A menace wandered the streets of Rexburg in March and April of 2023, destroying public and private property and harassing old and young alike.

Local law enforcement attempted to capture this “Rexburg Bandit,” as some locals referred to the troublemaker, for two months. Somehow, the culprit always seemed to outrun them, perhaps because she had four legs and the officers only had two.

“She was extremely elusive, so we renamed her Mystique once we caught her,” said Earlene Outlaw, an animal control officer with the Rexburg Animal Shelter.

Mystique, a Rottweiler and Husky mix, suddenly appeared in town one day. Although she had clearly been a pet, Mystique regarded humans warily and rarely let them get close.

Mystique shortly after she arrived in the Rexburg Animal Shelter.

Mystique shortly after she arrived in the Rexburg Animal Shelter. Photo credit: Rexburg Animal Shelter

Officer Outlaw suspects that Mystique was abandoned. Unfortunately, Mystique’s story is a common one.

“We’ve had animals that were dumped because they had a medical issue… or people have either gotten or lost jobs and can’t take care of their pets anymore,” Outlaw said. “And, it’s just heartbreaking to see the animals having to suffer for it.”

Animal abandonment in the U.S. increased nearly six times from pre-pandemic numbers, according to CBC News.

Shelters across the nation saw an increase in pet adoptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as the pandemic subsides and people are spending less and less time at home again, an alarming number of pets are being surrendered to shelters or simply abandoned like Mystique was.

Dog adoptions have steadily declined since 2020, with rising numbers of animals being surrendered to shelters.

Dog adoptions have steadily declined since 2020, with rising numbers of animals being surrendered to shelters. Photo credit: Best Friends Animal Data

“We call it a worse pandemic than COVID,” Outlaw said. “Animal abandonment has gone through the roof.”

It seemed that Mystique, the Rexburg Bandit, might never find a family. Terrified of humans, it took the shelter four months to help Mystique to even be willing to come up to people. Eventually, a local Rexburg family adopted Mystique.

“Mystique was a completely different dog,” Outlaw said.

Mystique with two of the members of her new family here in Rexburg.

Mystique with two of the members of her new family here in Rexburg. Photo credit: Rexburg Animal Shelter

The Rexburg Animal Shelter receives calls daily about stray dogs running around and meandering cats showing up on people’s property, meowing for food.

The Rexburg Animal Shelter only accepts cats and dogs; However, they’re not the only animals that people abandon.

Jennifer Snow and her roommates, students at BYU-Idaho, noticed a frightened bunny near their apartment during a late-summer thunderstorm. The rain-soaked, trembling bunny was a sorry sight; emaciated and missing patches of hair.

The bunny Snow and her roommates found near their apartment during a summer thunderstorm.

The bunny Snow and her roommates found near their apartment during a summer thunderstorm. Photo credit: Jennifer Snow

“College students will get animals without thinking about if they’re allowed at their housing or if they’ll have time to take care of them,” said Snow. “They think it will be easy to get them registered as an Emotional Support Animal or something, but then when they can’t, they just throw them out.”

Snow and her roommates nursed the bunny back to health and attempted to find her home. Their apartment managers agreed to let them keep the bunny in their no-pets-allowed building as long as they were actively trying to re-home it.

Snow and her roommates kept the bunny outside their apartment in a makeshift cage until the weather started getting too cold.

Snow and her roommates kept the bunny outside their apartment in a makeshift cage until the weather started getting too cold. Photo credit: Jennifer Snow

“Because of her breed we know she was definitely a pet,” Snow said.

The roommates knocked on doors in the surrounding area, posted signs in the neighborhood and made announcements on social media. No one came forward to claim the bunny.

The roommates renamed the bunny Ivy and enjoyed taking care of and playing with her.

Snow holding the bunny, who they named Ivy.

Snow holding the bunny, who they named Ivy. Photo credit: Jennifer Snow

“But she has to go,” said Snow. “It’s been almost six months and we still haven’t found a home for her. I don’t know what’s going to happen to her at the end of the semester.”

Owners facing financial difficulty may feel unable to care for their pets and feel that abandonment is the only option; it’s not.

The Rexburg Animal Shelter, currently at capacity, was unable to accept Autumn, a dog brought in by her owner for surrender. When the shelter staff offered alternative solutions and support programs for pet owners facing difficulties, the owner, visibly upset, abruptly left the facility.

The next morning a call for a stray dog came into the shelter. When the animal control officers arrived, they found that it was Autumn.

Autumn shortly after entering the Rexburg Animal Shelter.

Autumn shortly after entering the Rexburg Animal Shelter. Photo credit: Rexburg Animal Shelter

“We hadn’t been able to take her so they just got mad and dumped her off in some neighborhood,” said Outlaw. “People don’t realize that abandonment is not the only option, even when we tried to tell them.”

The shelter keeps their social media up-to-date with resources for struggling owners and animals that are up for adoption. The Rexburg Animal Shelter accepts donations and depends heavily on volunteers.

“We really depend on our volunteers to give the animals the attention they need,” Outlaw said.