Spokane — Shelter animals adopted or fostered at the beginning of the pandemic have stayed with their new families, a trend shelter leaders say they hope will continue once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
SpokAnimal Executive Director Dori Peck said it’s not uncommon for animals to be returned to shelters. Some, such as a bonded pair of cats named Pip and Gooey Duck, were returned to the shelter several times over a year before a young man volunteered to foster them this spring and decided to adopt them.
She said this spring the shelter fostered out all the animals it was caring for and a significant portion of those who fostered animals chose to adopt them.
She said none of the 40 dogs fostered this spring have returned to the shelter.
Peck and other shelter leaders believe the increase in successful adoptions is likely tied to the additional time at home.
“When you’re home all day, every day you learn,” she said. “You fall in love with the dog and you learn all of their things.”
Ed Boks, executive director of the Spokane Humane Society, said the shelter’s intake of animals was down by 22.5 percent, with 33 percent fewer dogs coming into the shelter and 10 percent fewer cats. He said the shelter also saw a reduction in animals that were adopted and then returned, with nearly 17.6 percent of adopted animals returned last year and 13.5 percent of adopted animals returned since the start of the pandemic. Animals returned during the pandemic have since been adopted.
“I think people are keeping their pets because they want the companionship,” he said, “and they have the time to work with them.”
Boks said he tells people considering adopting an animal to apply a rule he calls 3/3/3. A pet requires three days to decompress and often spend their first few days in a new home feeling scared, and may use that time to test boundaries. An adopted pet also needs three weeks to adjust to a new routine and settle into its new home. It will likely need three months to really adjust to a new family, and feel safe enough to bond.
“Adopting a pet is the first step in an extensive relationship-building exercise,” boks said. “It can be work, but the reward is a level of unconditional love and companionship very difficult to find in this day and age.”
Most local shelters closed their doors to the public, but have since reopened adoptions by appointment. The closures have caused a downtrend in adoptions, but local shelter leaders say there is enough interest in adopting animals that shelters may adopt out the same number of animals by the end of the year despite closing their doors and limiting the number of people that may visit the shelter at a time.
Vicky Nelson, development director for Kootenai Humane Society, said adoption and returns in North Idaho have remained steady with no major changes, a trend she said is surprising with the disruption in people’s lives and the changes the organization has had to make to the adoption process.
“It’s working out well,” she said. “People are going to the website, seeing (an animal) they’re interested in and filling out an adoption questionnaire.”
Though there are signs that recent adoptions and fosters are going well and people are learning to work with their animals’ quirks, Peck and Boks fear that in a few months, as an economic and rental crisis loom, animals that are in loving homes will be returned.
Peck said in 2008 and 2009, shelters were overwhelmed with animals because people were evicted and forced to stay with family members that didn’t have room for pets, or move into housing that barred animal companions.
Boks, who worked at a shelter in Los Angeles during the Great Recession, said he noticed a similar influx at the same time.
Both are preparing for a potential crisis they hope won’t arrive.
Boks said he’s encouraging those who have adopted animals during the pandemic to train their pets now so that when they return to work and their social lives, they’ll be ahead of separation anxiety and any other behavioral issues.
Destructive behavior is a reason people sometimes return dogs they have adopted and Boks said crate training — making sure dogs understand going into a crate isn’t punishment — is a way to get ahead of issues with animals acting out when they are alone for long periods of time.
“This is a real opportunity to develop that human, animal bond with your pets,” he said. “But at the same time, please be cognizant that you’re going to have to go back to work, this is a great time to prepare your pets.”