More people surrendering pets than ever, says Sudbury, Ont., animal rescue group

A Sudbury, Ont., pet rescue organization is getting six to 10 calls each day from people who want to surrender their cats and dogs. Jill Pessot, director of Pet Save, said it’s the worst situation she has seen in her 23 years working in animal rescue. Pessot said Sudbury has […]

A Sudbury, Ont., pet rescue organization is getting six to 10 calls each day from people who want to surrender their cats and dogs.

Jill Pessot, director of Pet Save, said it’s the worst situation she has seen in her 23 years working in animal rescue.

Pessot said Sudbury has always struggled with cat overpopulation, but now the dog population is a problem as well.

“And we kind of saw it coming as COVID began,” she said.

“They’re called the COVID dogs. And that’s because of the period that they’re born in. Pre-COVID, you know, we would get five or six inquiries a day for dog adoptions or puppy adoptions. That skyrocketed to 30, 40 a day.”

Everybody needs to stop breeding.– Jill Pessot, director of Pet Save

But Pessot said that high demand during the first two years of the pandemic has died down. Many people who got pets when they were home more often have since surrendered cats and dogs after returning to their pre-pandemic schedules.

“Our kennel has been full for two years straight,” Pessot said.

“Normally we house four to five in house and have a few in foster care. And now we’re up to 40, 50 dogs at a time.”

Pessot said she has had to pay other kennels in the region to care for some animals people have surrendered. 

She’s also had breeders contact her because they are unable to sell their dogs now that demand is lower.

“The only way for us to get out of this problem is to stop breeding,” Pessot said. “Everybody needs to stop breeding.”

A cat behind some bars in a shelter.
A cat in the Greater Sudbury Animal Shelter. Jill Pessot, director of the animal rescue organization Pet Save, says Sudbury has always had a problem with cat overpopulation. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

Barb McNamara, who manages the dog division with the SAINTS animal rescue organization in Sudbury, agreed the situation has gotten bad.

“City shelters are filled. This is awful,” she said.

In an email to CBC News City of Greater Sudbury spokesperson Riley Adams said the city’s shelter is nearing capacity “with many adoptable dogs.”

“There has been a significant increase in the number of pet surrenders to the Greater Sudbury Animal Shelter in 2022 in comparison with previous years,” Riley said in the email.

“Each situation which results in a pet being surrendered to us is unique, and there have been no specific trends in the reasons for surrender that explain the increase. Notably, it is very rare that we receive a surrender due to the owner no longer having the time to care for the animal.”

McNamara said there are reputable breeders who manage the population of their own dogs and encourage responsible pet ownership.

“I think the big problem is the puppy mills,” McNamara said. 

“And there are some serious puppy mills out there that I’m hearing more and more about. And they’re breeding, you know, six kinds of purebreds at the same time.”

Not all breeders the same

Karen McAlpine has been breeding goldendoodles in Sudbury with her family for 12 years, and said they’ve always made sure they sell the dogs to families that can care for them long term.

“We also spend a ton of time and energy on educating all of our families and clients, on educating them about puppies, how to train, what to expect, how much it’s going to cost them,” she said.

McAlpine said demand for their dogs went way up at the start of the pandemic, but has dropped back down in recent months.

“We could have sold three times the puppies we did,” she said.

“But, you know, you’re just not capable of doing that. And this year, totally opposite. It’s like somebody turned off the tap.”

McAlpine said that thanks to their screening, none of her clients who purchased puppies during the pandemic have ended up returning them.

Because demand is lower this year, McAlpine said, it could mean what she calls “backyard breeders” will breed fewer dogs as well.

“They’re going to think twice because I’m sure most people wouldn’t like to be stuck with a litter of eight puppies. That’s a lot of work, let me tell you.”

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