CHICAGO — One of the city’s largest animal shelters is seeing more people give up or abandon elderly pets, who now need new permanent homes.
There are 56 senior pets in PAWS Chicago’s care, double the number from a year ago, spokesperson Sarah McDonald said. The shelter is also seeing an increase in the number of pets abandoned at the shelter or found abandoned by police, CEO Susanna Wickham said.
“Animals are winding up in our shelter that are 8, 9, 10, 12, 14 [years old], and they’ve lived in a home their whole life, and now they’re in a shelter,” Wickham said. “Sometimes they’re in alleys on streets, sometimes we have kittens left in a box on our front door. We’re seeing everything right now, but the increase in senior pets is something that is new over the last three to six months.”
The dramatic increase in senior pets appears to be caused by economic instability, Wickman said. Because senior pets often have medical needs that require expensive treatment, people struggling financially might be unable to afford supporting their pets, Wickham said.
PAWS Chicago hired a dental surgeon last month to deal with the increased number of its senior residents with dental disease, McDonald said.
“What we see is that some of the animals coming to us, they might have advanced dental disease or they might have a medical condition that requires surgery or treatment,” Wickham said. “People are struggling right now to pay for things like gas and groceries, so advanced surgical needs for pets might be something that’s just completely out of their budget.”
Another shelter, One Tail at a Time, has not seen a major increase in senior pets specifically being given up — but its staff have noticed an increase in intake requests across many pet populations, said Director Anna Johnson.
Intake requests are surging across the open-intake facilities One Tail at a Time partners with locally and nationally, which Johnson attributes to the rising costs of living, housing instability and “the general upheaval that comes with the uncertainties many of us are facing,” she said.
“We tend to see increases in intake requests and surrender requests at times when the economy isn’t so stable,” Johnson said. “It’s not necessarily a direct correlation, but when there’s economic stress and strife, and people are in an uncertain financial situation or are experiencing housing instability, unemployment, things like that — often there’s not a lot of safety nets in place for them to be able to keep their pets and care for them, if they’re unable to provide for their own basic requirements.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also seems to be a contributing factor in the increase of senior pets at Chicago shelters, Wickham said.
“At the same time, stray animals entering our shelter system are not often able to be reunited with families … so it’s creating a bit of a bottleneck there,” Johnson said.
Senior pets who end up at shelters are often scared, confused and need consistent, reliable care, Wickham said.
A senior pet available to foster through PAWS Chicago is Finnick, a 9-year-old spaniel mix. He had to have a life-threatening choke collar removed when his owner surrendered him to Chicago Animal Care and Control, McDonald said.
There’s also 13-year-old cat Tulip, who was given up when her owner developed severe dementia and became unable to care for her, and 9-year-old Woody, a 15-pound Maltese mix who suffered from dental disease and had matted fur.
The shelters also have programs aimed at helping families experiencing financial difficulties keep their pets.
PAWS’ community outreach hotline provides callers from Englewood and Back of the Yards with information on caring for pets, scheduling appointments and more. Spay and neuter services are also provided at PAWS’ Medical Center and Lurie Clinic in Little Village.
One Tail at a Time’s Chicagoland Rescue Intervention and Support program helps pet owners work with volunteers to keep their pets instead of surrendering them. Pet Mutual Aid provides pet food, veterinary support and spay, neuter and vaccine clinics and more.
“We do want people to come to us and to look at these pets and to give them a second chance at the next chapter of their lives with a new family,” Wickham said.
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