A post-pandemic increase in surrenders and slowdown in adoption applications is continuing into a second summer
Pemberton’s tiny animal shelter is overflowing—and it’s about to welcome a few more residents.
Currently, the Pemberton Animal Wellbeing Society (PAWS) is home to Poppy, a two-year-old Pitbull mix, and her two puppies—a male named Curly Fry and a female, Tater Tot—two cats, five kittens and one more female cat who is due to give birth to a fresh batch of kittens any day.
Usually, the shelter would hit capacity with just two dogs and three cats, PAWS executive director Anna Scott explained.
“Usually we wouldn’t even have three dogs—that’s a lot, but they’re all pretty easygoing—but a little while ago, there was a point when we had five [dogs] in our care,” she said. PAWS “can squeeze lots” of animals—particularly cats—into its small space, she added, but “it’s just having the manpower to take care of them all.”
The shelter is mainly operated by volunteers. Scott said PAWS always welcomes more animal lovers looking to donate their time, but hasn’t been struggling to fill out its volunteer roster as of late. What it has been struggling to find is adopters.
“It’s been crazy,” said Scott. “Usually when we have kittens and puppies, we are flooded with applications—well, that used to be the norm—but lately, I think we’ve had one application for a puppy, and they’ve been up for adoption for three weeks now.”
Adult dogs in PAWS’ care have received “zero interest,” Scott added. “Not even people reaching out to ask questions. Kittens have been spending a lot of time there too, and usually kittens are quick to go.”
Heftier vet bills for the longer list of patients only add to the difficulty, as does the growing waitlist of animals PAWS is unable to accept into its care until the shelter finds home for its current residents.
Scott’s experience at PAWS is mirrored both down the road at Whistler Animals Galore (WAG) and at shelters across B.C., she said. The flow of applications from prospective pet owners first ground to a halt last summer, after pet adoptions initially surged during the early days of the pandemic.
More than one year after B.C. abandoned public health restrictions, that heartbreaking trend is continuing, said Scott.
Alongside fewer adoptions, PAWS is still seeing “way more surrenders,” than it did prior to 2020, she explained. While many animals procured during the social distancing days are now being brought to shelters by owners who can no longer (or no longer wish to) care for them, other pandemic pets were never spayed or neutered, and are now “reproducing at a pretty high rate,” resulting in unwanted litters, Scott said.
“It’s kind of a vicious cycle,” she said.
In April, the BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) spoke out about the “marked increase” in puppies surrendered to the organization.
“We have had almost 350 puppies come into care so far, compared to 200 at this time last year,” said Eileen Drever, the BC SPCA’s senior officer for protection and stakeholder relations in a release at the time.
Drever said many of those puppies came from British Columbians who started breeding dogs as a source of income when demand for pets skyrocketed during the pandemic, but who are now “overwhelmed with the costs of caring for animals as the market for their puppies has decreased.”
In the Sea to Sky, a lack of pet-friendly rental housing is compounding the issue. “It’s just a perfect storm,” Scott said.
To that end, Scott encourages landlords to consider renting to tenants with pets, and assess animals and their owners on a case-by-case basis rather than implementing a blanket ban on a particular species. “Just because it’s a dog doesn’t mean it’s going to destroy a house—people can be destructive themselves, too,” she pointed out.
She also encourages those considering adopting a pet to be patient with the process.
“It is a long application that might take half an hour to fill out,” Scott said. “But it’s a partner for the rest of [that animal’s] life, so it is a big commitment—really, an application is just the tip of the iceberg of what you’re about to commit to.”
And, if none of the animals currently at the shelter are a match for your lifestyle, she added, “Sometimes if you can just be patient and wait even a couple of months, the perfect animal will probably come along for you. But a lot of people just don’t wait and then go elsewhere.”
If you’re not in a position to welcome a furry friend into your home? Sharing PAWS’ social media posts is helpful, and “donations are always needed,” Scott said.
It’s not all bad news at PAWS: the majority volunteer-run shelter recently secured long-term funding from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and Village of Pemberton’s Pemberton & District Initiative Fund, to the tune of $15,000 per year until 2027. The grant allowed PAWS to hire a new part-time staffer.
Still, “we just need these puppies to find a home so badly,” said Scott.
“When everyday, you go there and you look at them—they are in foster homes sometimes and they have lots of great attention and love—but it is hard. They’re growing up in a shelter and they should be growing up in a home.”