Animal shelters overwhelmed as rising evictions force families to abandon pets

Published: Feb. 8, 2023 at 6:35 PM EST
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Animal shelters in St. Lucie County are overrun by dogs and cats, according to county officials. They said families are having to give up their pets due to evictions and financial hardship.

"We’re seeing about probably about 20 to 30 calls a day from people wanting to surrender [their pets] or wanting information on how to surrender. I have spoken with the city of Port St. Lucie as well, they are also having the same issues," said St. Lucie County's Animal Safety Coordinator Maria Valencia. "Most of the time, the reason is evictions. A lot to do with the economy, financial issues.”

The Executive Director for the Humane Society of St. Lucie County said the same thing.

“‘We’ve seen quite a bit come in from the city of Port St. Lucie," Glenn Camilio said. "They can't afford to keep them."

Sgt. Angela Flowers with the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office wasn't surprised to hear it, however. The deputy who oversees the office's Civil Execution Unit said the number of eviction notices deputies are serving has drastically increased.

Flowers said in 2022, deputies served 991 eviction notices. In the last six weeks, deputies have already served 173— meaning if that momentum continues, the sheriff's office will have served 500 more eviction notices by the end of the year compared to the previous year.

"The demand for housing has really tremendously spiked in this area for the last couple of years for different reasons," Flowers said, "but that’s causing the cost [of housing] to go up.”

According to rental platform, Zumper, as of Feb. 4, the average cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment in Port St. Lucie is $1,850, an increase of 54% compared to the previous year. In just the past month, Port St. Lucie renters are paying 8% more for rent this month compared to January, and shelters are paying the price too.

"Everybody's overloaded currently," Flowers said. "We had 44 dogs come in just this morning.”

Camilio said the dogs surrendered are paying the price, too.

"This is the look," said Camilio, pointing at a dog named Leila, who was recently surrendered due to financial hardship. "They come in and they have no idea why they’re here. Dogs get anxiety, they get depressed just like we do."

Out of the shelters 100 dogs and cats currently being housed, Camilio said about half of those were surrendered by the owner. Not all of those were surrendered due to evictions or financial hardship, but he said many of them were, including Leila.

According to the Canine Journal, it currently costs dog owners $1,686 to care for a pet in Florida per year.

"I mean, you go from a $1,000 for a month's rent to $2,500 a month, you’ve got to realize, what comes first? Rent, electricity, or taking care of your animal?” Camilio said.

It's an issue not just facing the Treasure Coast. in Palm Beach County, Jan Steele, the Director of the County's Animal Care and Control, or ACC, said in 2021, the shelter received 491 owner surrendered dogs. In 2022, that number rose to 584, or nearly 50 per month.

"And unfortunately, the number of owner surrendered are staying high, as January received 45 owner surrendered dogs," said Steele.

Steele added that due to overcrowding, owner surrenders are now done by appointment.

"We have 14 people on a waitlist for the month of February," Steele said. "People are in tears when they are giving up their pets."

It's a frustration Camilio echoed, yet said despite the toll it takes on the nonprofit, turning away dogs like Leila just isn't an issue.

"This is what we’re here for. To take care of every single animal that comes through our door," Camilio said.

If you own a pet and you're struggling financially, there are many resources that can help you.

For help providing food to your pets, click here.

For help with spaying or neutering, click here.

For help with vet bills, and other animal health care needs, click here.

For resources on housing or rental assistance, food assistance, clothing and childcare needs, or other financial assistance, click one on of the counties below.

St. Lucie County Martin County Okeechobee County Palm Beach County or here for utility assistance only. Indian River County

If you would like to adopt an animal from or donate to the Humane Society of St. Lucie County, click here.

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