More than 100 furry friends were abandoned last year as the Humane Society of Utah reported a massive jump compared to years past.

2023 was a rough year for some shelters in the state. West Valley City Animal Shelter and Salt Lake County Animal Services reported that they were overflowing with pets waiting to be adopted. The majority of these animals were strays or lost pets.

“Animal Control has encountered numerous dogs tied to poles in public places with notes pleading for a home,” Lisa Weiss, animal care/community outreach coordinator at Weber County Animal Services, said. “Recently, we found four 10-week-old puppies left in a wire crate at our doorstep in freezing temperatures without any blankets or coats.”

These puppies have since been adopted. But for some animals, the road to adoption can be long and difficult.

When an animal is abandoned on the Humane Society of Utah’s doorstep or the group is notified about an animal abandoned in a different location, the first step is to contact the local authorities, according to Guinn Shuster, director of marketing at the Humane Society of Utah. Then, there’s something called a stray hold, which is a period of time where the animal is held and is unable to be adopted.

In many cases, Salt Lake County Animal Services will approve the Humane Society of Utah to serve as the stray hold in their facilities. “We often work with many other shelters across the state where if the animal isn’t adopted there and they’re low on resources or they’re overcrowded, we’ll transfer the animals here because we have such good foot traffic and a high rate of adoption,” Shuster said in an interview at the Humane Society of Utah’s Murray facilities Tuesday.

Though animals can’t express their feelings through words, abandoning an animal can have a negative impact on them that they show through their behavior.

“Changes in environments, changes in routine can cause a lot of stress for an animal,” Shuster said. “If you have an animal who’s been used to spending time in a home environment and now they’re outdoors or they’re in a shelter environment, that can be really stressful for them.”

A dog named Smokey barks at the Humane Society of Utah shelter in Murray on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. Officials say pets are being abandoned at a high rate in Utah. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

In addition to causing the animal stress, abandoning an animal is also illegal. Utah Code states “a person is guilty of cruelty to an animal if the person, without legal privilege to do so, intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence: fails to provide necessary food, water, care, or shelter for an animal in the person’s custody; abandons an animal in the person’s custody.”

The main reasons why people abandon an animal in Utah have to do with housing. According to Shuster, housing insecurities and the difficulty of finding affordable apartments that accept pets are big reasons why the rate of animal abandonment has gone up.

Right now, the Humane Society of Utah is seeing more dogs abandoned than cats, due to housing issues. “It’s a lot easier for people to find rental apartments for smaller animals or cats than it is large-breed dogs.”

In addition to seeing more dogs abandoned than cats, Shuster also said the kinds of dogs being abandoned right now are purebred golden retrievers, pointers, springers and other purebred dogs.

“The majority of animals being surrendered to us are not returned adopters,” Shuster explained. This means that people are surrendering more dogs from breeders than they were before. She also added that people adopting a pet during the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t seem to account for the majority of the animals being abandoned this past year.

There are resources available for pet owners who find themselves struggling financially.

“People who are struggling financially and are already receiving services, maybe they’re on food stamps or Medicaid, we have a low cost spay and neuter clinic that’s open to the entire public,” Shuster said. “But we also have a special program called the SNIP program where if you’re receiving some of those additional services, you’ll get an even more discounted cost on spaying and neutering or vaccinations.”

Local pet food banks exist across the state, including one run by the Salt Lake County Animal Services and another known as Ruff Haven Pet Pantry. Street Dawg Crew of Utah also offers free supplies for animals. Ruff Haven Crisis Sheltering offers crisis sheltering for these animals. The Humane Society of Utah can sometimes help out with emergency surgery.

The Best Friends Animal Society has a list of other resources that pet owners can turn to in times of financial hardship.

“We also have a pet retention program here because we want to keep families together,” Shuster said. The Humane Society of Utah can help you discover resources so you can provide loving care for your pet through difficult times.

Humane Society of Utah social media coordinator Maddie Cushing and Savannah Forbush play with Domingo at the shelter in Murray on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. Officials say pets are being abandoned at a high rate in Utah. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Shuster said if the situation requires you to no longer have your pet, there are other options for you.

The Humane Society of Utah has a private pet rehoming page attached to its website. “You can list your pet with all their information and the people will actually contact you directly, so there’s no middleman. You don’t have to go through us,” Shuster said. “That page gets hundreds of views daily.”

Ruff Haven Crisis Sheltering also offers rehoming, too.

If it’s a case where you’re living in a rental and the landlord says you have to remove your pet from the premises, the Humane Society of Utah can work with you to surrender the animal and communicate the surrender date to your landlord, Shuster said.

With rising animal abandonment and some shelters struggling with overflowing animals, there’s something that you can do to help — adopt a pet.

Before you begin adopting a pet, Shuster said it’s important to look at your lifestyle. “Maybe you’re an adventure person and you’re ready for an active companion to go hiking with you or a couch potato to watch Netflix with.” Looking at different animals and various breeds can help you find one that corresponds with your lifestyle.

Related
‘We need help. We are desperate’: Utah animal shelters struggle with overcrowding

If you’re up in the mountains all day, an Australian shepherd might be perfect for you. Or if you prefer to stay inside, a cuddly cat might be more your speed.

After identifying the right kind of animal for you and researching the breed, it’s important to go meet the dog or cat or rabbit. “We always encourage people to meet the animal,” Shuster said. “Because even if you have a purebred German shepherd that you think is going to behave a certain way, they may not behave how you expect a German shepherd to behave.”

But it’s also critical to make sure you’re ready to adopt before you do so.

Say you’re unsure about whether or not you are ready to adopt. Try and spend time with your friend’s animal or try out fostering to see if you can handle the responsibility that comes along with animal ownership.

“Fostering is a great short-term commitment for people who can’t bring home a pet permanently, but can for a couple of weeks,” she said. “That often helps the shelters open up space for an animal that can move through in that same time and get adopted.”