As shelters in parts of the country see a wave of pandemic pets Having returned to them, rescues and shelters in North Jersey say they have so far escaped this disheartening trend.
Pet fever set in at the start of the pandemic, when people realized they would be stuck at home – whether working, studying or unemployed. They turned to dogs and cats to fill in the gaps left by the lack of socialization.
But now, as the world begins to turn back to what it used to be, there are fears that these animals, especially dogs, are being pushed aside.
Until there,“We don’t find that to be the case,” said Diane Ashton, director of communications at the St. Hubert Animal Care Center in Madison.
Petpoint.com, which collects data related to pet ownership, reports that returns of dogs previously adopted by the same organizations rose 50% in April from the previous year. Disposals by owners of all dogs increased 79.9%. These numbers could be skewed by closures in 2020.
However, in Saint-Hubert, 2,061 animals were returned between March 2019 and March 2020 and only 1,300 animals were returned between March 2020 and March 2021.
“At the start of the pandemic, we were also concerned that many people would abandon their animals at shelters due to illnesses or financial problems. But that did not materialize,” Ashton said.
Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge in Oakland, Father John’s Animal House in Lafayette, and A Pathway to Hope in Hawthorne were no different.
Amy Hofer, Founder and President of A Pathway to Hope, said the rescue selection process is quite intense, with an adoption application, phone interview, vet check-up, home visit and in-person meeting, which all continued during the pandemic.
The goal is to eliminate the least prepared and less committed adopters.
“We have rescued and adopted a lot more dogs in the last year than in other years because we have seen a huge increase in demand,” said Hofer. The demand has allowed Pathway’s hard-to-place dogs, some of which had been on board with the rescue for years, to find permanent homes.
But Hofer said Pathway only had one dog that needed to be relocated due to family circumstances.
Ramapo-Bergen, known as RBARI, generally welcomes older and special needs dogs and also has a rigorous adoption process.
In 2020, RBARI welcomed 246 local dogs, said Stephanie Pearl, her kennel manager. Pearl said that overall fewer people have returned their dogsat the shelter during the pandemic. In contrast, the shelter has seen a few surrenders from people who have bought puppies on impulse from pet stores.
Of course, these unwanted purchases don’t end up at the pet store, but at local shelters.
“I still think it’s a little lower than normal, even, but the world is just starting to really open up,” Pearl said. “It will probably get worse this summer.”
Father John’s Animal Home, based in Sussex County, has seen a huge increase in demand for adoptions during the pandemic and recently recorded the highest number of adoptions on record for its first trimester, said the director of the refuge, Garret Barcheski.
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“We are seeing the same rates of return that we see every year,” Barcheski said. “We thought it was a possibility, but we haven’t seen a massive peak yet.”
During the pandemic, Father John’s was doing curbside adoptions, hoping to get cats and dogs into homes due to the uncertainty.
It saw an increase in adoptions at the start of the pandemic. “In March, people were saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to be staying home for three weeks. This is a great time to bring a new pet home,’” Barcheski said.
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Too early to breathe easily
Many homeowners will face new challenges with the mitigation of the pandemic, including separation anxiety.
Behavioral problems can arise in pets whose routines change abruptly and, said Barcheski, “The main reason a dog is returned to a shelter is a behavioral problem.
“Either they destroy the house or they have issues with people, all of which could be the result of environmental change or anxiety,” she said.
The return to work and school after the pandemic is ripe for this kind of problem.
“One of the big things we think about is separation anxiety because we build a pattern with the dogs if one or both of us are home all the time and they get used to it.” said Barcheski. “If we don’t have a plan for it, we might see separation anxiety in the form of destruction or things like that.”
Barcheski recommended that pet owners prepare their animals and plan ahead as new routines are established.
Hofer said the reason Pathway was so careful in screening families was that many people’s post-pandemic lives might not have room for a dog or cat.
“We were getting hundreds of applications for every puppy that we would post and trying to make sure families thought long term,” said Hofer.
Support for owners of animals in difficulty
Many of the rescues offer post-adoption support systems to adopters who may need help and who might otherwise return an animal.
At the onset of the pandemic, St. Hubert developed a pet preparedness guide to help owners prepare if they were ill or hospitalized, Ashton said. He advised owners to see if friends or relatives would be able to take care of their pets, rather than abandoning them. This advice still applies.
“We hope there will be no increase in surrenders when people stop working remotely,” Ashton said.
St. Hubert was able to increase its capacity to accommodate abandoned animals by launching an appeal for foster homes, she said. She noted that she had received 1,300 new requests for hospitality between March and October 2020.
Kaitlyn Kanzler covers Essex County for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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Twitter: @ KaitlynKanzler8