by Scott Smith, FoA Communications Director
Will they stay, or will they go?
That’s the question animal shelters and rescue agencies across the U.S. are asking this summer – and some are dreading the answer.
As COVID-19 surged through the nation in early 2020 and millions of people began to work from home (or were furloughed or fired), animal shelters and rescue organizations saw a sharp rise in adoptions of cats and dogs. While many shelters had to reduce operations or close entirely, reducing the intake of dogs and cats, the number of animals in foster population increased by nearly 20% last year.
Detroit Dog Rescue saw a boom in pet adoptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. “In the very beginning, I said that dogs were really kind of saving everybody because no one knew what to do,” DDR’s Kristina Rinaldi told a local TV station. “We were locked in our house. Dogs really came through.”
Now, Rinaldi says, “We have the problem of people who have adopted wanting to return the pets. Our ‘fosters’ don’t know what their immediate future is going to look like with their work schedule, so we are losing a lot of our fosters” as well.
Such reports raise alarms among animal advocates. “If you’re going back to work and decide to give up your dog, that wasn’t a rescue, much less a lifetime plan,” says Priscilla Feral, President of Friends of Animals, based in Darien, CT. “People can’t take a dog in like it’s a lease, or something to get you over the hump. It’s heartless and cruel to abandon a companion who was there when you needed them.”
Indeed, shelters that are not seeing a rise in returned animals credit a clear and thorough vetting process that stresses pet adoption as a lifetime commitment. Others are now focusing on helping pandemic-era pet owners prepare for a return to “normal” life.
Just as important is making sure that you prepare your pet for the change in daily routines. Priscilla Feral of Friends of Animals suggests letting your dog become accustomed to a walker or neighbor gradually before returning to the office. Another way to reduce separation anxiety is to leave your pet alone for short amounts of time, in a safe area, to get them used to having more “me time.” And as you return to work away from home, be sure to monitor your pet for any signs of stress.
Despite the profound disruption the coronavirus pandemic caused in both human and nonhuman lives, there are signs that from wrenching tragedy comes hope for lasting, positive change. The number of animals euthanized decreased in 2020 by 44%, according to spots.com, and spay and neuter procedures rose sharply. From May 1 to Dec. 31, Friends of Animals saw a 30% increase over the previous year, providing more than 15,000 certificates for low-cost spaying and neutering, which means fewer cats and dogs wandering the streets. And that’s a pandemic story with a happy ending.