Pet rescues in London are seeing a 'troubling' increase in people giving up their furry friends

As costs rise and pet owners return to busy schedules, animals rescues across London, Ont., say they are seeing an "overwhelming" need for foster and adoptive homes.

Rising costs and owners heading back to work are among the reasons, rescues say

Gemma is one of the dogs up for adoption with Animalert, a rescue running in London since 1977. Judith McBurney says she hasn't seen this volume of pet surrenders in her 20 years of volunteering. (Submitted by Animalert)

In her 30 years rescuing animals, the rising number of pet surrenders is "the worst" Bonnie Smith has ever seen. 

"We're very overwhelmed," said Smith, director of SALT Rescue, a London volunteer-run pet rescue. 

Animals rescues across London, Ont. say they're seeing a "troubling" increase in pet surrenders as costs rise and pet owners return to busy schedules. Combined with declining numbers of foster and adoptive homes, volunteers are left struggling to keep up. 

"Last year we were getting more calls on adoptions and nobody could find a dog to adopt. Now, there's just way too many animals out there," Smith said. "We don't have anywhere for them to go."

The situation is "financially and mentally exhausting," she said. "Everything is so expensive now. It's hard for people to live, let alone own a pet." 

SALT Rescue has about 70 cats and dogs in foster care. When cats are ready for adoption, they're sent to PetSmarts across London. Even 20 more foster homes and 35 more adoptive homes would make a difference, Smith said.

Adoption applications have plummeted

"The increase is troubling," said Laurie Ristmae, founder and director of Animal Rescue Foundation Ontario, also called ARF Ontario. 

"During COVID, we ran out of dogs to adopt out," she said.

Animal Rescue Foundation Ontario has seen a 300 per cent increase in pet surrender requests in the last six to eight weeks, says director Laurie Ristmae. (Submitted by ARF)

In the last six to eight weeks, ARF Ontario has seen about a 300 per cent increase in pet surrender requests. At the same time, adoption applications have "plummeted" by about 75 per cent, Ristmae said, who also works as executive director of the East Village Animal Hospital. 

"We're quite accustomed to posting a puppy for adoption and receiving three or four dozen wonderful applications within the first hour. It's now quite a different landscape. We'll post a dog for adoption… in a few days we hope to get about a dozen applications," she said. 

They usually have spaces for 12 to 20 animals per month in foster care — but now see 100 pet surrender requests coming in each month, she said. Like many animal rescue organizations in the city, ARF Ontario doesn't have a shelter facility and depends on foster homes as pets ready for adoption. 

Ristmae has noticed an "alarming" change in reasons for surrendering pets, she said. Pet owners have gone back to work, are going on vacation, having difficulty securing veterinary care — or can't afford rising costs. 

"We've seen that people just don't have that extra money that they thought they might have when they obtained the pet," she said. 

Volunteering morning till night

Volunteers at rescues are facing increasing pressure due to the increasing demand.

"You can't possibly do it all, right? That's where the burnout is coming in for a lot of the rescues along with the shelters, the volunteers and workers right now that we're seeing," Ristmae said. 

We're "just trying our best" and supporting each other, she said. 

Judith McBurney is a volunteer with Animalert, a rescue that's been running in London since 1975. The workload for their team of 35 is increasing under the pressure — some days, she works from morning to night, McBurney said. 

London's Animalert is "having a hard time finding foster homes," says Judith McBurney, who has been volunteering for over 20 years. (Submitted by Animalert )

In her over 20 years of volunteering, she hasn't seen anything like this. 

"We have had surrenders before, but not the volume that we've had this year," she said. "People just can't afford to look after them anymore." 

The pressure is felt across volunteer-run agencies in the region who fundraise for veterinary bills and other expenses. 

"The rescues are the ones that take on the burden of providing the vet care when things go wrong — and we will do it," said Smith. 

"The poor animals are the ones that suffer."

Owning a pet is a "big responsibility," Smith said, but she hopes more people in London will sign up to foster and adopt pets amidst the growing need. 

Laurie Ristmae, executive director of the East Village Animal Hospital and founder of the Animal Rescue Foundation, says more people than ever are surrendering their pets.


Michelle Both is a reporter for CBC London. She holds a master's degree in journalism and communication from Western University. You can reach her at or on Twitter at @michellelboth.