In 2022, the Calgary Humane Society (CHS) saw 68 surrenders for no-pet housing. Since January, that number has almost doubled and the CHS only expects it to grow.

This story also appeared in LiveWire Calgary

Sally Johnston, Associate Director of Community Services at CHS said that when referring to pet surrenders specifically because of no-pet housing, they’re consistently hearing from owners that they’ve tried everything they can to keep their pet.

“It certainly is a struggle that people are facing and there’s not much that we here at the Calgary Humane can do because at the end of the day, if there’s just not enough pet-friendly rentals, there’s no other choice than to bring the animal here,” said Johnston.

Other animal rescue facilities in Calgary are facing similar challenges

Tanaya Jilg, Executive Director at the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) said that they’ve seen a dramatic increase in animal surrender calls. Jilg said that starting approximately six months ago, ARF started receiving five to seven calls every couple of weeks for surrender requests but as of late, they have seen that number go from weekly to daily, periodically.

“A lot of the calls and messages that we’re getting are a lot of people can’t find rentals that will either take animals or are unaffordable for animals,” said Jilg.

From interacting with owners who are struggling, it came to Jilg’s attention that some rentals are charging up to $200 a month for pet fees.

“A lot of people can’t afford that and there’s a huge shortage of places whether you have a low income or high income that will accept pets in the rental market,” said Jilg.

Because ARF is dedicated to the well-being of animals, if an animal adopted out from their facility needs to be returned, they do everything to accommodate that animal.

Last month, a family that adopted a dog from ARF four years ago needed to surrender their animal back to the rescue because they couldn’t find a rental to accommodate their family needs and their pet.

In the last six months, Jilg estimates that they’ve received nearly 100 surrender requests.

“Everybody’s dealing with the same issue. We know that every rescue in the province is above capacity at all times. The other problem is that animals are staying longer in care than ever before so adoption numbers are down dramatically,” said Jilg.

Being surrendered has a significant impact on animals’ well-being.

Julie Bousfield, Behavior and Enrichment Coordinator at ARF has been in the dog training field for nearly 20 years. Bousfield is the lead advisor for training ARF dogs and has seen how dogs at ARF adapt to life at the rescue.

“Shelter environments are generally stressful environments period,” said Bousfield.

When a dog is returned to a rescue or a foster home, their routines are disturbed and they’re faced with new and unfamiliar people, smells and routines which are often very stressful for most dogs, Bousfield explained.

Commonly, it can take a dog up to three weeks before they adjust to their new environment. Bousfield said that dogs returned as teenagers or young adults from a behavioural point of view struggle the most with finding adoptive homes.

Because these dogs are in such a crucial part of their development both physically and developmental, Bousfield explained, that it’s common to see anything from rowdy and rambunctious behaviours like jumping and mouthing to fear and reactivity, depending on the dog.

For this reason, Bousfield said that the most crucial thing a dog owner can do to help their dog’s development is to ensure proper training, not only to set them up for success in the future but also because a landlord may be more likely to accept a well-behaved dog.

“If people have well-trained dogs, I think it’s easier for landlords to say yes to a friendly dog that has been in puppy classes, that have gone to teenager basic obedience classes [and] that they listen to their owners,” said Bousfield.

What animal rescues are willing to do.

Both the CHS and ARF said that they are willing and want to engage with landlords and landlord associations to combat this struggle that so many Calgarians are facing.

“There’s so much value to allowing pets in, and in fact, there is information out there to suggest that pets don’t necessarily cause more damage in the household, necessarily any more than the average person might cause damage,” said Sally Johnston.

This was one of the reasons why Laura Atherton, business owner of Efficient Property Assistants and operator of the YYC Pet-Friendly Rentals Facebook group, decided to create a space where Calgarians could find pet-friendly rentals.

“I’ve seen a lot of people at risk of homelessness at risk of having to surrender their pets to be able to find a suitable housing,” said Atherton.

When Atherton moved to Calgary many years ago, she struggled to find a pet-friendly property. Coming from Toronto, Atherton said that she had perceived pet ownership as a personal human right and was shocked by the differences in value Alberta had towards pets.

Atherton said that the properties that were pet-friendly were not quality rentals and that was a significant concern for her. From this, she was able to build a community to help others with what she struggled with herself once.

“I’ve been able to build up, starting from one pet-friendly door, which was my own many, many years ago, to now hoping to support and provide a solution for people with pets,” said Atherton.

Atherton said that she understands that each landlord has their own risk assessment, taking into consideration a tenant’s income and rental history, among other things, however, she promotes a different approach.

Atherton believes that responsible pet owners have a lot more to offer than the average tenant, whether it be vet records, talking to vets, talking to neighbours, dog walkers and training history and from this information, Atherton creates what she likes to call a pet report card.

“What I’m able to do is highlight to landlords that a responsible pet owner can actually provide a lot more details that can help actually relate to who they’re going to be as a tenant and how they’re going to care for that property,” said Atherton.

Atherton said that she promotes a “people-first model” meaning that she highlights the importance of communication as opposed to risk assessment when working with landlords who are looking for tenants. Atherton also believes that it’s important to reduce limits because of fear of incidents that happened in the past in rentals.

For landlords to simply say “no pets” is limiting so many opportunities, she said.

“That could be your ideal tenant that just might happen to have a small dog or a couple of cats or maybe even a large breed really lazy dog that’s going to add value to your home and your neighbourhood,” said Atherton.

Atherton wants to resolve the challenges pet owners are facing while trying to find suitable rentals. Her goal is to support landlords understand the benefits of having pets in the home and help mitigate the fear they have around the potential risks of having pet-friendly rentals.

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Isabella West is a fourth-year Journalism student at MRU. She completed her work term over the summer of 2023 at LiveWire Calgary in partnership with the Calgary Journal.