Pet refuges overrun as dog and cat owners forced to surrender beloved animals to rent properties

WA’s largest animal shelters are being inundated with pets being surrendered by owners unable to secure affordable rental properties willing to accommodate them.

The Dogs’ Refuge Home in the western Perth suburb of Shenton Park normally receives three surrendered dogs each day, on top of regional arrivals and their intake from local pounds.

Dogs’ Refuge Home spokeswoman Robyn Slater said that had spiked to 30 surrender requests a week.

“Some people are having trouble finding housing, and especially housing that’s going to accommodate a pet or multiple pets,” she said.

“It can be really sad because these people do love their animals, 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 that they have to surrender their pet .”

Emergency dog ​​surrenders rise

Ms Slater said the refuge was struggling to cope with the increasing demand.

“It’s challenging for us because we only have a certain amount of kennels, and if dogs aren’t being adopted and there isn’t that flow through, we can’t just keep saying yes,” she said.

“At the moment we’ve got about a week wait on surrenders … the board is just consistently full, [but] we will move heaven and earth to take dogs in.”

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

There has also been a surge in emergency surrenders, with some owners having no choice but to rehome their animals to improve their chances of finding a place to live.

One of the refuge’s recent arrivals, two-year-old Bella, was surrendered by her owners who were faced with eviction if they did not give her up.

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

Hundreds of cats given up

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

A close-up of a gray cat lying down in a cage in an animal shelter.
The Cat Haven in Shenton Park has taken in close to 900 cats this year already.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

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

“We will never say no to a cat, that’s been our charter for the last 60 years, but at the moment we’re having to say to people, ‘you can’t surrender your own cat until probably mid-June because we’ ve literally got nowhere to put these cats’,” she said.

“This year alone we’re up to close to 900 cats coming in … that’s 900 lives affected, it’s 900 families or people who have had to say goodbye to their cat and it’s 900 cats that are completely lost as to why they find themselves in shelter.”

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

Ms Robinson said the staff at the shelter were also being heavily impacted by the “heartbreaking scenarios played out every day”.

“It’s like a pebble hitting a pond and it ripples out and affects our staff’s mental wellbeing,” she said.

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

“And quite often this is the sole companion these people have got, and to ask them to surrender them simply because it’s either food for them or the kids or they can’t get affordable rental accommodation is just reprehensible.”

Calls for rental reform

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

In WA, tenants wanting to keep pets on the premises must seek permission from the landlord, who is not required to provide grounds for refusing the request.

RSPCA WA chief executive Ben Cave recommended the state amend its tenancy laws to match Victoria and the ACT, to allow more pet-friendly properties onto the market.

A mid-shot of RSPCA WA chief executive Ben Cave posing for a photo indoors in a suit jacket and checked shirt.
Ben Cave says WA’s Residential Tenancies Act “needs fixing” to help pet owners.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

“There’s more pets in Australia than there are people, and I think it’s really important that our laws keep up with that fact and allow people to keep their pets,” he said.

“The Residential Tenancies Act has been under review now for almost three years and that’s what needs fixing.

“The ACT and Victoria have good models where landlords can’t simply 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’re asking for.

The Shenton Park shelters said they would also like the state to adopt pet-friendly rental laws.

“We would love to see a change in the mentality of landlords where you can’t just knock a tenant back,” Ms Robinson said.

“We need to sit down and have adult conversations about this and put on the table what the worries of the landlord actually are. What are the concerns about taking a 10-year-old cat into their property?”

A cat adoptions sign on the ground next to a green trolley filled with pet food.
The number of animals at Cat Haven is double the normal amount for this time of year.(ABC News: Tabarak Al Jrood)

Ms Slater said landlords should not “tarnish everyone with the same brush”.

“I think that if someone’s had a bad experience with a tenant that’s had pets in the past, they’re more likely to go for someone who doesn’t have pets, but that’s really wrong because there’s so many fantastic, responsible pet owners, “she said.

“And what happens is they’re splitting up a family … our dogs are our family members, and to split up families like that is really sad.”

Rental crisis exacerbates pet issue

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

REIWA president Damian Collins said the end to the moratorium on rent increases and evictions had led to a shortage of properties available, with Perth’s rental vacancy rate sitting just slightly over 1 per cent.

A mid shot of a man wearing a mauve tie, white shirt and navy blue blazer standing with a tree in the background.
Damian Collins says tenants will continue to face challenges until WA’s rental shortage is solved.(ABC News: Jessica Warriner)

“With the rental shortage that we have, it’s just very difficult to find any property at all,” he said.

“And then when they do find one, it may well be that that property owner for varying reasons doesn’t want a pet in their property.”

Mr Collins believed increasing the bonds for pets to $500 would encourage more landlords to allow pet owners into their properties.

“There’s currently a $260 pet bond that’s only allowed for fumigation. It’s not allowed to contribute to any damage to the property and we certainly think that should change,” he said.

But he said tenants would continue to face challenges until the state’s rental shortage was solved.

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

“But it’s fundamentally about demand and supply and right now we need more homes built, and the building industry is suffering from labor shortages and other challenges.

“We need more investors to come into property in ownership and put up places for rent … and what we need from that is tenancy laws that are balanced and fair.”

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