Pets show positive side of pandemic
Anyone can give an endless list of ways the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the U.S. Besides the tragedy of millions of people infected and hundreds of thousands dead, the virus has stolen our old lives.
But even the biggest upheavals can offer unexpected benefits.
Due to the pandemic, dogs, cats, feathered friends and perhaps a few other species, are reaping the benefits of humans who are stuck at home.
Nationwide, animal shelters and rescue organizations have empty kennels because people are turning to pets to fill the gaps that were previously filled with work, school, and comfortable routines.
Pet adoptions are skyrocketing these days. Some people are offering animals a permanent place in their families, while others have become foster parents to adoptable pets to help shelters shift to appointment-only adoptions, contact-free interactions, and operating models that are better for the animals.
Sarah Duchesneau, a foster volunteer for Williamson County Animal Center, has fostered five litters of kittens this year. A tremendous help to the facility, it also provided a much-needed mental distraction from the pandemic.
“Certainly, pets offer a tremendous amount of fun. But not only that, they help with your mood,” says Duchesneau. “It’s proven that petting an animal releases serotonin and dopamine. And they’re just good company.”
Deborah Bohn, an AP Literature teacher at Independence High School in Thompson’s Station, has adopted a dog and fostered two litters of kittens since the pandemic began. Given the gravity of COVID-19, she says the animals were a necessary bright spot.
“Everyone was just kind of mourning, you know, what was going on, so it was just fun to carry a kitten around,” she says.
Metro Animal Care and Control in Nashville has its own foster roster. In October 2019, there were 220 names on it. In October 2020, the list grew to 1,146 names.
Online communities helping local communities
Not only has MACC seen its foster rates soar, but its animal intakes have plummeted, primarily because people have more available time now and are using social media for more than just keeping close with friends and family from a safe distance.
Maria Bascetta, Volunteer and Events Coordinator for MACC, says that people are working together on social media and in their communities on everything from reuniting lost pets with their owners to assisting neighbors who have been financially impacted by the pandemic and might need temporary help with food or supplies.
“The lost and found groups in Davidson County have really stepped up,” she says.
Hip Donelson, a community group with a huge social media presence, owns four pet microchip scanners and has a network of fosters that will hold pets temporarily while the group posts on social media to get pets back to their rightful homes.
Efforts like this not only help keep animals out of the shelter, but it provides much-needed relief for MACC staff.
“That is kind of the future of community animal sheltering. It can’t all fall on the shoulders of one organization that has 36 employees for all of Davidson County,” says Bascetta.
No better time to adopt
Franklin nurse practitioner Jessica Rousseau found pets of the feathered kind that needed a home.
An Instagram post from Williamson County Animal Center about two parakeets piqued her interest. The morning after Rousseau applied, she got a call asking if she was still interested in the birds.
“They were given up because they were too loud for Zoom school,” she says. One of the parakeets died about two weeks after bringing them home, most likely from stress at the shelter. Jessica bought a new companion parakeet for the remaining one (they’re happiest in pairs), then expanded her flock with a young cockatiel. She now has a full house with three young sons, three dogs, and three birds.
Arrington, Tennessee resident Shelly Bleistein tried to adopt a dog for two and a half months before finding the family’s newest member. The surprising uptick in pet adoptions caused backlogs and waiting lists for people wanting to adopt.
“Once everything shut down, I’m like, well this would be a perfect time to adopt another dog,” she says. “I had the hardest time! I called Williamson County and applied three times and was never contacted. I talked to some terrier rescue out of Columbia…and they just ghosted me.”
Bleistein and her family finally adopted Bodhi from a shelter over an hour away in Stewart County. The lucky pup is a new companion for their dog Axel, who was lonely after their other dog passed at the end of 2019. Bodhi is a great fit for the Bleistein family, but still has a few things to learn.
“He’ll sit on command, and we’re working on ‘shake.’ And he still wants to get in bed with us every night,” she says. “Underneath the covers, which we’re trying to not let that happen.”
Forced reactions to the pandemic result in permanent changes
Bascetta says that animal shelters and welfare organizations across the U.S. had to quickly react to the pandemic shutdown and change policies and procedures.
Because of the pandemic, shelters could no longer accept walk-in visitors who were interested in adopting pets. MACC had to scramble to make changes to protect the facility staff from COVID-19 but still offer a way to adopt animals.
“We didn’t have anything online,” she says. “People were still going to our shelter to fill out paper forms.”
In late March and early April, MACC transitioned their foster and adoption processes online to virtually handle requests without contact. These changes, coupled with a stronger reliance on foster homes for adoptable animals, will be permanent for the facility. In animal welfare circles, this known as a Community Sheltering Model.
“We’re not going back. We’re not going back to what we were. We’re still going to operate with appointments. We’re still going to have managed intakes, we’re still going to try to get people resources to keep their pets,” says Bascetta.
A return to normal life
Some have wondered what could happen to some of these “pandemic pets” once life for everyone returns to the normal that we’re all used to: work commutes, hectic schedules, and freedom to leave home without fear of illness. Bascetta remains hopeful.
“If anything has happened with people being home, the bonds with their animals are stronger, so they may not want to surrender them unless it’s an economic thing,” she says.
Suzie Kamp, a Williamson County resident whose family adopted one puppy in February and another puppy in June, has her hands full for now but considers what might happen once the world is back on its axis and life returns to what it was before COVID-19.
“While I feel we’re good with pets now, I also kind of think about that for the future if we’re open to maybe taking one in when those things start happening in a year,” she says.
For now, everyone is thrilled and encouraged about the future of animal welfare that has evolved because of COVID-19.
“The pets made out the best in this, hands down. We’ve just really enjoyed seeing all of the animals leave the shelter,” says Duchesneau. “There are silver linings everywhere.”
Hear Deborah Bohn explain why so many people have fostered or adopted pets during the pandemic. Jessica Rousseau and her son introduce us to their family's trio of birds, Shelly Bleistein praises her new dog, Bodhi, and Maria Bascetta from MACC tells us about less common pets up for adoption at the Nashville facility.