Pawing At Heartstrings

Pawing At Heartstrings

By: Rachel Huculak

November 7th, 2021

As the coronavirus pandemic lingers across the globe, one thing is for certain: there is a greater appreciation for time spent with loved ones, have they two legs or four. For animals who are homeless, abandoned or are in need of medical care, animal shelters are a safe haven. It is a stepping stone toward finding a family, a place of peace and familiarity. 

Animals are experiencing changes to daily life in much the same way humans are, but how has the pandemic affected them directly?  The happy truth of it is that more animals have found homes during the pandemic than in years before.

Washington Post reporter Dana Hedgpeth says, “Some shelters and humane rescue groups are seeing double the typical number of requests from people to adopt dogs since the pandemic hit the United States in early spring. As organizations have switched their in-person adoptions to virtual meet-and-greets, they also are competing with rescue groups in other parts of the country to bring in animals.”

There was an expectation that animal adoptions would not increase, as individuals may want to save their money during the pandemic. However, animal shelters have found the opposite. Cats and dogs are being adopted at a rapid rate, often until there are very few pets left. 

“They’re going like hot cakes. We can hardly keep them in stock,” says Cindy Sharpley, founder and director of Last Chance Animal Rescue in Waldorf, MD.

With millions of animals finding themselves in shelters each year, it’s heartwarming to hear they are being recognized and cared for. NAWS, a No-Kill Humane Society in Mokena, IL, has experienced an increase in pet adoptions over the course of the pandemic. Allison Alpers, club manager of NAWS, was able to give a detailed synopsis of how the organization has coped during the pandemic.

“There has been a large increase in pet adoptions and we have not seen too great of an increase in relinquishment, luckily. We’ve still been pulling a lot of cats from other shelters in the southern states,” said Alpers.

When asked whether pet adoptions will continue to increase, Alpers said, “I certainly hope so. I do think that it will continue. I think more people are looking towards adoption now and certainly as our organization has grown and as word has spread within the community about our organization, I think people are continuing to look more towards adoption.”

The Capital Area Humane Society (CAHS), an animal shelter based in Lansing, MI, has seen an increase in pet adoptions as well. The director of community relations, Penny Myers, also had hopeful things to say about recent animal adoptions. Myers said, “We did see an increase in adoptions in 2020, and actually had a record-breaking adoption year, with 4,018 pets finding their forever home.”

Myers continued to say that by the spring, adoptions are usually lower in number. Though it is too early to see if the numbers will remain high throughout the entirety of 2021, Myers seemed to have hope for the future of CAHS.

Though animal shelters have been finding luck in providing animals with homes, they have faced repercussions as a result of Covid-19. These setbacks have had an effect on their staff, particularly on expected income.

Myers said, “It has definitely been a challenging time for CAHS. We had to close the shelter for close to two months when the pandemic started, and had to lay off most of our staff. Our largest fundraiser of the year, which typically brings in over $260,000 was cancelled, and we had to suspend our volunteer program, as well as other important programs that help fund our mission.”

It is apparent that increased adoption hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for the people who process them. However, people have been willing to help. 

“We also thankfully have had an increase in donations as well. I feel like people are more generous with their giving and have really stepped up for all of the animals,” said Meyers. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has also taken a toll on NAWS, though they have been successful regarding adoptions of their dogs and cats. 

“We’ve definitely lost quite a bit of income from it. Certainly our boarding income has become unstable. We’re not able to rely on it as much because people aren’t able to travel,” said Alpers. “We’ve taken a hit financially. I would encourage people who want to help to seek out voluntarism, whether it’s at our shelter or another. It’s a great way to give back and to help.”

Through donations, voluntarism and the adoption of the animals themselves, animal shelters have been able to stay afloat.

In fact, many individuals have looked to adoption based on the idea of the “pandemic pet.” Over the course of 2020, many people found themselves spending ample time at home alone as a result of quarantine practices. However, being alone can often take a toll on mental health, therefore having a fluffy companion seems the solution. The presence of an animal can often be comforting, providing a friend in a time of seclusion.

A Utah-based St. George News article written by David Louis discusses pets as a form of “medicine” during the pandemic. In the article, Louis says, “Several recent studies support the belief that ‘pandemic pets,’ as they are now being called by mental health experts, provide stable support and therapeutic benefits especially during stressful times, but the knowledge of a pet’s calming influence is well-established.”

Pets have always had stress-relieving qualities associated with them, providing individuals with a comfort that is essential to their well-being. More importantly, adopting a “pandemic pet” provides isolated people with a friend to see on a daily basis. Louis’s article also includes input from Dr. Christine Chew, Ph.D., an associate professor with Dixie State University.

Chew says that pets “have a lot of positive energy and are generally kind-hearted in nature. They are always happy to greet their owners when they come home. They are very loyal and humans thrive on this attention and not being judged for our actions.” 

Though pets have always been known for their love and devotion to their owners, people have paid more attention to this throughout the course of the pandemic. In times of uncertainty, an individual’s needs for love and attention is at a high. 

So, what does this say about the future for animals within shelters as the pandemic eventually (hopefully) wraps up? Will adoption rates continue to rise over the course of 2021 and beyond? That is the biggest question and even bigger hope of animal shelters as the year continues. Many people are now returning to offices and daily activities; it is uncertain whether adoption rates will remain at the high levels they have been at.

Regardless, those who wish to help can take part in this by supporting the shelters. This can be from donations, volunteering, spreading awareness, creating organizations to raise money, fundraisers and through the adoption process itself.

The more support individuals give to animal shelters, the better the chances are that shelters will continue to have increasing adoption rates, as well as keep up with the demand for pets. People have the ability to provide the support that shelters need to grow. If shelters continue to receive the same help that has been present over the past two years, they will continue to prosper.

Shelters such as NAWS and CAHS are hopeful that their pets will continue to receive the same support and attention as during the pandemic. Their hope is that pet adoptions will continue to rise after the pandemic comes to a close. Knowing the state of animal shelters and the current demand for pets, the future may be looking just as bright.

Rachel Huculak is a senior majoring in English with a focus on creative writing. After college, she hopes to work in the publishing industry as well as create poetry and stories of fiction. Her dream is to publish a book as well. Rachel’s interests include creative writing, playing piano and spending time with her family and friends.