The pandemic has been affecting our lives for over a year. With vaccines starting to become available, albeit slowly, there is hope that we may be able to get back to normal – or stabilize at a new normal – some time this summer. Most US states and major cities implemented restrictions on public gatherings, social occasions, recreation and dining establishments, and other forms of reducing peoples’ exposure to the unique coronavirus, with the effect that we all felt isolated and closed off from our friends and loved ones.
This isolation, with all of us spending unaccustomed amounts of time at home, resulted in a rapid increase in the numbers of people seeking pets for companionship. Shelters reported a boom in the adoption of all dogs, cats and smaller pets. The shelters were quite literally emptied of adoptable animals as homebound people adopted pets and rescues were unable to have dogs transported from states with high-kill shelters1. Shelters also reported that they had to establish waiting lists for potential adopters as their supply was, for once, outpaced by demand2.
In many localities, the increase in animal adoptions was somewhat off-site by an increase in pet surrenders, and families faced the impact that the pandemic had on their finances. Unfortunately, this often occurred in areas where municipal shelters were under particular strain by the COVID-related loss of revenue in their cities and towns, along with the safety restrictions they were required to put in place. Shelters helped to mitigate this by increasing the number of dogs and cats that were fostered out to homes that could care for them during the pandemic.3 With more people working from home, there are more opportunities for fostering dogs than more normal times. However, the rate of pet surrenders is likely to increase as people face eviction or foreclosure as the pandemic continues into 2021.4
So, our shelters are heading into 2021 with a lot of uncertainty regarding their ability to serve their communities.
- Without a relief bill passed by congress, we may be seeing an increase in evictions and loss of housing among pet owners.4
- As the pandemic eventually eases, there’s a possibility that the fairly good probability that pets being fostered will be returned to shelters as our society opens up.5
- As we return to work and our social lives become more normal, we might see an increase in pet surrenders and returns to shelters, as people realize that they do not have time for the dogs they adopted or bought during lockdowns. They may find that they simply no longer have the time required to care for and socialize a dog, or that behaviors such as separation anxiety come to the fore when their pandemic pets are left alone while the owners are working away from home.6
The big take-away from all this is that our animal shelters and rescues are heading into a very risky situation. There are numerous factors in play that could result in a glut of animals being turned in to shelters, either a result of increased financial and housing hardships or as a result of people returning to normal work environments and having less time for adopted and fostered pets.
- Pet Adoptions are Outpacing Available Animals During Pandemic, CBS Boston. Retrieved from Pet Adoptions Are Outpacing Available Animals During Pandemic – CBS Boston (cbslocal.com)
- Looking to adopt a pet? The wait lists are growing as more people look for quarantine companions, The Denver Post, retrieved from Pet adoptions surge during pandemic with waiting lists surpassing supply (denverpost.com)
- A. animal shelters brace for influx of pets as people face financial hardships from coronavirus. Los Angeles Times, retrieved from Coronavirus economic woes could overwhelm animal shelters – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (2020, December 9) ASPCA Estimates 19.2 Million Pets Living in Households at Risk of Eviction or Foreclosure Due to COVID-19 Crisis. Retrieved from ASPCA Estimates 19.2 Million Pets Living in Households at Risk of Eviction or Foreclosure Due to COVID-19 Crisis | ASPCA
- Pandemic Leads to Surge in Animal Adoptions, Fostering. Associated Press. Retrieved from Pandemic leads to surge in animal adoptions, fostering (apnews.com)
- As People Return to Work, Those Who Adopted a Dog During the Pandemic Could be in for a Rude Surprise. Retrieved from As people return to work, those who adopted a dog during the pandemic could be in for a rude surprise (aaha.org)