California News

California Animal Shelters Inundated with ‘Pocket Pets’

Shelters have seen an uptick in rabbits and other ‘pocket pets’ (guinea pigs, gerbils, etc.) surrendered over the past couple of months

This bunny named Brownie is up for adoption at the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter. California is currently experiencing an influx of surrendered rabbits and other small pets. — photo by Maurice Q. Liang

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—Animal shelters across California are currently seeing an influx of rabbits and other “pocket pets” being surrendered and put up for adoption. 

Erika Smart, program and development manager at Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter (SCCAS), says that the increase in rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils and other small animals has continued over the past couple of months. Typically when at capacity, the shelter sends out requests to its placement partners to find space at another facility.

But now they’re out of luck. 

“Everyone is experiencing the exact same thing,” Smart said. “This is a statewide issue.”

There are many reasons why the surge might be happening, Smart said. One could be that people adopt these animals without realizing how much work they actually are. They consider them “starter pets” that don’t need much attention. 

But despite their size, these tiny creatures require a lot of socialization, exercise, cleaning, grooming and feeding.

“It’s a living thing,” Smart said. “It’s not a toy or stuffed animal, it’s a real live creature that requires you to provide a lot of care. I get the desire to have one. They’re so adorable. But in reality, there is so much additional work you have to do.”

If someone is thinking about getting a pet, Smart said, they should do their research beforehand. Some questions to consider before adopting include: How much time do they have to walk and clean them? Will they be OK left alone, and who will watch them when they travel? What will happen if their next landlord won’t allow pets?

“You might think you want a cute, fluffy, lionhead rabbit or maybe that Siberian Husky,” she said, “But you need to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.”

SCCAS is an “open door” shelter, meaning they will take animals no matter the circumstances. This has led to a large amount of out-of-county surrenders recently, especially from the San Jose area. Owners there who cannot keep their pets are being put on waiting lists and charged fees for surrendering. So instead, they come to Santa Cruz, Smart said.

“It’s often an urgent decision, like their landlord threatening to kick them out,” Smart said. “So they don’t have the time or money to surrender at their local shelter.”

With the ongoing inundation, SCCAS is running out of space, housing more rabbits than they can care for. Making sure every animal is given the proper amount of attention every day has been challenging.

“We can give them food and water,” Smart said, “but we want them to live an enriched life. Get out and play, socialize, not just be sequestered in a kennel 24/7.”

Fostering has helped, Smart said. Families can sign up to foster an animal for an extended amount of time until it is ready to be adopted. This has aided the shelter during the busy kitten season every year, and it has helped them now, to a certain extent.

“Fostering is super helpful when we’re so full,” she said.

The shelter is currently offering an adoption special. Rabbits and other pocket pets are just $22, including spay/neuter, microchip, vaccines and a small carrier. Staff can also provide counseling for new owners about caring for the animals. 

On Jan. 15 from 12-2pm, SCCAS will host the Winter Wonderland Rabbit Tea Party at their main shelter in Santa Cruz (1001 Rodriguez St.) The Alice in Wonderland-themed event will include tea, treats and the opportunity to meet adoptable rabbits. Everyone is welcome, even if they cannot adopt just yet.

“We just want to promote the rabbits,” Smart said. “Even if people have no intention of adopting, they’re still helping get the word out. Post some cute photos of the event—maybe someone will see them and want to adopt.”

SCCAS is in the midst of its annual Santa Cruz Gives campaign. Funds raised will help support their campus expansion, now in its first phase, with the purchase of furniture, cat trees, equipment for the spay/neuter clinic and more. For information visit scgives.org and sccas.org.

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