By Jessie Morgan, Student Writer
As COVID-19 makes its way across the country, statewide stay-at-home orders would seem to open doors for new family pets. However, as lawmakers crack down on social distancing policies, animal shelters are finding themselves facing several virus-related obstacles.
Shortly after the coronavirus pandemic made its way to the United States, animal shelters began to reap the few benefits that COVID-19 offered them—more time at home, time spent with family, and time spent outdoors.
Seeing that increased family time sparked an initial increase in potential pet adoptions, some shelters began offering foster programs for pets, such as CMPD Animal Care and Control’s “staycation” program in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“I couldn’t decide to foster or adopt, so I figured I’d try the staycation program which allows pets to get away from the shelter for up to 5 days,” said Stephanie Boling, a Charlotte resident whose family fostered a pit-mix puppy from the program. “This little girl is winning us over.”
CMPD Animal Care and Control, along with other shelters across the nation, developed the program as an opportunity for their animals to bond with their foster families, exposing their animals to potential forever homes. With children out of school and parents working from home, it seems like the ideal time to welcome a new four-legged addition to the household.
Diane Zimmers, a Marysville resident, recently adopted a mixed-breed puppy during quarantine and named it Sugar. After the death of her Springer Spaniel, Daisy, Zimmers didn’t think she was ready to adopt another dog so soon. Since the pandemic came about, she realized that she missed the company of a four-legged friend.
“I’ve been thinking of adopting a dog for a long time,” said Zimmers. “Recently, since COVID-19, I felt like I needed the comfort of a nice little lap dog. Comfort was my first thought, but second was the fact that I’m home.”
However, as the government continues to expand social-distance restrictions, more shelters are feeling the strain of foster and adoption complications.
Speranza Animal Rescue, a non-profit animal shelter in Mechanicsburg, has been feeling the strain of social restrictions since social distancing first began.
“It has definitely affected us at Speranza,” said the organization. “We haven’t been able to take in as many dogs or get dogs adopted out due to completing home checks on both our adopters and fosters.”
Speranza noted that home visits are an integral part of their adoption process; the inability to enter homes to see how new pets are interacting with their families has prevented many potential adoptions.
Cheryl Hill, owner of Mostly Mutts dog shelter in Sunbury, said that COVID-19 has taken a toll on the shelter both physically and financially.
“When I talked to the state inspector, she said to me, ‘Do as much as you can to keep the public out,’” Hill said.
According to government regulations, only a minimal number of long-term volunteers are allowed to assist in everyday maintenance at the shelter. And while extra hands are limited, vet bills are a constant worry.
Additionally, while new dogs can be brought to Mostly Mutts, fosters and adoptions have been put on hold.
“For us to do a home visit, we’re really not allowed to go to people’s houses to do home visits, and that’s part of our adoption process,” Hill said.
Typically, Hill requires a minimum of three home visits before an adoption can be finalized, however, this is no longer possible.
Even if home visits were still possible, Hill pointed out another struggle— the quarantine situation is only temporary, but an adoption is a permanent endeavor.
“It’s gotten worse through this, because we’re all home now,” Hill said. “And this is what I say to people: ‘Can I ask what your plan of attack is when you all go back to work?’ And then there’s dead silence. Everyone’s home now, but what’s going to happen to the dog when you go back to work?”
Despite these setbacks, Hill keeps her eyes on the horizon, determined to seek out lifelong homes for her dogs amidst the challenges in the adoption process.
“The longrun is this—if people are willing to wait to get a dog, then I know they really want one of our dogs,” Hill said. “And I know they’re gonna take care of it.”