These adopted pandemic pets didn’t all get returned to shelters after all

Sue Carlton
Tampa Bay Times

Tampa, Fla. — In the pandemic summer of 2020, Sarah Logar went to the Humane Society to find a canine friend. She was thinking black Lab, but there was this long-limbed puppy, caramel coat, big brown eyes, and very happy to see her. She was smitten.

A year later and the dog she named Nike Blue is the darling of her Facebook page, diving in a pool, rolling blissfully on his back, looking doe-eyed at the camera. Currently, they are working on him not expressing his enthusiasm through jumping.

“He loves to cuddle, which is awesome because that’s what I wanted,” said Logar, 24. “He’s kind of a goofball. He’s my little sunshine.”

Sarah Logar, 23, Tampa, Florida, spends time with her new dog after she adopted the animal from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, Tampa, Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Adoptions are up during the coronavirus pandemic. A year later, he's family.

Turns out what some feared might follow the intense interest in adopting shelter pets in the pandemic — with people in Tampa Bay waiting in lines and even camping overnight in a shelter parking lot — largely has not happened: Pets are not being returned in droves as life inches back toward normal.

“I think people just re-evaluated their lives during the COVID episode and realized that pets do a lot to the quality of their lives,” said Doug Brightwell, director of Pinellas County Animal Services.

While some rescue organizations have reported higher numbers of returns, local and national animal advocates say they’ve seen no pattern of people surrendering the ones they adopted during those very isolated months.

“We’re not seeing the trend of animals brought back,” said Maria Matlack, spokeswoman for the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. “It’s just the typical return rate we usually have, which is small.”

Jay McGill, enforcement division manager for Pinellas County Animal Services, said the same was true there.

“We did worry a little bit — we’ve never been through this before so we didn’t know what the trend was going to be,” Matlack said.

Brightwell said animals are usually returned in one or two weeks. “Once they’ve been there a month, that dog or cat’s part of the family,” he said.

The trend — or lack thereof — appears to hold nationally.

“The data is pretty clear that there has not been any widespread return of pets who were adopted or even dogs purchased from breeders,” said Lindsay Hamrick, director of shelter outreach and engagement for the Humane Society of the United States. “There’s not the widespread surrendering or abandoning of those animals.”

The bond between human and pet has given people “something of significant value in this very, very hard time,” said Michael San Filippo, spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association. “I think we’re seeing that this was not something that was just a temporary thing, that it wasn’t just an impulse buy.”

Hamrick said there was a worry about a repeat of the 2008 recession, when shelters saw owners surrender animals because they lost jobs or homes.

In fact, housing remains one of the top reasons people give up their animals. “So we remain concerned that as evictions rise, that’s going to lead to displacement of pets,” she said.

These days the local Humane Society, which last year had people camping overnight in its West Tampa parking lot, gets lines only now and then when their website features puppies or purebred, especially cute or small dogs.

“People love their tiny dogs,” Matlack said.

Still, some advocates report a notably different experience when it comes to returned pets. “It’s not that the adoptions have slowed down, it’s just that the return rate is definitely higher,” said Kimmy Chandler, founder of FLUFF Animal Rescue in Seminole, Floriday.

People considering adopting might want to know that shelters say they have had an unusually busy kitten season this year, with plenty of felines in need of fostering and adopting.

“We still have tons and tons of cats coming in,” Matlack said.

Chandler agreed.

“It’s been a constant kitty carousel.”