of the dogs were exotic specimens costing upward of $15,000, plus price of a “flight nanny” to deliver the pet from a breeder who lives across the country.
“Dogs are looked at like a luxury item — if it’s not up to their expectations, they can return it,” she said.
But pet owners hoping to give puppies back to pet stores are barking up the wrong tree, said Smith-Berk.
“A pet store will never take an animal back — they don’t care if it’s not working out. And rescue organizations can’t take it back — they have no place for it to go,” said Smith-Berk. “The default here is that these animals will wind up in shelters and that’s a terrible reality.”
She said she hopes people will see this ruff news and think twice before giving up a dog.
“A pet is a member of your family, it has the intelligence of a small child, so you’re basically returning your 2-year-old child,” she said. “People don’t get that.”