NSW shelters struggling as owners surrender and abandon pets in cost-of-living and rental crisis

Due to the high cost of living, the number of pets abandoned or given away is alarmingly high.

The RSPCA NSW waiting list for desperate owners wishing to surrender their pets has grown to 1,170 animals.

The organization reports a sharp increase in calls to surrender their animals. The number amounts to 355 dogs and 815 cats and kittens.

What is also worrying is that the number of abandoned pets has increased by 141 percent in the last six months. Inspectors are forced to rescue and take in pets left in vacant rental properties or dogs tied to trees and abandoned in parks.

Kristy Blake, the charity’s general manager of animal operations and fundraising, said she had never seen anything as bad as this in her 17-year career with RSPCA NSW.

She said the lack of pet-friendly rental properties had contributed to the steep rise in surrenders, with data from this financial year showing a 66 per cent increase in the number of people having to surrender their pets due to accommodation issues or the inability to find a rental property.

The number of people who said they could no longer afford to care for their pets increased by 7 percent.

“I can’t remember ever being under so much pressure because people could barely afford to keep responsible pets,” she said.

“There are some serious obstacles for pet owners and especially owners, which means people have to make traumatic and heartbreaking decisions.”

Ms Blake said issues related to cost of living pressures and rent control were “inextricably linked”.

“Finding affordable pet-friendly rentals is a real challenge,” she said.

“There really aren’t that many pet-friendly rental properties in NSW, and when you do find one, there is a price difference.”

Although RSPCA NSW is the state’s largest animal shelter, smaller facilities are also at capacity and experiencing overwhelming demand.

Melissa Penn, executive director of Sydney Dogs & Cats Home, said the increasing number of animal surrenders and overloading of animal shelters was an industry-wide problem.

She thought activity peaked after Covid in 2022 and early 2023, when the charity shelter received about 100 calls for help, which was alarming, but that number is now over 150.

Ms Penn cites four reasons for this: concerns about the cost of living, rental properties that do not allow pets, behavioural problems that have arisen “due to” Covid and where socialisation has been inadequate, and victims of domestic violence who want to rehome their pets to escape their abusers.

“When the calls first started increasing, they said the animal was too complicated to handle, but now there are as many concerns as rent barriers and living costs,” she says.

“We are severely limited in the number of people we can support. This is a huge burden on our staff. They get one call after another and have to turn people away.”

Animal Justice Party MP Emma Hurst said the state was facing a “pet emergency” and called on the government to urgently implement promised reforms to make it easier for tenants to keep pets.

The Minnesota government went into the 2023 election with a promise to make it harder for landlords to outright refuse pet requests. Tenants can submit a request to keep a pet in their property, and if no response is received within 21 days, the request is automatically approved.

“The shelters are overcrowded and animals that could have been placed in new homes are being killed,” she said.

“The Labour government committed to making rental housing pet-friendly during the election campaign, and yet no action has been taken.”

Ms Hurst said delaying the legislation also meant victims of domestic violence were unable to escape their abusers.

“I am shocked that New South Wales Minister for Better Regulation Annoulack Chanthivong has failed to introduce legislation to allow animals in rental properties. While he waits, animals are dying and people continue to live in violent situations,” she said.

“I have also called on Finance Minister Daniel Mookhey to ensure that animal rescue groups receive funding in the next budget.

“These volunteer organizations are overwhelmed. The situation is catastrophic.”

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