A growing number of animals need new homes in Toronto as owners who bought pandemic pets at the height of COVID-19 return to work — or struggle with the rising cost of looking after them, city officials warn.
According to Toronto Animal Services, a city-run agency, there has been a 63 per cent increase in the number of pets landing in shelters this year compared to the same period in 2021.
"We're getting a ton of calls of people calling in, needing to surrender their animals. It's all day, every day since our phone lines opened," said animal health technician Anneke Miedima.
"We have a lot of animals at the shelter currently and we have a long waiting list of people who are trying to get their animals in."
In the first half of 2021, 520 pets were surrendered to the organization. At the same point this year, there were 845 pets brought into the shelters.
The increase is due to the change in lifestyle for pet owners following the lifting of pandemic measures, along with the rising cost of living, says Esther Attard, the director of Toronto Animal Services.
"The price of food, everything has gone up. So that includes the price of food for pets as well. Veterinary care can be less accessible. There are fewer veterinarians. There's a shortage right now," Attard told CBC Toronto.
"And so people may find it harder to get their pets in."
Attard says the increase is also partly due to several situations where pet ownership got out of control in the city, including one instance with 80 rabbits in a home and another with more than 200 rats.
"That's when we have to step up because there are too many in the home. It is not safe for the people health-wise to have that many animals," said Attard.
City bylaws limit pet owners to a total of six cats and three dogs, according to Attard. She says the city is going to be limiting rabbits and guinea pigs to four per household.
"That way we can prevent ... huge issues around too many animals."
For the first time since 2019, Toronto Animal Services hosted a mobile clinic last Wednesday to provide low-cost microchips, rabies vaccines, food and pet licensing to neighbourhoods across Toronto.
"Prices are too high for pets," said Taeon Chapman, who got his puppy Milo just over two months ago and brought him in to get microchipped and vaccinated.
"I feel like they're human, it shouldn't be overpriced like that. They should be underpriced with an amount that people can actually afford."
Brenda Ford, who has had her dog Tiki for more than eight years, says it breaks her heart to hear about more animals ending up in Toronto shelters, surrendered by their owners.
"Affordability is very difficult," said Ford.
"If you're going to get a pet, you have to realize that it's almost like having a child."
Back at the shelter, Miedima says Toronto Animal Services is doing what it can to support pet owners facing financial hardships.
"We're here to help and we are not the enemy," she said.
"Everyone always wants the best for their animals and we obviously want the best for them, too. So we're very vocal in saying like we want the best outcome."
"It's all about being in the community, connecting with people and being more available that way as a resource rather than having people bring their pets into a shelter," she said.
"Because it's much harder to re-home animals than to help them stay where they are."