Pet shelters brace for influx of animals, but adoption on the rise as people stay home

As British Columbians brace for more COVID-19 cases, organizations that care for animals are looking for ways to help out the province's furrier residents.

The B.C. SPCA has already been hard hit by the crisis. The society is working with a skeleton crew of staff and volunteers while still caring for hundreds of animals provincewide and conducting animal cruelty investigations.

It's also trying to make space for the inevitable wave of dogs, cats and other pets in need of temporary shelter when their owners fall ill from the fast-moving coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

This week, the organization called on British Columbians to consider adopting a pet and is now offering half-price adoptions.

SPCA spokesperson Lorie Chortyk said that in the first two days since, more than 100 animals were adopted provincewide, with 100 more going to new homes in the days prior.

"Certainly, we've never had this few animals in our shelter," said Chortyk. "We're really trying to lower that capacity."

B.C. SPCA

Chortyk says adoption interest is especially high because so many people are either off work or working from home, and so can spend lots of time getting a new pet settled.

"It really is a matter of that bonding time with the pet, because when an animal comes into your home, it's a very new experience for them, as well as for you — so just having that time to play, to get to know their habits, to do a bit of training, if that's what's needed, is good," Chortyk said.

She says pets can be a source of great comfort in troubled times.

"The medical research shows that animals can reduce our stress, reduce our blood pressure, and just really be a source of comfort to us. So I think they can also give back to us at the time where we really do need that comfort more than ever."

Because of social distancing rules, instead of visiting the shelter, people looking for dogs, cats or other pets are being asked to visit the SPCA website and view the available animals online.

There they can fill out an application form, and a staff member will get in touch to make an appointment for an in-person visit if they're a likely match.

Chortyk says that shelters have put strict biosecurity measures in place and employ proper distancing. Veterinarians and the BC Centre for Disease Control have confirmed that pets can't spread the COVID-19 virus.

The most popular animals are cats and dogs, but they also have everything from hamsters to emus to mini horses in need of new homes.

'Be responsible'

Veterinarian Meghan Cavanaugh with the Kitsilano Animal Clinic says now can be great time to adopt a pet, because everyone is home, so the animals can get the attention they need.

But at the same time, she's concerned about what will happen when people go back to their normal lives and the pets get left alone, leaving them vulnerable to separation anxiety.

"Consider your life when it returns back to normal. Will you still be able to care for a puppy or a dog?" says Cavanaugh, who also recommends that if people adopt, they don't spend all of their time with new furry friends.

"Be quite conscious about giving your animal space so they're not used to seeing you 24/7 if that's not going to be the case when you return to work," she says.

"So just be responsible in how you're training the dog and raising the dog so they don't get used to a life that's not going to be compatible later on."

Surrounded by puppies

Breeder Erin McLaughlin of Notion Papillons has a waiting list that's more than a year long, so she's not having to adopt out any puppies during the COVID-19 pandemic — but she does have more on her hands than expected.

She has a fresh litter of four-week-old papillons, and she can't have her local clients visit the pups as they normally would.

She also likely won't be able to get any to her clients in the United States — so she's going to have to ride out the COVID-19 crisis surrounded by puppies.

Notion Papillons

"I rely so much on visitors and events to socialize the puppies, so that's my biggest concern right now. I haven't been able to do what I normally do, like having people come to my house to visit them and have them get used to different situations because we're kind of stuck inside," she said, then laughed.

"So we've been doing things like putting costumes on family members to make them unrecognizable."

McLaughlin is a member of a breeder group that's based in the U.S., and she says they're reporting a surge in requests for puppies.

"I think because people are home and have time on their hands and wanting a distraction," she says. "People who have been considering getting a pet for their kids or themselves have even more reason to do it when you consider how stressful life can be."

'So much more urgent'

Chortyk agrees that people who are considering adoption need to remember a pet is a lifelong obligation, and not a decision to be taken lightly.

She says families should also have the financial means to cover their pet's care and any pricey vet bills — and during the COVID-19 crisis in particular, they should also have a backup plan for the pet should they fall ill.

"We're so glad to get them into homes, but it's just so much more urgent at the moment." - Lorie Chortyk, BC SPCA

More than anything, she's just happy to see the animals leaving the shelter with their new pet parents.

"We're just so grateful because these are animals that just deserve loving homes anyway," says Chortyk, who adds that the organization is looking for donations, because all of their upcoming fundraising events have been cancelled.

"So we're so glad to get them into homes, but it's just so much more urgent at the moment. So we're hoping that continues."