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Dumped and surrendered pets on the rise in Montana; experts cite inflation as factor

Young puppy available at Help for Homeless Pets
Posted at 5:55 PM, Feb 21, 2023

BILLINGS — For many, pets are treated like family. But according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), 6.3 million companion animals enter shelters every year nationwide.

Ashley Burling is the operations manager for Help for Homeless Pets in Billings. The nonprofit, no-kill shelter at 2910 Hannon Road sees dumped and surrendered animals almost daily. Burling believes there are a few reasons why.

“We get between 10 and 12 surrenders per week, so we’re looking at anywhere between 30 and 50 a month,” Burling said on Tuesday. “When you’re talking about inflation, you’re talking about vet bills, pet food, pet supplies and pet rent. I think inflation, I think people going back to work after the pandemic, there’s other reasons that they’re surrendered."

Food, medical care, grooming—the list of costs associated with owning a pet goes on and on. According to a recent study from Best Friends Animal Shelter, pet food was roughly 12% more expensive at the start of 2022 compared to early 2020. The study also found that more than 7% of animals were turned into shelters for financial reasons.

“You know, pet ownership obviously comes with a lot of responsibilities financially. It’s a 20-year commitment,” Burling said. “We’ve seen people tie dogs to our dumpster, tie them to the front door, tie them to the bench. And it’s sad. Because you don’t know, like, why. Why somebody would do that."

Recently, four puppies were dropped off at the shelter. They were rescued in Eastern Montana along with six other littermates. The six others found homes, but the remaining four were taken to the Billings nonprofit in search of a forever home.

Puppies from Help for Homeless Pets
Puppies from Help for Homeless Pets

"They were found living, dumped down by the river. You could see the remnants of the box and the bowl of food that they try to leave out for them when they dump them," Burling said. “It had looked like they had been out there for quite some time. I mean, they were scared. We brought them here and they will not be euthanized. We’re completely no-kill."

But Burling says this isn't a new problem.

"They’re going to good homes. It’s continuous. But they come in as quickly as they go out,” Burling said. “The thing about people dumping though, for us as a shelter, but especially for the animal’s wellbeing, if you’re going to dump an animal to at least come in and tell us what their name is. How old they are, if they have any sort of vaccinations, that sort of thing. Because that’s helpful information for the new home we could get them."

Luckily, many choose to adopt their animals, lessening the workload for the shelters. Megan Welu, who lives in Minnesota, has two cats she adopted, including one in Billings from Help for Homeless Pets.

Megan and her cat, Kyle
Megan and her cat, Kyle

"The true story is that we were looking to add to our family. We were doing a Google search, looking for kittens everywhere. It didn’t matter if it was in Minnesota, Montana, it just didn’t matter. And so we found a kitten that we really liked,” Welu said on Zoom on Tuesday. “The day before we got there, they ended up getting two big boxes of kittens dropped off at their door. It was so sad, I couldn’t believe it happened."

Luckily, she found Kyle, her new cat, and the rest was history. And although pet ownership isn't cheap, Welu says it's worth it.

“We drove with him in the car, I don’t know, 16 hours all the way back to Minnesota. And he’s been with us ever since,” Welu said. “This is not a commitment over a couple years. A cat can live up to these 20-year marks. Dogs 12, 14 years."

To learn more about Help for Homeless Pets, click here. The nonprofit is raising money for necessary upgrades to the shelter.

“We’ve seen some pretty sad things honestly,” Burling said. "It’s a good thing that there’s good people in the communities all over Montana that see them and take the time to go out there and get them."