WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB)– The state of the economy is not just impacting humans, but our four-legged friends too.

Shelters across the nation are blaming inflation, rising costs and returning to in-person work after the pandemic, as a cause for surrendering pets.

Alaqua Animal Refuge in Freeport is a 100-acre animal that is home to many cats, kittens, puppies, dogs and even farm animals that in search of a fur-ever home.

The refuge is currently struggling. It’s operating at over-capacity, with a long waiting list of animals all looking for that forever home.

“We are seeing an increase in returns right now. We are getting phone calls every single day,” said Ashley Englehart, the Animal Behavioral and Enrichment Manager at Alaqua Animal Refuge.

Englehart works to prepare the animals to meet their match and get adopted.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), as many as 23 million households took in pets during the pandemic.

However, Englehart credits the end of the pandemic for people changing their lifestyles, and returning those pets they adopted.

“People are heading back to work and finding they don’t have enough time for their pet, and a lot of those animals are coming back into shelters,” she said.

Englehart also cited the state of the economy as a cause for decrease in adoptions.

“A lot of people are struggling to afford care for these animals, inflation has caused a rise in the cost of pet care and the cost of food.”

It’s not just Alaqua Animal Refuge, the national database, Shelter Animals Count, shows shelter populations across the country rose 9.5% from April 2021 to April 2022.

Englehart said the over-capacity forces some local shelters across the nation to take unwanted, drastic measures.

“We are seeing many animals be euthanized because there out of space.”

Data from the Alaqua Animal Refuge shows that in 2020 the refuge took in 1,341 animals, in 2021 the refuge took in 1,686 animals, and so far they’ve in August 2022, they have already taken in 968 animals.

While Alaqua Animal Refuge is a no-kill facility, the current state of increasing animal populations has caused the facility to change their adoption process, ensuring animals owners express their expectations, and animals are able to be matched to a perfect home that fits their need.

“That’s going to help us make sure we match them with the right animals, to then make sure the animal doesn’t come back to us.”

In addition, to adopting an animal or making a monetary donation to the shelter, Englehart said fostering is another way to help.

“You get that pet experience, but you’re not financially responsible (the refuge foots any animal bill), and by doing that you’re allowing the shelter or refuge to take in more animals,” she said.

To view more of Alaqua’s adoptable pets, click here.