More than 1 million households give up their pets every year -- and it's not, by and large, because those animals aren't loved or wanted.
What two recent studies -- published in the journal Animals and the Open Journal of Animal Sciences -- found is that in many cases, folks are relinquishing animals because they can't afford their veterinary costs, or because affordable, pet-friendly rentals are so scarce. This is especially true for families with a household income of less than $50,000 per year.
Emily Weiss, the author of both studies and vice president of shelter research and development for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is hoping her work will help spur more efforts to help families keep their pets at home and out of shelters -- such as creating more pet-friendly housing, making low-cost veterinary care more widely available and expanding the availability of so-called "pet retention" programs that help folks hold onto and take good care of their animals.
"We [at the ASPCA] believe that pets and their people belong together," Weiss told The Huffington Post.
HuffPost spoke with Weiss to learn more.
HuffPost: There's still a segment of the population who thinks folks who can't afford to take care of their animals shouldn't have animals. What would be your response?
Weiss: It's unimaginable how heartbreaking it would be to believe that the only way to help your dog or cat is to have to give them away. Further, even if you may not feel the same -- yet -- the cost of caring for a homeless pet in a shelter is likely higher than the amount needed to keep that pet home where he belongs. You can save more by keeping him home.
Why is it important to know why people are giving up their animals?
It's important because in many cases these are pets and people that can stay together with a little help, by simply shifting the number of affordable rental units that allow pets we can stop hearts from breaking and decrease homeless dogs and cats.
It's important because we don’t need to be focusing shelter resources on trying to find new homes for these pets -- they already have people who love and want to do right by them. One of the most direct ways to end homelessness of dogs and cats is to keep them at home in the first place. By keeping pets in their homes, we not only free up space at shelters for pets who really need it, but we also keep homes open for the truly homeless dogs and cats that just need an adopter.
Were there any surprises in your research?
In the Los Angeles study [which looked at people surrendering pets at a shelter in a low-income part of the city] one of the most surprising and heartbreaking -- but hope-filled, as well -- findings was that when those relinquishing were told there may be support available for them to keep their pet, 88 percent of them choose to explore that option.
In the re-homing study we found it telling that for those that rented their homes, housing issues were the No. 1 reason for re-homing. Access to affordable pet-friendly housing for all income levels is much needed if we are to embrace the importance of dogs and cats in our lives.
How can we use these findings to help people hold into their pets, and help keep pets out of the shelter system?
The ASPCA is addressing this issue by establishing and supporting “safety net” programs in communities across the country, and we encourage more communities to consider implementing these types of programs.
In June 2014, we launched a “safety net” program at two of the highest intake Los Angeles County shelters. Since its launch, the program has assisted over 4,100 animals who were at risk of entering the shelter system. Early follow-up with a small sample of clients has reported that over 80 percent of these pets still remain in their homes.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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