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Animal Shelters Inundated With 'Pandemic Pups' as Adoptive Owners' Attention Lags

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- During the COVID lockdowns, record numbers of people brought new pets into their homes, in many cases adopting from shelters and rescues.

With COVID restrictions lifting and people going back to work, shelters are now seeing the opposite -- a record number of people looking to surrender their dogs.

Rocket Dog Rescue in Oakland has so many dogs right now, they've set up makeshift kennels in their lobby.

"Just almost overnight we became overly full. The shelters are overburdened," said Pali Boucher, the founder of Rocket Dog Rescue.

She started Rocket Dog 20 years ago and said she's seeing a record number of people wanting to surrender their dogs. She's getting dozens of e-mails and text message requests every day.

"I've never had this many re-homing, ever!" she said.

Boucher says two things are happening: some people adopted dogs at the beginning of the lockdown and, now that they're going back to work or traveling, they don't want the responsibility of a dog; others are simply dealing with hardships caused by the pandemic.

"I'd say 60 percent of the re-homing applications we are getting right now are people being forced out of their homes -- being evicted or having to go care for an elderly parent or move back in with a family member," Boucher said.

It's a trend playing out across the Bay Area. Contra Costa Animal Services says their owner-surrenders are ticking up as well with 23 in April, 32 in May and 40 in June.

"It's just horrible. I don't think any of the rescues or shelters were prepared for this," Boucher said.

At the same time she says they're seeing fewer people looking to adopt.

"We'd go to a couple of adoption events and everybody would love the puppies but they weren't getting adopted," she said.

Boucher says that, until the trends turn around, she and other rescue groups will do the best they can to make space for dogs needing a new home, even if that means keeping puppies in the lobby.

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