LOS ANGELES: Pet adoptions surged during the coronavirus pandemic as people in lockdown sought companionship. But as the world has opened up again, the future looks less rosy for a growing number of animals sent to shelters or adoption centers by owners without the time or money to care for them.
"In the rescue world, we kind of saw it coming," said Chloe Esperiquette, development coordinator at Wags and Walks adoption center in Los Angeles.
"We received prior to the pandemic five to 10 inquiries per month for people who couldn't care for their dogs anymore. ... That's like doubled since in recent months."
Wags and Walks, like many similar establishments, is back to full capacity.
"Every year in the United States, 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized," including 670,000 dogs, said Esperiquette. "At Wags we save approximately 1,000 dogs a year. It's definitely not enough."
Surrenders of dogs to shelters have risen sharply in recent months as owners in poorer communities have lost income or their homes during the pandemic, said Allison Cardona, deputy director of Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control, which oversees animal shelters.
Privately run rescue centers that seek to find new homes for abandoned pets are also dealing with a surge in returns of dogs.
Glen Zipper, executive producer of the docuseries "Dogs" and "Cat People" on Netflix, found his calling to save animals after taking a Pitbull puppy he rescued on the street to the nearest shelter. To his horror, he was told it would be euthanized.
Zipper adopted the puppy and quit his job as a criminal prosecutor in New Jersey to work at that shelter, before becoming a TV producer.
"Working with animals and finding homes for animals and helping save animals' lives, I feel like I have a purpose," Zipper said. "Every morning I wake up and I feel like I'm making a difference."
Zipper warns pet owners who can no longer take care of their animals to think twice before returning them to shelters or adoption agencies.
"If you reach a wall with an animal where you really don't think you can responsibly care for a dog, I think the last thing you should do is immediately go to the shelter," he said.
"Let people know that you can't care for your dog, say that your dog is up for adoption, and let people come to you and meet the dog and make sure that you choose someone who can responsibly care for that dog and give that dog every bit as much love as you can."
Esperiquette wants potential adopters to know that animals returned to Wags and Walks are not "damaged goods."
"They were just a problem for somebody for some reason and they ended up in the shelter for something that wasn't really their fault and they didn't really deserve," she said.
(Reporting by Rollo Ross; Editing by Richard Chang)