Owners passing off their pets as strays adds to increased pressure on Alberta shelters

Since the pandemic, Alberta's animal shelters say they have been at full capacity with abandoned, stray and surrendered pets.  (Nathan Gross/CBC - image credit)
Since the pandemic, Alberta's animal shelters say they have been at full capacity with abandoned, stray and surrendered pets. (Nathan Gross/CBC - image credit)

Pet owners showing up at shelters and trying to pass off their animals as strays are part of a growing trend of surrenders and abandonments that is straining shelters all over Alberta.

It's the latest fallout from the pandemic boom of people who added a furry companion to their new work-from-home situations. The result is an increase in animals waiting for owners who will never show up.

"We regularly deal with abandoned animals,"  said Sgt. Brianne Grey who works at Edmonton's Animal Care and Control Centre.

"It could be animals left at a rental property when an eviction has taken place, animals left without food, water or shelter for over 24 hours, or animals left at a boarding facility or daycare past when their owners were supposed to come and pick them up."

But, Grey said fewer and fewer animals — ranging from cats and dogs to baby bunnies and reptiles — are being claimed, causing a ripple effect throughout Alberta shelters that are all operating above capacity.

Second Chance Animal Rescue Society Alberta/Facebook
Second Chance Animal Rescue Society Alberta/Facebook

Owners who are falsely trying to drop off their own animals are often caught because the animal is microchipped.

An Edmonton bylaw has a section on providing false or misleading information to an officer. Grey said she has been issuing tickets every week to people who are surrendering their pets and saying they are strays.

"[It] isn't the way to do this because an animal is left sitting here for someone that's never coming," Grey said. "If you can be forward with your information and truthful, then maybe we can try and help connect you with some resources or provide some more education."

The issue of owners trying to surrender their own animals comes in addition to pets that are being dumped.

Grey said one adult cat, found outside with no identification during the cold snap at the end of February, suffered a case of frostbite causing him to lose his ears and part of his tail.

Nathan Gross/CBC
Nathan Gross/CBC

Grey said the medical team is working to help the blue-eyed feline heal.

Under the Animal Protection Act of Alberta it is a chargeable offence not to provide adequate conditions to an animal. Whether a pet owner is leaving their animal outside without access to food or water, shelter, protection from injury, and extreme temperatures, the perpetrator could face up to $20,000 in fines or a lifetime prohibition from owning animals.

The Alberta SPCA also investigates cases of neglect, like last month when two kittens were found left in a child's backpack on the outskirts of St. Albert.

Submitted by Alberta SPCA
Submitted by Alberta SPCA

"This is a difficult issue to pin down … our team is receiving many more calls from people looking to surrender pets," said Dan Kobe, spokesperson for the Alberta SPCA.

Amanda Annetts, an intake co-ordinator for Second Chance Animal Rescue Society (SCARS) in Morinville, Alta., said animal abandonment is "a crisis" in rural parts of the province.

The rescue centre in Morinville, about 40 kilometres north of Edmonton, opened in October to keep up with the demand of surrendered animals. Within a week the centre was already full.

"We have no space, we're running at 110 per cent capacity right now, but we can't say no.Thankfully the world has stepped up and we have foster homes," Annetts said.

Annetts said rural communities have a lack of access to veterinary care and education on pet ownership, which contributes to the surrender and abandonment issue.

"We get about 10 to 15 requests per day for animals in need," Annetts said. "Maybe they have this dog that they cannot keep and don't want it anymore. There's a lot of cats that are being surrendered, mostly just for simple things like UTIs (urinary tract infections)."

Even expensive pets and breeds are affected, Annetts said.

"A Great Dane came in as a 'stray' in awful shape," she said.

"It just shows that people are leaving even the bred dogs now in these awful conditions"