‘Not like a toy’: Pet abandonment cases soar as costs rise, owners return to offices

SINGAPORE: Pet abandonment cases have soared as inflation drives up costs of caring for them, while some people who got their furry friends during the COVID-19 pandemic also began returning to the office.

These new developments have cropped up alongside the “usual” reasons why pets such as cats, dogs and rabbits have been discarded by their owners, animal welfare groups told CNA.
The Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) said it investigated 310 cases of pets being abandoned last year. This was up from 225 in 2021, 251 in 2020 and 230 in 2019.
Meanwhile, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) receives between 50 and 60 suspected cases of abandoned pets each year. The number has stayed consistent over the years, said its executive director Aarthi Sankar.
However, abandoned pets can be challenging to identify, she added. In many cases, the group was alerted to animals that were not microchipped or registered.

“As there are currently no regulations requiring cats to be registered, it is even harder to identify whether a cat has been abandoned,” Ms Sankar said.
“Often, our officers cannot clearly ascertain if a rescue animal is from the community or an abandoned pet. It is thus likely that abandonment rates are higher than reported.”
But in one case last month, it was as clear as day – a woman was caught on CCTV abandoning her cat in a cage outside SPCA’s premises.
SPCA said they would take “the necessary enforcement actions with the support of the authorities” after CCTV footage captured the offender’s car plate number.

Ms Jessica Kwok, group director of AVS, noted that those who abandon their pets can be charged under the Animals and Birds Act. First-time offenders who fail in the duty of care to their pets can be fined a maximum of S$10,000, be jailed for up to 12 months, or both.
About 95 per cent of cases that are reported to AVS are not substantiated, she said.
“A common reason given by offenders who abandoned their pets was that they were unable to continue caring for the pets,” she added.
AVS has also seen an increase in the feedback on the suspected abandonment of terrapins from 2019 to 2022, said Ms Kwok.

“This could be due to greater public awareness to report cases, as members of the public are concerned about animal welfare and proactively provide feedback,” she added.


A welfare group for rabbits told CNA that it sees more rehoming cases than abandonment cases compared to 10 years ago.

“Over the years, people are taking the right steps if they cannot care for their rabbits anymore. They will contact the animal welfare groups to go through the proper SOPs (standard operating procedures) to give them up,” said Ms Betty Tan, president of House Rabbit Society Singapore.

Unlike dogs, it is not compulsory to microchip pet rabbits in Singapore. This makes it hard to identify whether the rabbits come from legitimate stores or unauthorised breeders, said Ms Tan.

When the welfare group comes across a large number of rabbits of the same age and breed abandoned at the same time, this raises suspicions that they may have been abandoned by an unauthorised breeder, she added.

“Involving such a big number of rabbits, we need to at least notify the agency (AVS) that there’s a case and what the conditions were.”

Rabbit welfare groups and pet shops have also recently called for pet owners not to buy rabbits out of impulse due to the Year of the Rabbit.

Action for Singapore Dogs has seen a 20 to 30 per cent increase in the number of requests from people looking to rehome or give up their dogs each month since mid-2022, said its president Ricky Yeo.

“We have seen an uptick in the number of people coming to us for financial assistance. Usually, they’ll tell us the dog is sick and they can’t bear the financial expenses anymore, or they will say the dog is old, and the caregiver, who is usually old, can’t look after the dog anymore,” he told CNA.

However, the group does not offer financial assistance, and its shelter is also very full, he added.

“Generally, we refer them to boarding facilities, but they will always say they don’t have the financial means to continue to upkeep their dogs,” said Mr Yeo, adding that these people usually end up sending their dogs to AVS or the SPCA.

On top of abandoned pets, SPCA also receives 40 to 60 rehoming requests each month, said Ms Sankar.

The number of these requests increases by 20 per cent during the festive season or during holiday periods, when pet owners are spring cleaning, she added.


As for the reasons why pet owners surrender their pets, there are many but it usually comes down to a change in circumstances, said Ms Sankar from SPCA.

“It could range from the loss of a family member who may have been the main caregiver for the pet, to a change in the family dynamics, such as having to care for their senior parents, having children with allergies or a change in financial circumstances, causing a pet guardian to no longer be able to afford to provide and care for their pet,” she continued.

“In some other cases, it could be a lack of investment in training during their pet’s formative years that has led to a change in their pet’s behaviour or a change in housing situations.”

Over the years, pet expenses have “gone up quite a bit” across the board, said Mr Yeo.

For example, vet expenses have become more expensive, and the price of pet food has also gone up, according to the animal welfare groups CNA spoke to.

Cat Welfare Society (CWS) president Thenuga Vijakumar said that it has been coming across more abandoned pets since the end of 2022 – something she attributes to inflation and rising costs.

“So instead of caring for them for life, some irresponsible owners are dumping them and shifting the burden of care to caregivers (who are also affected by inflation),” she added.

While more cats were adopted through CWS during the COVID-19 period, Ms Vijakumar said this did not correlate to an uptick in abandonment numbers, because the adoption process involves strict screenings such as whether an adopter can financially afford it in the long run.

During this period, cats were abandoned primarily due to more people not being able to afford to sterilise them. This then led to overpopulation in homes, she added.

“I would hazard that those who are abandoning cats likely obtained their animals from stores or backyard breeders or informal, unregulated channels.

“They were more likely to make a split-second decision on the basis of the cat being cute rather than with an understanding of the 20 years of commitment they carry.”

Ms Wati, a consultant who has been rescuing cats in the community for more than a decade, concurred that the problem was a lack of sterilisation. She said that in recent months, she has become more of a mediator between cat owners – mostly hoarders – and the authorities in order to “get to the root cause of the problem”.

Just last year, someone abandoned two ragdoll cats in a box at the void deck of her Teck Whye block.

When Ms Wati contacted AVS in early January, she learnt that AVS had taken enforcement action.

“Before, people were very reticent about reporting and putting it on social media … so it seems like there are more cases now,” she added.


Vice president of Purely Adoptions Estella Lien noted that most of the people who come to them for help in rehoming a dog usually cite behavioural problems, which is what happens when the dogs have not gone through proper training.

“When we give up a dog for adoption, we actually have an adoption agreement. Although HDB (makes it) compulsory to go for Project Adore … it’s recommended to have a trainer to train the dog, if you have a puppy since young,” she continued.

“Training is not cheap at all … 10 sessions can be S$1,000 plus, so it’s not something that everybody can afford.”

Both Ms Lien and Mr Yeo highlighted that many pet owners probably bought dogs on impulse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 when many people worked from home, there was a “huge surge” of people buying dogs, with the cost of buying a pedigree dog shooting to S$12,000, double what it would normally cost, said Mr Yeo.

“During that very hot period, people were still buying dogs like it was a fire sale,” he said.

But as restrictions eased and more people went back to work, new pet owners realised how much money and time it takes to look after an animal, welfare groups said.

“They want something to keep them company at home. But having a pet is not like a toy, you just buy and play, and then if you don’t want it you just throw it away. It’s a living thing, and once you ignore that living toy, it will bark for attention and start to get irritating,” said Ms Lien.

“That’s where the owners starts to get busy, the bosses ask them to get to work, and the little ‘kid’ at home is making a nuisance because it’s being ignored.”

In some cases seen by Purely Adoptions, the animals have separation anxiety, especially those that were bought during the COVID-19 period.

“Because the owner stayed at home most of the time, and they weren’t even allowed to socialise them. For dogs that have separation anxiety, they can keep whining and barking for attention,” said Ms Lien.

“That’s something that some owners cannot take, they realise maybe a pet is not suitable.”

According to Mr Yeo, owners have started to resell their dogs. “So the pedigree dogs that used to cost so much, they’re now all being resold on secondary markets,” he added.

“As a trainer, I get a lot of clients who have actually taken over these second-hand dogs and they’re saddled with a lot of behavioural issues,” said Mr Yeo, noting that a change in environment or owner can be traumatising for the animal.

“Nobody ever had the foresight to think that two years down the road, you’re still going to be staying at home, working from home?” he questioned.

“It probably at that point was just a knee-jerk reaction or an impulse buy and they thought they could deal with it, but unfortunately, no.”

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