Housing crisis heartbreak: families forced to give up their pets

As the world came to terms with the global pandemic of COVID-19 – and the profound fear, uncertainty, and social isolation that followed – there was one good news story that was able to warm our hearts.

With many of us confined to our homes during lockdown, we sought the comfort, joy and unconditional love that comes with adopting a pet. Across the country, pounds and animal shelters were overwhelmed with adoption requests. 

The number of pets in need of a home reached record lows. Animal welfare organisations were delighted. Feel-good stories of cats, dogs, birds and rabbits finding their forever families represented a symbol of hope in the darkest of times. 

We were all hoping that this positive trend would continue in a post-lockdown world. Sadly, this has not been the case. As cities re-opened and returned to business as usual, economic hardship and a growing crisis of housing affordability have emerged as the latest source of heartbreak for animal shelters.

Accommodation stress tearing apart pets and their families

It’s as heartbreaking for the people as it is for their pets, with hundreds of Australians being forced to give up their pets due to the housing affordability crisis and the rising cost of living. 

Speaking to CBD Vets Australia, Vickie Davy, Founder and Director of PetRescue, said that “we are definitely seeing more people needing help”. 

“In most instances, the people who are forced to give up their pet really don’t want to, but are forced by their circumstances.”

“The biggest reason for this is due to accommodation stress. Not being able to find rental accommodation is a big one.”

“The vast majority of people giving up their pets are devastated to do so, regardless of when they were adopted.”

Inquiries to PetRescue’s Home2Home program show that a third of the people rehoming their pets can’t find pet-friendly accommodation. These reasons include that they can’t find a suitable home or yard, they have to move house, or they’re having problems with a landlord. 

“[Around] 33% of surrenders via our Home2Home program are due to accommodation issues”, Ms Davy said. 

Animal welfare organisations under growing pressure

In some states of Australia, landlords are free to refuse pets. With no national laws to protect tenants with pets, families are being left to make a devastating choice between having a roof over their head, or keeping their beloved pet.  

While tenancy laws in Victoria, ACT and the Northern Territory require landlords to consider tenants with pets, the housing shortage means many ultimately choose applicants without pets. Meanwhile in Western Australia, there is currently no legislation to support pet owners.

“Almost three-quarters of Aussie households now have a pet, 69 per cent, but this isn’t reflected in legislation at a national level,” Ms Davy said. 

For many animal shelters, the encouraging trends they saw during the height of COVID-19 lockdowns are a distant memory. Today, animal rescue organisations are busier than ever and struggling to keep up with the growing influx of pets in need.

Pet owners need more protection – and compassion

“We need to start considering pet ownership when designing and building accommodation, especially with apartments and lower-cost housing. Many don’t have any pet-friendly spaces.”

“But landlords can make a difference. By choosing a tenant with a pet, they can improve the welfare of both”.

“Having to rehome your pet is like losing a family member”, Ms Davy said.

“We encourage landlords to open their homes and their hearts to people with pets so we can prevent unnecessary pain and keep animals safely at home.”

If you’re a pet owner looking for a pet-friendly rental, PetRescue have gathered some helpful resources here.

CBD Vets Australia is a proud supporter of PetRescue and their mission to build a future where every pet is safe, respected and loved.

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