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Pet ownership has surged, but so has the number of animals being surrendered

Google Search data indicates more Australians are looking to adopt a dog as lockdowns continue, but shelters are reporting surging return rates.

Localsearch analysed Google Search data to find online inquires relating to pet ownership, in particular adopting a dog, have seen a huge spike over the past 12 to 18 months.

This is likely due to people spending far more time at home.

The search query ‘small dog pet rescue’ has experienced a 1140 per cent increase in search volume in the past year.

It was searched, on average, 742 times in March 2020, with that rate rising to 9200 times in March this year.

Almost two-thirds of homes have at least one pet while about half of Australian households own a dog, according to University of Melbourne research.

Tenancy rules conflicting with the rise in pet ownership

Localsearch Director of Digital and Growth Adam Boote said the keywords ‘pet rescue’ has an average search volume of 36,000 a month in Australia, with ‘adopt a dog’ recording nearly 17,000 searches a month.

The data clearly suggested there’s a lot of people out there keen to find their new best friend.

However, many tenants in rental properties have continued to struggle with state restrictions of pet ownership.

Internationally, UK-based real estate platform Rightmove saw demand from tenants looking for pet-friendly homes 120 per cent over the past year.

Tenant demand on the website as a whole climbed 13 per cent.

Rightmove Director Timothy Bannister said the rise in pet ownership during lockdown periods was well documented and was translating into the rental market.

“Becoming a pet owner is a long-term commitment, so what’s really interesting to consider is the impact this could have on the rental market in the future,” he said.

“It’s a signal to landlords that if they were to consider allowing a well-behaved pet, then it may open them up to a bigger pool of potential tenants.”

More than three million UK households have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association.

The association said that young people are the main driver behind the increase, with more than half of new pet owners aged 16 to 34.

Returns and surrenders

However, there has been an increase in adoption returns over the past year.

The number of people returning adopted pets to the Lost Dogs Home in Victoria has surged by 67 per cent in the past year, according to The Guardian.

The number of adopted pets returned by their new owners rose by a third in a month, after a 30 per cent increase between June and July. While 481 pets were adopted in July, 30 pets were returned.

It is unclear what circumstances have caused this rise (excluding the shelter supervisor’s claim people were just “giving up”), but a common issue many people have always faced is moving into a property that is not pet-friendly or downsizing to a home too small for their beloved pet.

The RSPCA of South Australia notes moving is a common concern for people who are renting. Almost a third of South Australians rent and most want to have pets, yet current estimates suggest just over 20 per cent of South Australian landlords (rentals) will consider allowing pets.

“With 68 per cent of South Australian families owning a pet as part of the family, many families who have animals and need to rent are being forced to surrender loved pets just to keep a roof over their heads,” the website noted.

Last year, RSPCA South Australia reported seeing a 13 per cent increase in the number of animals surrendered by good owners unable to find a pet-friendly rental. This is a poor outcome for animals and families that love pets.

Small-scale renovations to make homes more pet-friendly

For owner-occupiers, a new pet may create a need for a small renovation to existing homes. In particular, pet door installation requests have skyrocketed.

O’Brien glass services reported a 28 per cent increase in the sale of pet doors installed into glass doors, during the January to June 2021 period.

Interestingly, O’Brien Commercial Director, Nick Street noted the company has also seen an 87 per cent increase in the sales of cat doors installed in glass doors and a 15 per cent increase for dog doors.

“Across January to June 2021 we’ve seen a 20 per cent year-on-year increase in visitors to our website seeking information on pet doors in glass,” Mr Street said.

More than 60 per cent of those visitors went on to submit an online inquiry.

“Without compromising on the quality or style of homes, we provide the freedom and flexibility for owners to support the frequent comings and goings of their pets,” Mr Street said.

“As lockdowns change, we believe it’s important our pets have the freedom to be inside or out, irrespective of our movements.

“That extra love from our pets during the day is good medicine and a welcome distraction.

“So as we see more demand for glass installed pet doors we are happy to know that we have helped do our part in making sure that a new furry friend is well cared for and is very much part of the family.”

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Jessamy Tredinnick

Jessamy Tredinnick was the news journalist for Elite Agent Magazine from June 2021 - October 2021. For current stories, news alerts or pitches, please email