A Greater Toronto Area animal shelter is turning to the community for support, saying its facility is at capacity as more and more pets are being surrendered.

The Oakville Milton Humane Society is appealing to donors to help fund care for the 131 animals, including 38 dogs, it has in its shelter. The shelter says it has also seen an increase in demand for its food bank, which provides pet meals to owners struggling financially.

Lisa Bennett, the shelter’s customer care team lead, says the situation is so critical with costs increasing for their programs that one donor has pledged to match every dollar donated to the organization up to $5,000 by July 31.

“Most of the dogs that we have in our care right now are COVID dogs,” she said.

Pet surrenders have increased since COVID-19 restrictions eased, with many owners dropping their animals off at shelters across the province. Some have even abandoned pets in parks.

Bennett says as people return to work, many owners no longer have time to provide care for animals they adopted while working from home during the pandemic.

Another reason, Bennett tells CBC Toronto, is that many owners have told the shelter they can no longer afford to care for an animal due to the rising cost of living in Ontario.

‘Lineups around the block’

Denise Angus, who founded and runs Mattie’s Place, a Toronto-based dog and cat rescue organization, says she’s noticed a similar trend at their food bank.

“We have lineups around the block on our pet food date,” said Angus, who adds they feed around 1,200 dogs a month.

Coco, a three-year-old Husky in Mattie's Place care, was hit by a vehicle and left with a broken leg. Mattie's founder Denise Angus says he is in their care, but still waiting for a home.
Coco, a three-year-old Husky in Mattie’s Place care, was hit by a vehicle and left with a broken leg. Mattie’s founder, Denise Angus, says he is in their care, but still waiting for a home. (Submitted by Denise Angus)

But it’s the surrenders that distress her most. Angus says she receives 20 to 30 emails a day from owners looking for a place to permanently drop off their pet.

“It’s heartbreaking… and as a volunteer, it really shakes you to the core,” said Angus.

She says Mattie’s Place typically rescues 200 to 300 dogs a year, but they’ve recently had to dial that back.

“Fosters are down, donations are down, adoptions are down,” said Angus.

That means many of the dogs rescued are still waiting for a home.

Among them are Tessa, a four-year-old female mix who was going to be euthanized in January but is now in Mattie’s care, and Coco, a three-year-old male Husky who was flown to Toronto after being hit by a vehicle.

Toronto Animal Services said 292 dogs were surrendered to Toronto Animal Services from January 1 to July 21 of this year, on pace to exceed the 477 they say were surrendered throughout 2022.

Tessa, a four-year-old Shepherd Rottweiler mix, was going to be euthanized in January but is now in Mattie's Place care waiting for adoption. Mattie's founder Denise Angus says many of their pets have been waiting over six months.
Tessa, a four-year-old Shepherd Rottweiler mix, was going to be euthanized in January but is now in Mattie’s Place care waiting for adoption. Mattie’s founder says many of their pets have been waiting over six months. (Submitted by Denise Angus)

Melissa Shupak, division manager of shelter programs at Toronto Humane Society (THS), says their adoption numbers are also down and surrenders higher.

“People are trying to evaluate whether they can put food on the table for themselves and their family or an animal,” said Shupak.

‘Never seen such an a large amount of euthanasia’

But there are ways to avoid surrendering a pet, including using THS’s urgent care system.

Owners experiencing a crisis or financial hardship can apply to the program, and their pet will be temporarily put in a foster home until the owner can take the pet back, Shupak says.

“At the end there’s a reunification with their owner.”

She also says there are pet food banks, including one at THS.

But Angus says more funding for pet food banks and supply facilities like the ones run by Mattie’s Place, THS and OMHS would help alleviate the burden on owners going through financial hardship.

She adds that if more people fostered pets, even on a temporary six- to eight-week basis, fewer dogs would have to be put down in at-capacity shelters.

“I have never seen such an a large amount of euthanasia in shelters,” adds Angus.

She also says there should be more initiatives to help neuter and spay dogs, especially in northern Ontario where there are fewer vets.

Shortage of vets causing increase in care costs

Nicole Simone, the CEO of Redemption Paws, a federally registered charity helping to rehome dogs, says the shortage of veterinarians in Ontario has led to rising costs for veterinary care.

“Dogs aren’t even able to get the same quality of care that they were two years ago because there’s just simply a shortage of vets,” said Simone.

She says owners are often hit with unexpected vet bills, and the cost leads them to surrender their pets.

Simone says that can be avoided by purchasing pet insurance. 

“We just encourage people to really prepare medically for their dogs because that’s that’s a big issue that people face.”

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