Pet supply

Pet shelters are overrun as dog and cat owners are forced to abandon their beloved pets to rent properties

WA’s largest animal shelters are inundated with pets abandoned by owners unable to secure affordable rental properties willing to take them in.

The Dogs’ Refuge Home in the western Perth suburb of Shenton Park normally receives three abandoned dogs each day, in addition to regional arrivals and bringing them to local pounds.

Dogs’ Refuge Home spokeswoman Robyn Slater said the number of requests for discounts had risen to 30 per week.

“Some people struggle to find housing, and especially housing that can accommodate one or more pets,” she said.

“It can be really sad because these people love their pets, but they’re in a position where they’re going to be homeless if they don’t say yes to a rental…and that means they have to give their pet back. of company .”

Emergency dog ​​abandonments are on the rise

Ms Slater said the shelter was struggling to keep up with growing demand.

“It’s difficult for us because we only have a certain number of kennels, and if the dogs aren’t adopted and there’s no flow, we can’t keep saying yes” , she said.

“At the moment we have about a week waiting for surrenders… the board is still full, [but] we will move heaven and earth to welcome dogs.”

Perth’s Dogs’ Refuge Home says it is struggling to care for an increasing number of pets.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

There has also been an increase in emergency abandonment, with some owners having no choice but to rehouse their animals to improve their chances of finding housing.

One of the shelter’s recent arrivals, two-year-old Bella, was abandoned by her owners who risked eviction if they did not give her up.

“It can be very emotional for the dog, for the owner and for us here at the shelter.”

Hundreds of abandoned cats

Across the road, the Cat Haven is full with surrenders for the next month.

A close up of a gray cat lying in a cage at an animal shelter.
Shenton Park’s Cat Haven has already welcomed nearly 900 cats this year.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

Cat Haven CEO Roz Robinson said the charity had more than 300 cats on site and another 500 in foster care, double its usual intake for this time of year.

“We’ll never say no to a cat, it’s been our charter for 60 years, but right now we have to tell people, ‘you can’t return your own cat until probably mid-June because we’ I I literally have nowhere to put these cats,” she said.

“This year alone we have almost 900 cats coming in…that’s 900 lives affected, that’s 900 families or individuals who have had to say goodbye to their cat and that’s 900 cats that are completely lost as to the why they end up in a shelter.”

A woman stands outside a glass-fronted cat enclosure
Roz Robinson says people have to choose between caring for their family or caring for their pets. (ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

Ms Robinson said staff at the shelter were also greatly affected by the “heartbreaking scenarios that unfold every day”.

“It’s like a pebble hitting a pond and it ripples through and affects the mental well-being of our staff,” she said.

“To see a lady living alone in her 40s abandoning her two cats that she once had kittens because she couldn’t get a rental is quite tragic…it really shouldn’t happen in a country like Australia.

“And a lot of times it’s the only companion these people have, and asking them to give it back just because it’s food for them or for the kids or they can’t find affordable rental housing is simply reprehensible.”

Call for rent reform

The issue prompted WA to change its tenancy laws to make it easier for tenants to have pets.

In WA, tenants wishing to keep pets on the premises must seek permission from the landlord, who is not required to provide reasons for their refusal.

RSPCA WA chief executive Ben Cave has recommended the state change its rental laws to match Victoria and the ACT, to allow more pet-friendly properties on the market.

A mid shot of RSPCA WA chief executive Ben Cave posing for a photo indoors in a suit jacket and checkered shirt.
Ben Cave says WA’s residential tenancy law “needs to be fixed” to help pet owners.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

“There are more pets in Australia than there are people, and I think it’s really important that our laws take that into account and allow people to keep their pets. “, did he declare.

“The Residential Tenancies Act has been under review for almost three years and that is what needs to be fixed.

“The ACT and Victoria have good models where landlords can’t just say no… they can say no, but there’s a basis for them to have a discussion with the tenant, and that’s all we ask.

Shenton Park Shelters said they would also like the state to pass pet-friendly rental laws.

“We would like to see a change in the mindset of landlords where you can’t just push a tenant away,” Ms Robinson said.

“We need to sit down and have adult conversations about this and put on the table what the owner’s concerns really are. What are the concerns about welcoming a 10-year-old cat into their property?”

A cat adoption sign on the ground next to a green cart full of pet food.
The number of animals in Cat Haven is double the normal number for this time of year.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

Ms Slater said owners shouldn’t “tarnish everyone with the same brush”.

“I think if someone has had a bad experience with a tenant who has had pets in the past, they’re more likely to go with someone who doesn’t have pets, but that’s really not true because there are so many wonderful, responsible pet owners out there,” she says.

“And what happens is that they separate a family… our dogs are members of our family, and separating families like that is really sad.”

Rental crisis exacerbates pet problem

But the Real Estate Institute of WA (REIWA) said that even if rental laws were changed, it would not solve the state’s rental crisis.

REIWA chairman Damian Collins said the end of the moratorium on rent increases and evictions has led to a shortage of available properties, with Perth’s rental vacancy rate at just over 1%.

Medium shot of man in purple tie, white shirt and navy blazer standing with tree in background.
Damian Collins says tenants will continue to face challenges until WA’s rent shortage is resolved.(ABC News: Jessica Warriner)

“With the shortage of rents that we have, it’s just very difficult to find a property,” he said.

“And then when they find one, that owner may, for various reasons, not want a pet on their property.”

Mr Collins believed that increasing the pet bond to $500 would encourage more landlords to allow pet owners into their properties.

“There is currently a $260 pet deposit that is only allowed for fumigation. Contributing to property damage is not allowed and we certainly think that should change,” a- he declared.

But he said tenants will continue to face challenges until the state’s rent shortage is resolved.

“It’s very difficult in the short term to make big changes to the real estate market,” Collins said.

“But it’s fundamentally a matter of demand and supply and right now we need to build more houses, and the construction industry is suffering from labor shortages and other challenges.

“We need more investors to get into property and put up rental housing…and what we need are rental laws that are balanced and fair.”