One unexpected side effect of the global pandemic was a rush to adopt shelter animals. There were some days when shelters were empty or nearly so.
A year into the pandemic, when 10% of the U.S. human population was fully vaccinated and many restrictions on activities eased, pets got some good news too: Their “forever homes” were, indeed, forever. Area shelters have seen no increase in people returning their furry pandemic pals.
“We’ve even seeing more adoptions in our case,” said Hailey Ruesch, front desk coordinator at Lakeshore PAWS in Valparaiso.
“We’ve been real low on our dogs,” said Eric Hayes, shelter director for the LaPorte County Small Animal Shelter. “None of those have been coming back.”
“We’ve stayed pretty steady,” said Freida White, executive director of the Humane Society of Northwest Indiana in Gary. “All of ours (that have been adopted) have stayed where they’re at.”
One concern remains for many shelters: The adoption boom has reduced the number of foster homes available for pets.
“We lost quite a few to ‘foster fails’ (foster homes that adopt the pets),” said Jessica Petalas, shelter director at Humane Indiana in Munster. Petales said things are starting to get back to normal at the shelter. It's once again receiving pets beyond the most urgent cases from animal control, and there's staff to handle the influx with fewer out on COVID protocol.
Returning to normal can bring other concerns for households where pets have become accustomed to having people to keep them company.
“Depending on what kind of issue, we recommend talking to your vet,” Hayes said. “We have numerous trainers and behavior specialists we can recommend too.”
Because many expect that some employees will continue to work from home post-pandemic, “now is as good a time as any to adopt,” Petalas said. “If given the OK to work from home, it makes it easier for things like training.”
Petalas said Humane Indiana’s website, humaneindiana.org, has a lot of advice for families considering pet adoption and emphasizes a few key points.
“Make sure you’ll have enough time to provide for the needs of your pet,” Petalas said. “A lot of people think you just have to buy food and give them water, but you need to have time to give them exercise, take them to the vet, give them attention.
“You also need to be prepared for expenses,” she said. “Buying food is the start. There’s visits to the vet. Some pets require regular grooming. Behavior might require time and expense for a trainer. Those expenses add up. Also, there are a lot of places that require pet license fees every year. Sometimes you don’t even think of that when you’re thinking about adopting a pet. It can add up really quickly.”
Among the other lessons of COVID, according to Petalas, “make an emergency plan for your pet — not just for COVID, but for a tornado or home fire or anything that might happen.”
“It’s not something I thought about until COVID,” Petalas said. “People were having trouble financially. A lot of people that were hospitalized."
Shelters can help families keep their pets and can provide space for a displaced pet, but an emergency plan will let the shelter get the pet to a relative or friend who will care for it until the emergency passes.
“We have our crisis foster programs to help — usually for 30 days, can be up to 60 days. We’ve had a crisis foster program for a couple years, but demand got a lot bigger with COVID,” she said. “We’ve had people crisis foster because their house caught fire, fleeing domestic violence — that’s the reason we created crisis foster. There were people staying in dangerous, domestic-abuse situations, because they were afraid of what would happen to their pets if they were left behind.”
Petalas emphasizes that a shelter's goal is to keep pets with their families. “With people home all the time, pets might have developed naughty habits,” Petalas said. "Owners might have made them a little spoiled. Don’t give up on them. We have step-by-step training guides on our website that can help. Sometimes we become almost a case worker to help pets and families stay together.”