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'Pandemic Pets' Being Adopted, Neglected, and Surrendered

Abandoned dog tied to a pole in a city area during winter
By FindLaw Staff | Last updated on


Most animal organizations warn people not to gift animals for Christmas without carefully considering the long-term commitment involved. During the pandemic, however, these warnings too often went unheeded. "Pandemic pets" were returned and abandoned in mass numbers, a development that many people didn't see coming. And, unfortunately, law enforcement doesn't have much sway to stop it.

Reasons People Are Giving Up Pets in 2021

Some people adopted an animal to meet their own emotional needs and stave off boredom. Others wanted to do something to help abandoned animals in need. As reality sets in now, however, we see that trend backfiring.

People are abandoning animals or giving them up to shelters for a variety of reasons:

  • Owners have long-term hospital stays or complications due to COVID-19.
  • Couples are breaking up and neither wants the pet.
  • Job loss and financial strain make caring for elderly, sick, or special needs pets impossible.
  • Animals have too much separation anxiety as states open back up and people leave the house.
  • "Normal" life is too busy, and owners feel guilty leaving their pet home alone.
  • Unplanned and unwanted, pets get pregnant.
  • Rescue animals display general bad habits or difficult behavioral issues.

As COVID-19 vaccines give people hope that the pandemic's end is around the corner, the rate of giving up animals or abandoning them may increase.

This abandonment tends to be more frequent with dogs. The term "dog dumping" is commonly used to refer to someone parking, taking their dog out of the car, and tying it up or quickly driving away.

Your Rights When Giving Up an Animal

If giving up a pet is the right decision for you, you should know your general pet rights.

Anyone can give up an animal to a licensed organization unless their adoption or breeder contract forbids it. Some contracts ask you to return the animal to where you got it from, which offers them lifetime protection from being a homeless animal. You should try to avoid a breach of contract. Many animal organizations do have lawyers on staff, though chances are slim they will find out.

Check your local shelter's policy before you go – many have shut their doors because they are at capacity.

Resources When You Can't Keep a Pet

If you don't know where to turn, consider:

  • Asking friends and family
  • Local rehoming websites or social groups
  • Local humane societies
  • City animal control
  • Low-cost or sliding-scale vet clinics for shots, spaying/neutering, and microchips
  • Pet food pantries and food banks
  • Financing options for vet care (such as Care Credit)
  • Financial aid (for veterans or national American Humane Society funding)
  • Crowd-funding financial aid or vet care
  • Pet insurance
  • Local training, obedience classes, or behavioral resources

Most animal organizations are happy to help you find a solution even if they can't take in an animal at this time. In some cases, simply finding a solution to part of the problem may help you keep a pet.

In other situations, the only resolution that may work for you will be legally surrendering your animal to an appropriate organization.

It Is Illegal to Abandon (or Attempt to Abandon) an Animal?

It is illegal to leave a pet on the side of the road, in a parking lot, chained or locked up, or by any other method that does not show a "standard of care" for the animal. This is typically a misdemeanor charge and is punishable by fines. In some cases, it can be charged as animal abuse, but many states still view pets as property.

Sadly, local law enforcement often can't catch the owners in the act, and there is little evidence to find them after the fact.

This may change, however. Currently, Illinois is considering a bill to give abused animals legal advocates and pursue the abusers more aggressively. Connecticut allows law students and volunteers to defend animals. Other states may adopt similar laws.

Reporting Abandoned Animals or Abuse

If you see an abandoned animal, you can call your local rescue, police, or animal control hotline.

Choosing to take an animal in until you can contact a shelter is up to you. If you are not trained in animal handling, you need to be concerned about possible dog bites. (The liability will fall on you to pay for medical care).

There are also no laws that make it illegal to ignore an abandoned animal. If you have the time and ability, make a quick phone call to report it and let the city take over. A simple call can save an animal.

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