'It's never OK': Pets being abandoned in Rouge Park at alarming rate, park staff warn

Staff at Rouge National Urban Park are warning about an alarming increase in the number of pets abandoned in the Scarborough park. (Rob Krbavac - image credit)
Staff at Rouge National Urban Park are warning about an alarming increase in the number of pets abandoned in the Scarborough park. (Rob Krbavac - image credit)

Staff at Toronto's largest park have a warning for pet owners after seeing an alarming increase in the number of pets being abandoned in recent years.

Allendria Brunjes, external relations manager with Rouge National Urban Park, said it only received two reports of domestic animals being abandoned in 2019 and 2020.

That number rose to nine in 2021 and 18 last year.

"It's never OK to abandon a domestic animal in the wilderness," Brunjes said. "It's really hard for a domestic animal to survive ... They often are found cold, wet, hungry, hypothermic, starving."

Animals left in the park in recent years include dogs, cats, rabbits, rats, turtles, fish and other aquatic animals.

Even if abandoned pets survive, their presence threatens the natural species that live in the park, including animals considered at-risk, because of competition over food and habitat, Brunjes said, adding domestic animals can also spread parasites, diseases, viruses and bacteria to wild animals.

The reports include a case where an abandoned puppy was found dead close to its belongings, Brunjes said, and a scared husky that took more than a month for park staff to capture.

Rob Krbavac/CBC
Rob Krbavac/CBC

Stu Johnson, a humane dog trapper with the volunteer group Team Chelsea who helped trap the loose husky, said he's noticing an increase in abandoned pets across the Greater Toronto Area.

He said the the increase in abandonment signals a dark consequence of the "pandemic puppy boom" — a phenomenon where demand for pets rose at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic among Canadians feeling isolated after months of social distancing.

"[On] back roads of York Region and Durham Region, people are dumping dogs non-stop," he said.

"A lot of it I think has to do with COVID. People got pets through COVID and now they don't want to deal with the vet bills and that sort of thing. They figure the easiest way out is to just dump them."

Johnson said abandoned dogs will generally stay close to the location where their owners left them, waiting for their possible return. After two or three days, their wild instincts will kick in and they become more difficult to trap.

While dogs can survive in the wild, some are found in grave condition. The rest don't survive, Johnson said.

Rob Krbavac/CBC
Rob Krbavac/CBC

Overflow into shelters another concerning trend

Meanwhile, some shelters are having trouble finding new homes for the pets they're taking in that have been given up for adoption.

Mike Mulick, general manager of Brampton Animal Services, said the length of time it takes to adopt animals out is increasing. Mulick said for dogs the average amount of time has increased from 15 days a few years ago to almost 25 days.

"With people returning to work, people seem hesitant to take on new responsibilities with the economy and interest rates rising, so the animals that do come into our care are staying here longer," Mulick said.

"That begins to add up and occupy our kennels to the point where we can't take in new animals."

Mulick said people who bring give up their pets for adoption at his shelter generally cite financial reasons or behavioural issues.

He encouraged pet owners to seek help from shelters like his for advice on pet care to help avoid behavioural issues. Owners can also take advantage of programs like one his shelter offers that provides temporary access to pet food for people struggling financially, he said.