With the family working and studying at home, and vacations pretty much on hold, the pandemic-induced lockdown may seem like the perfect time for an addition – of the four-legged variety – to the household.
While those in the business of animal rescues, adoptions and care are definitely pro-pet, they remind families that adopting an animal is a long-term commitment and that pets deserve a “forever home.” If people adopt now, they need to be ready to transition to a post-pandemic scenario that includes more time away from home and, potentially, away from the pet.
In the time of COVID
The pandemic has led to a dwindling supply of adoptable pets, according to Pets In Need CEO Al Mollica, whose nonprofit runs shelters in Palo Alto and Redwood City.
Mollica said that while there has been a huge rise in requests to adopt, they don’t have as many animals as they used to.
“The shelter’s basically empty,” he said. “We haven’t done rescue runs in a month or so because of the pandemic.”
In normal times, he added, Pets In Need conducts rescue runs all over the area. Shelter operations managers check all of the shelters and come up with a “euthanasia list” of animals that will be euthanized if not rescued.
Janet Alexander, outreach coordinator for the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority (SVACA), said that while they’ve not experienced an increase in animal intake during the pandemic, dogs and cats have been adopted at a much faster rate with so many people working from home.
“It might be one of the few upsides to the pandemic, because so many people suddenly have the time for a new family member,” she said. “We also saw an overwhelming number of families wanting to foster animals during shelter-in-place.”
Kate Levin, who works in public relations for Pets In Need, said that during the pandemic, her organization too has had “an incredible response from foster volunteers willing to take animals into their homes for short periods.”
The pandemic also has had an impact on veterinary services. Dr. Thomas Hansen, a veterinarian at Adobe Animal Hospital in Los Altos, noted that veterinary hospitals have seen an unprecedented spike in caseload over the past year.
“There are probably a lot of reasons for this,” he said in an email, “ranging from having more disposable income to put toward veterinary visits (due to a lack of travel and normal activities), to spending more time at home and noticing abnormalities that would otherwise be missed, to an increase in adoptions.”
Finding the right fit
Part of the Pets In Need adoption process involves spending a lot of time talking to families about what they’re looking for in a companion. In a small apartment, Mollica explained, a larger dog might lead to problems and will need to be taken out frequently for walks.
“Are you prepared to do that? We don’t beat around the bush – the last thing we want is for the match to be a bad match,” he said. “We have really capable trained staff who know what questions to ask and have a good sense about each of the animals they’re adopting. Sometimes people are disappointed – they have their heart set on a particular dog, or cat or rabbit, and have to be told no.”
Alexander advised potential pet adopters to do their homework.
“Dogs have different activity levels,” she said. “How many hours are you away from home? How active are you? Do you love to run or hike? Are you a couch potato? All these things factor in when you’re in search of a best buddy. Cats need a bit less maintenance and don’t mind being left alone during the day but will still demand attention when you’re home.”
Saving kittens and large dogs
Pets In Need launched its Cause for Big Paws program last year to save more large dogs.
“A year or so ago, we saw the number of animals in shelters on the euthanasia list was diminishing, but what was not diminishing was the number of kittens and large dogs, 35 pounds or over – that was increasing,” Mollica said. “We’re trying to save more kittens – three to four weeks and younger in particular – and large dogs.”
The shelter also is trying to help the “power breeds” – pit bulls in particular – which he said have gotten a bad rap.
Levin added, “We continue to need more people to adopt and foster large-breed dogs. If we can lessen the amount of time these big guys are staying with us in the shelter, we can rescue even more at-risk animals.”
Hansen said something else to consider is whether there are already pets in the household. Integrating a new pet “can be successful in most cases,” he said, “but some current pets will have variable tolerance levels toward a new roommate.”
Another factor is the family’s lifestyle. While most people are spending a lot of time at home during the pandemic, the situation likely will start to change in the coming months. Busy families may opt for a lower-maintenance animal, such as a cat.
In terms of dogs, families should consider the role they’d like the pet to take on, ranging from a running or workout partner to a mellow lap dog. Breed and age can both influence energy level and behavior.
“From a practical/size sense, a Great Dane might not be a good choice for a very small apartment,” Hansen cautioned. “There are also breeds that tend to need more attention and activity than others. Puppies and kittens are always very popular, but they can need quite a bit more time and attention when it comes to training, especially puppies. Young or older adult options can be a good choice because their personalities are more established.”
If allergies are a factor, Hansen said people can consider hairless or low-shedding breeds and dogs with certain types of hair. Some options are basenjis, certain terriers (Bedlington, Wire Fox, Yorkshire) and poodles.
Many people are allergic to cats, but Hansen said there is a diet available now for cats that can help reduce their allergen levels. A cat vaccine in the works will have a similar effect.
In addition to lifestyle and living conditions, there are financial considerations. Hansen recommends people consider pet health insurance, especially for catastrophic or emergency coverage.
“Having a pet is a great joy but also a lifelong responsibility and privilege,” he said. “People can sometimes be surprised by the care requirements … but also the cost, particularly when it comes to emergency care.”
Alexander stressed that while consideration should be given to long-term care, training, food and medical cost, people need to understand they are making a lifetime commitment to an animal.
“Of course, it goes without saying that everyone should consider adopting from an animal shelter,” she said. “The relatively small adoption fee includes spay/neuter surgery, a microchip, vaccines, a vet check and more. The best part is that you can give your new best friend a second chance at life – not to mention what they give back in terms of love, companionship and enjoyment.”
Pets in post-pandemic times
Asked about advice for pet owners once things get back to normal – when families aren’t home as much – Mollica said it was a big concern.
“Think about the animal’s well-being,” he advised. “To go from almost 24/7 around family to almost nothing, that would be a hardship, and the animal might have trouble adjusting. Be mindful of that, and factor that into the transition process.”
Alexander agreed about considering the pet’s needs post-pandemic.
“Certainly, there should be a contingency plan in place for when we all return to a normal work schedule,” she said. “Could that include hiring a dog walker or dropping a dog off at day care a few times a week? Or just devoting an hour or two in the morning or the evening for exercise and one on one?”