The Truth About Shelter Animals and the Pet Surrendering Crisis in Australia


Consider this: 250,000 HEALTHY dogs are euthanised EVERY YEAR in AUSTRALIA ALONE at kill shelters.

Do we have your attention?

A common misconception that we've all heard, is that shelter animals are broken, savage or dangerous. Perhaps that’s the reason so many unwanted animals spend years at shelters, unwanted, before they are eventually put down.

But these myths are simply *untrue*. Of course adopting an animal from a shelter is different from buying an eight week old puppy or kitten from a breeder or store. There’s no big red bow on your pet, no loving siblings playing with them or pickup from a loving breeder. The history of a shelter animal is often unknown. 

Yes. Neglect or abuse in their early months or years may well lead to a more skittish or absent animal. It may mean more time is required with this animal so that they grow comfortable with you and their new surroundings. You will need to ask questions at the shelter. You will need to consider how your prospective pet interacts with the animals around them, and with you.

But inherently dangerous? Incurable of the neglect they have suffered? Absolutely not.

Penny from Sunshine Coast Animal Refuge with Adoptee Ginger CatPenny Brischke has worked for animal rescue organisations for over 18 years. 

We were lucky enough to be able to speak with Penny Brischke, one of the volunteers at Sunshine Coast Animal Refuge Society (‘SCARS’), a non-profit no-kill animal refuge, about some of the ins and outs of the shelter and the animals they see.It’s well and truly time to debunk some myths. 

Pet Surrendering is a Very Real Problem in Australia, and it’s Gotten Worse

This incredible shelter adopts out just over 900 pets every year and saves over 1,000 through foster programmes. 

When asked what the biggest challenge faced in the every-day running of the centre is, Penny said it was easily the increasing demand to assist people with their pets when they needed to be surrendered. They simply cannot keep up with the demand. It's the most dire situation she has seen in her eighteen years of working in animal rescue.

‘It’s heartbreaking,’ Penny says. ‘The waitlist to get into our shelter seems endless. It’s emotionally destroying.’

The volunteers at SCARS day-to-day consists of not only caring for the animals at the shelter, a monstrous task in itself, but also finding foster homes for any animals to give them a temporary better quality of life, and clearing as many animals as they can from the local council pound. The latter is prioritised, as this is a life or death situation for too many healthy, but unwanted, animals says Penny.

On average, unregistered animals that are impounded are kept for three working days before they are destroyed
The Benefits of Fostering Animals

It’s remarkable that SCARS is able to function as a non-kill shelter, considering the sheer volume of unwanted animals in their locality at any point in time. When asked how the centre manages this, Penny puts it down to their amazing network of foster families.

Fostering out animals gives them, at least temporarily, a safe home where they can begin to feel healthy and hopefully wait out their time until their forever family, or owner, finds them. It’s also an opportunity for the team to better understand the animal. Whether or not, for example, a young family or a couple is better for the animal, whether the pet is okay to live near a road, in an apartment or a home with a backyard and whether they should be the only animal, or they would be okay around other animals.

This time is also beneficial as it gives prospective adopters the opportunity to see photos or videos of the pet in a less daunting surrounding. 

Unsure whether you’re ready to take the next step? Why not try fostering?

So, why the pet-surrendering pandemic? Is there any rhyme or reason to it?

The Most Common Reason for Pet Surrendering

Sadly, shelters in general are always busy. At capacity. But it seems now more than ever the volunteers are being run off their feet - met with a flow of never-ending sad and unwanted souls. One reason behind this influx may be due to the after effects of Covid-19. There was certainly an uptake of pet purchasing during lockdowns, spurred on from the new work-from-home model. It’s plausible that for some, their new furry family member no longer fit into their life as soon as lockdowns lifted and they resumed some semblance of normality. So, this would explain the upward trend of pet surrendering, post Covid-19.

To Penny, responsible animal ownership is not just about providing your pet the basics: food, shelter, water. BUT actively integrating them into your everyday life.

 The Most Commonly Surrendered Breed

This is an especially salient point, when you consider that the most common breeds that are surrendered are Staffy, Mastiff and Bull Arab crosses – larger dogs. Experts hazard a guess that the generally larger breeds are surrendered because they are more ‘work’ than a smaller dog. They are introduced as these cute, manageable things (with big paws) – but, they grow into those paws. They eat, A LOT. They poop, A LOT. They require training, arguably more than a small fluffy breed. When people can no longer manage, or no longer want to manage their big dog, they’re shipped off to the local pound…


Staffordshire Bull Terrier PuppyStaffy, Bull Arab & Mastiff cross breeds are the most commonly surrendered dogs, says Penny.

We asked Penny what, in her experience, was the main reason people surrendered their pets. And this is where it gets really sad. Penny says, the number one reason cited for pet surrendering, is that the owner could not find pet-friendly rental accommodation.

 This is a whole other issue, not for this blog. But Penny suggests, implores, prospective dog owners to RESEARCH what animal / breed would best suit their lifestyle, at the least. Take into consideration:

  1. whether there are children in the home;
  2. whether your work schedule will allow for enough time with your pet;
  3. your budget – will he or she grow? Will he or she require training?;
  4. what your weekends look like now and whether you’re willing to incorporate a dog into your current lifestyle;
  5. your travel plans and any arrangements that would need to be made for your pet;
  6. the availability of friends / family to help if needed; and
  7. health risks of the breed. Again, will your budget allow for vet visits if necessary?

…and THEN, there’s the growing cost of veterinary care.

Every pet owner knows the feeling of leaving the vet with ‘inconclusive results’, your pet making a miraculous recovery as they sheepishly bolt to the front door of the vet, your wallet $900.00 lighter…

The RSPCA cited 'medical reasons' as the #2 reason behind animals being euthanised every year. SCARS spends $250,000 every year on vet visits alone. This, Penny cited, is another significant and never-ending hurdle the team has to manage every year, in order to keep the animals in their care and out of the kill shelters.

 What You Can Do

Penny says the Number One thing you can do to assist is to spread the word about adopting! There is already a significant push towards ‘Adopt Don’t Shop’, but every conversation matters. You can help these poor souls by busting the myths that rescue animals are ‘broken’.

Number Two: Go through your linen cupboards, check out this link to what we need donated

Number Three: Think considerately. Really considerately. Consider the impact an animal will have on your lifestyle and whether you are truly ready for a fifteen PLUS year commitment to another creature. If more people thought more considerately before purchasing, we dare-say there would be far fewer paws in places like SCARS.

You see, animals who have been put up for adoption aren’t really broken beyond repair. They, like us, just need patience, love and safety.

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Staffy in Ruby Red Dog Harness

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