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Humane Society of London and Middlesex looks to ‘Clear the Cages’ this Saturday

Steve Ryall, executive director of the Humane Society of London & Middlesex, holds nine-month-old Lavender on Aug. 20, 2021. Andrew Graham\980 CFPL

The Humane Society of London and Middlesex (HSLM) is asking residents in the London-area to come and “Clear the Cages” this weekend by adopting a cat, dog, or other small animal in their care.

It comes as the shelter has seen an increase in pet surrenders due to people’s inability to afford veterinary medical expenses.

Read more: May 14, 2021: Pandemic puppies facing online exploitation as demand for pets increases

“While we can’t say that’s a (COVID-19) pandemic thing, we do know that people may not be working because they’ve lost their job or things are a little slow getting going,” said HSLM Executive Director Steve Ryall in an interview on Friday.

“Humane Canada has done some informal surveys with its members across Canada, and we’re not hearing of people seeing animals being surrendered because people are going back to work quite yet, but we are preparing for that.”

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The Ontario Veterinary Medical Association estimates the average annual cost of owning a cat can run between $3,091 and $3,231, while for dogs the average can run between $4,589 and $4,666.

These estimates, however, don’t include unexpected expenses for things like emergency veterinary care, which can run thousands of dollars depending on the procedures and medications the animal may need, and whether the owner has pet insurance.

The humane society is currently at or near capacity for animals, Ryall says. At least 250 animals are currently in the shelter’s care, and a waiting list of people looking to surrender their pets looms.

In a bid to get the animals into loving homes, HSLM will hold a “Clear the Cages” event on Saturday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., in the shelter’s parking lot at 624 Clarke Rd.

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Cats, dogs, and small animals will all be available for adoption during the outdoor-only event, which will be held rain or shine, HSLM says. All current adoption fees will apply.

“We did this event pre-pandemic and we adopted 17 animals in one day. We have 30, I think, on our website right now,” Ryall said. “It would be really great to find them all homes any day, but we’re really boosting this event up on Saturday.”

Read more: July 28, 2021: Popularity of ‘pandemic puppies’ has business booming for B.C. dog trainer

At the same time, those who may be struggling to care for an animal, due to high medical costs or other reasons, are able to surrender their pet to the care of the humane society, which runs on a no judgement policy, he says.

“If we can help you with some strategies, then we want to do that. But if the end result is it needs to come to us, we’re happy with that, because we know that they’re here, they’re safe, we can obtain medical coverage and stuff for them, and we will find them a home,” Ryall said.

The humane society itself, which is not government-funded, is not a stranger to the high costs of veterinary care.

“Vet bills around here, definitely in the thousands and thousands every month. But because of our volunteers and our donor base, that really keeps us going forward and able to do that,” Ryall says.

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Humane societies and rescue organizations in Canada and the U.S. have seen a spike in pet adoptions during the COVID-19 pandemic as more people have been stuck at home, working remotely, and seeking companionship.

In its 2020 annual report, HSLM reported that after transitioning its adoption process entirely online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it saw “more interest in pet adoption and a reduction of time spent in shelter for animals” waiting to be adopted.

Ryall, however, says that while adoption applications in were higher in 2020, the number of adoptions HSLM saw was about the same as the year before. The group’s annual report says 748 adoptions were recorded, 66 per cent of which were cats.

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Pet surrenders were also roughly the same, with one notable exception.

Amid the uptick in pet adoptions across the country has come a rise in demand for veterinary services. Veterinarians themselves, however, have been in short supply across the country, as Global News first reported earlier this year.

“We do have a very significant shortage of veterinarians and animal health technicians, registered veterinary technicians in Canada,” said Dr. Enid Stiles, president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, in January.

Read more: Jan. 28, 2021: ‘Exhausted, overburdened and overwhelmed’: pandemic pet boom leaving veterinarians in short supply

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“Where we used to be able to offer clients two to three days of a wait for a routine appointment, now we are booking seven to 10 days away. Our surgery schedule requires three to four weeks, sometimes longer to get in.”

Locally, the London Regional Veterinary Emergency and Referral Hospital on Adelaide Street has reported an increase in patient care cases, and earlier this month announced that they were now only seeing cases which required “immediate life saving measures.”

More information on this Saturday’s Clear the Cages event can be found on the HSLM website.

— with files from Andrew Graham

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