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Sad fallout from cost-of-living crisis

Spikey, a toy poodle and Cocker Spaniel cross
Animal shelters and refuges have reported immense spikes in dogs and cats being surrendered and left abandoned, with owners resorting to desperate measures.

The cost-of-living crunch has seen a heartbreaking trend of a spike of pets being abandoned or surrendered.

RSPCA NSW’s waitlist for desperate owners looking to surrender their pets has ballooned to 1170 animals.

The organisation has reported a large increase in surrender calls, with the figure comprised of 355 dogs and 815 cats and kittens.

Alarmingly, pet abandonments have also surged by 141 per cent in the past six months, with inspectors forced to rescue and take-in pets left stranded in empty rentals, or dogs tied to tree and deserted in parks.

RSPCA PRESSER
RSPCA NSW’s waitlist for desperate pet owners needing to surrender their pets has increased to 1170, with pet abandonments surging by 141 per cent in the last six months. Picture: Christian Gilles/ NCA NewsWire

In her 17-year career with RSPCA NSW, the charity’s general manager of animal operations and fundraising Kristy Blake said she had never seen things so dire.

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She said a lack of pet-friendly rentals has contributed to the spike in surrenders, with data from this financial year reporting a 66 per cent increase in people who have had to give up their pets because of issues related to housing, or not being able to find a rental.

There was a 7 per cent increase in people stating they could no longer afford to take care of their pets.

“I don’t recall a time where we’ve been under this much pressure in regards to people struggling to afford to be responsible pet owners,” she said.

“There’s some serious obstacles for pet owners, and especially owners, which means people have to make traumatic and heartbreaking decisions.”

Ms Blake said issues relating to cost-of-living pressures and rental restrictions were “intrinsically linked”.

“Being able to find affordable pet-friendly rentals is really challenging,” she said.

“There really aren’t that many pet-friendly rental properties in NSW, and when you find one there is a cost difference.”

Spikey, a toy poodle and Cocker Spaniel cross
Spikey, a toy poodle and Cocker Spaniel cross is a rescued dog at the RSPCA’s Hunter shelter.

While RSPCA NSW is the state’s largest animal shelter, smaller outfits are also operating at-capacity and experiencing overwhelming demand.

Sydney Dogs & Cats Home’s general manager Melissa Penn said increasing surrenders and pounds at refuges operating over capacity was a sector-wide issue.

Alarming, she thought activity had peaked post-Covid in 2022, and early 2023, where the charity pound received about 100 calls for help for assistance, however that figure is now exceeding 150.

Ms Penn puts it down to four reasons: Cost-of-living concerns, rental accommodation which don’t accept pets, behavioural issues “stemming” from Covid who weren’t socialised properly, and domestic violence victims looking to rehome their pets so they can flee their perpetrators.

“Initially when the calls started to escalate it was based around the animal being too complex to manage, but that’s now on-par with rental barriers and cost-of-living concerns,” she said.

“We’re really restricted with how many people we can support which is really hard on our staff and they get phone call after phone call, and they have to turn people away.”

CHRIS MINNS MP NSW LABOR LEADER
NSW Premier Chris Minns at the Sydney Dogs & Cats Home in 2022. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper

Animal Justice Party MP Emma Hurst said the state was in a “companion animal emergency,” and said the government needed to urgently act on its promised reform to make it easier for renters to own pets.

The Minns government went to the 2023 election promising to make it harder for landlords to outrightly refuse requests for pets, with renters able to submit a proposal to own a pet at a property. If no response is recorded in 21 days, the request will be automatically approved.

“Pounds are over capacity and rehome-able animals are being killed,” she said.

“The Labor Government made an election commitment to make rentals animal friendly and yet no action has been taken.”

Ms Hurst said the delayed legislative action also harmed domestic violence victim-survivors from fleeing their perpetrators.

“I am shocked that NSW Better Regulations Minister Annoulack Chanthivong has failed to introduce legislation allowing animals in rentals. While he sits on this, animals are dying and people remain in violent situations,” she said.

“I have also called on the Treasurer Daniel Mookhey to ensure that animal rescue groups receive funding in the upcoming budget.

“These volunteer-run organisations are inundated. The situation is dire.”