PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The past 12 months will be remembered as some of the most challenging in human history but they also provided a unique opportunity for countless pets in need of forever homes.
Despite being dominated by a crippling pandemic, the past year has been one of the most successful years on record for pet adoptions across the United States. Scores of people found themselves suddenly spending all their time isolated at home and often in desperate need of a companion. That longing for connection led many to seek out their local animal shelters.
A new report from Rover.com polled 1,000 people who welcomed new pets into their homes since last March. Just 13% of those surveyed said their new pandemic pet was their only animal. Of those new pet owners, 32% had adopted a cat, 53% had brought home a dog and 14% had adopted both a cat and a dog. More than half of those who had welcomed a new pet into their lives had adopted through a rescue, a nonprofit organization, or from another family.
Even amid a year marked by fear and uncertainty, many animal shelters across the country managed to continue connecting homeless pets with forever families. The Oregon Humane Society was one such shelter that doubled down and got creative.
“2020 was obviously a very challenging year for a number of reasons and here at the Oregon Humane Society we were very committed to continuing adoptions,” said Laura Klink, the communications manager at OHS. “We knew that people were really looking for that comfort in their lives and we also know that for every pet that goes home, we can help the next pet in need.”
Klink said OHS moved to an adoptions-by-appointment model in March of 2020. Instead of visiting the shelter in person, potential adopters browse the available pets online and, if they see one they like, they submit a questionnaire. An appointment can then be made to meet the pet in person and move forward from there.
OHS typically gets about 100,000 visitors and adopts out 11,000 pets each year, Klink said. In 2020, the shelter found homes for more than 7,000 animals. Klink said the dip was partly due to a lengthier adoption process but the number is still “really extraordinary when you think about the creativity that was involved, the extra time that it takes to keep everybody safe.”
Klink said the Oregon Humane Society has seen an increased interest in pets that require extra care and attention, both physically and behaviorally. Such issues range from senior pets with medical needs to animals who flunked out of potty training school. Klink thinks some people are willing to give higher-needs pets a second chance simply because they have more time to dedicate.
Along with accommodating adoptions during a virtual era, the OHS focused on keeping pets and people together amid tough economic times by hosting pet food banks. In the spring of 2020, the OHS distributed 65,000 pounds of pet food to shelters and food pantries across Oregon.
“A financial reason should not be why someone is not able to care for a pet anymore,” said Klink. “If it’s a bag of food that you need or access to other resources, we want to be here to make sure that folks have what they need.”
What happens next?
With state and federal leaders ramping up COVID-19 vaccine efforts, the conversation is now turning to what life will look like when this is all behind us. If there was a silver lining to the pandemic, it was that pets got to spend a lot more time with their humans and humans found comfort and stress relief in return. So what will the new normal look like for people and their pets when we stop spending so much time at home?
The Rover.com report found 40% of those surveyed reported they were anxious about going back to work and leaving their pet at home. Klink said the best thing a dog owner can do is to ease their pet into the transition gradually.
“Don’t go from being home 24/7 to now being gone 10 hours a day,” she said. “Try to ease them into that by being out of the home for 15-20 minute increments, then up to an hour, then up to a couple of hours. There are a lot of different tools you can use to make your pet’s time at home alone comfortable and safe.”
Those tools can include crate training for young dogs or toys that keep a dog preoccupied. And while it’s easy to assume a cat would handle the transition without batting an eye (and maybe be a little too okay with seeing their human leave for work) Klink said it’s still important to set aside dedicated time to play with your cat every day. She suggests interactive toys like fishing lures to get their brains and bodies moving.
But our pets aren’t the only ones who will need to learn to cope with the separation.
“I think for people it’s going to be a big adjustment, too,” said Klink. “I do think it’s really important for our own personal mental health that we make sure that we have that hour in the morning scheduled to walk our dog or that time scheduled out to really spend dedicated time with our animals.”
Rover.com found the top two reasons people adopted a cat or dog in the last year were for emotional support and happiness or they needed something positive in their life. Nearly all of those who were surveyed said their pandemic pet improved their mental and/or physical wellbeing and nearly 80% said their pet made being at home more enjoyable.
For those who have been thinking about welcoming a dog or cat into their homes, there are still plenty of pets waiting to be given a second chance. Klink said OHS has more dogs and cats now than earlier on in the pandemic due, in part, to staff and volunteers now being able to travel to other shelters in Oregon that have been struggling. Klink said they have many dogs who need homes with property. There are many cats looking for homes, especially older cats, diabetic cats and cats who are working on litter box training.
But at OHS, no pet can ever overstay its welcome. “They stay with us as long as it takes to find them the right home,” Klink said.
Maybe that home is with you.