During the first several months of the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in the United States in early 2020, the Houston SPCA found that there was a 20 percent increase in the number of animals abandoned. Some of these animals have been relinquished at animal shelters, but others have been left by the side of the road or left behind when their owners have moved. In 2020, the Cache Humane Society in Cache County, Utah, saw abandonment go up 50 percent for both cats and dogs. Reasons that pet abandonment cases have risen are thought to include financial troubles due to the pandemic as well as impulse adoptions during the beginning of the pandemic not working out the way the new pet owners had anticipated.
At the same time, however, tens of thousands of Americans have adopted pets or volunteered at an animal shelter; in one instance, an animal shelter in Denver asked for volunteers and over 2,200 people wanted to help. In another, the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter in Valley View, Ohio, had to place 70 of their animals in foster homes at the direction of the board of health. In the time period between March and October 2020, all 70 of those pets were adopted. Even with this increase in adoptions, however, many pets are still available for adoption at Humane Societies and animal shelters across the country.
When the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, then-President Trump declared a state of emergency in the USA. This prompted many local governments to impose restrictions on which businesses could be open. For example, in many areas, restaurants, bars, hair salons, and various other service-oriented businesses had their doors closed. This caused widespread economic strife, and many Americans were suddenly at risk for eviction, foreclosure, and food shortage. While there were economic stimulus packages and forbearances offered, many Americans suffered financially. In some cases, they gave up their pets because they could not afford the costs of feeding and caring for them.
Meanwhile, many Americans were told by their employers to work from home. Millions of schoolchildren were also sent home to learn from their computers. Social distancing was encouraged and, in some cases, enforced. With people working and learning from home, many families found it to be an ideal time to adopt a pet. Pets can improve their owners’ mental health by reducing loneliness and encouraging activities (such as exercise) that can help combat depression. At a time when many Americans were dealing with loneliness, depression, and anxiety over their health or job losses, some families and single individuals found that adopting a pet helped ease these emotional burdens.
As adopters took on some of the animals that had been abandoned or relinquished by their struggling owners, some animal shelters and rescues found that they had fewer pets to offer than they had people waiting to adopt. In some areas, routine veterinary care was temporarily suspended or limited, causing adoptions to be delayed until cats and dogs could be vet-checked, immunized, and neutered. At one Redding, California, rescue, the staff had placed all of the dogs that they had for adoption in March 2020. Some Denver rescue groups have said that adoptions have doubled in the past year and dogs and cats are in hot demand.
With the discrepancy between people who can no longer afford to care for their pets and people who desperately want pets that are simply not available, people may wonder how they can help. First, there are community assistance programs in many areas that can help current pet-owners care for their animals. Donating pet food and other pet-related necessities can help someone keep the pet they have bonded to even if they are experiencing financial difficulty. The Humane Society of the United States is one organization that is helping pets and their people stay together during this trying time.
Those wishing to adopt a pet should be careful, first and foremost. There have been scams where unscrupulous individuals will con people into paying for a nonexistent cat or dog in need of rescue. Potential pet owners should work only with reputable pet rescues and animal shelters. If they cannot visit an animal in person due to local lockdowns and restrictions, they should wait until it’s safe and legal to do so. A bona fide animal rescue will screen applicants and will work hard to find the right match for each family wanting to adopt.
If there is a shortage of pets available in a certain area, those wanting to spend time with animals might consider fostering pets in need of a home. Becoming a foster parent for a cat or dog keeps that animal out of a potentially loud, chaotic shelter and safe in a family home while waiting for their adoption to be final. In some cases, fosters can also apply to adopt the pets once they are vaccinated and neutered.
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