Pet Adoptions in the Time of the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Do any of you work in a veterinarian’s office or shelter? If so, what are the words that you wish you could forbid people to say when they walk into the lobby and find that they are the only ones there at the moment? Say it with me:

“Wow, it’s quiet in here today!”

It’s almost guaranteed that when those words are said out loud, within minutes, the phones will start ringing and cars will start pulling into the parking lot and pet-related emergencies will just start busting loose. I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes, many times.

Which is why I feel a little anxious about saying what I’m going to say next: Are the shelters emptying out? Have all the people who are out of work and working from home who have ever wanted a dog recently adopted a dog?

Fewer dogs are available for adoption

My shelter currently has six adoptable dogs. Just six! Often, they have 30 or more!

I’ve also received requests for help with locating dogs to adopt. I’ve heard it again and again: Everyone is going to their local shelters, but there aren’t many dogs to adopt!


Boy, I look tired. We also had a local fire that day, and I am still wearing my North Valley Animal Disaster Group “Animal Rescue” shirt, after reporting for volunteer duty

I heard this, too, from the West Coast coordinator for the American Black and Tan Coonhound Rescue (ABTCR), a group I have transported dogs for and have helped place dogs through. My local shelter had an American Foxhound that they were having trouble placing, and the ABTCR contacted me, asking if I could transport him to their facility a couple hours’ drive away. No problem! Happy to help!

I expressed my gratitude to the coordinator; since I first met her about 8 years ago, her group has taken in at least a dozen hounds from my local shelter. That’s a significant burden, as she has fostered as many as 30 hounds at a time in her dog daycare/boarding facility for the ABTCR. Her response to my thanks? “I will have him placed in a week; we have way more adopters than hounds at the moment!” WOW. I did a little happy dance at that news!

Since the first shelter-in-place orders went out in mid-March, I’ve had a hand in a few adoptions myself. One was a dog who was pointed out to me by another shelter volunteer; the dog is active and craves attention from people, and her behavior was deteriorating in the shelter. I spent just a few minutes with her and decided to bring her home to foster; she was super smart and sweet and really needed to get out and run! I kept posting photos of her on my personal Facebook page, and after a few weeks of fostering, she found a great home with a young couple, friends of my son who live a few hours away.

Good photos get dogs adopted

Then, a few weeks ago, I spent a couple mornings at the shelter, helping with behavior assessments and taking photos of adoptable dogs. I can honestly say that new, good photos got one of the dogs adopted the very next day. The person who adopted her wondered where the dog had been hidden; she hadn’t seen her photo on the website before! Actually, she had; it’s just that the intake photos were so bad, the woman wasn’t previously drawn to the dog at all.

Big fluffy dog and adopter

I helped connect another dog I photographed with an adopter a couple days later. I remembered that a friend who works in rescue locally had told me that she had an adopter looking for a nice, large dog. We don’t get enough people who specifically want BIG dogs! So when I saw this large, fuzzy, super-friendly fellow, I gave my friend a ring. Her acquaintance adopted the dog days later. Yahoo!

Perfect terrier adoption

Another friend of my son contacted me, hoping I could help him find the first dog he would be adopting as an adult out on his own. He had been raised in a family with lots of dogs, but hadn’t ever had one of his own. He wanted a friendly dog who isn’t too big or too small, athletic but not bananas, not a puppy but not old … and I almost fell over myself with excitement. I had just the dog for him! I fell in love with this little terrier when I met her at the shelter, and was so happy to fix her up with my son’s friend.

For the past two weeks, I have been buried in work, getting the August issue to the printer, and with no time to get to the shelter. So I was thrilled when I saw only six dogs available for adoption. I’ll get over there in the next few days and take some more pictures.

But now I’m curious and anxious and happy, all at once: Are the shelters emptying out where you are, too?

18 COMMENTS

  1. Shelters are low on dogs, rescues are transporting dogs in from other states to keep up with demand. Folks who would typically adopt have defaulted to purchase instead after receiving no response from overwhelmed rescues, and now reputable breeders have year-long wait lists as well. Even fostering opportunities are hard to find. Great news for the dogs.

  2. This is wonderful, however, I wonder if the people that are adopting will return to work outside the home and then realize, “oh, who’s going to take care of the dog?” and dogs will be returned to the shelter. I sincerely hope this is not the case, hopefully they have time to orient a new pup and that’s the reason they’ve chosen now to permanently adopt. It’s very hard for dogs to be bounced around from home to home, but I guess if my concern comes to fruition, they’ve at least had a wonderful foster home, training and, love.

    • I agree; partially. I have the sinking feeling that this is like the “101 Dalmatians” syndrome and when things return to normal, or whatever the new normal will be, there won’t be time for the dog or cat. What I do disagree with is the opinion that “they’ve at least had a wonderful foster home, training and love.” Yes, they did, and now that’s been taken away and they’re thrown back into a shelter situation. Confusing and detrimental to the animals mental health possibly causing distrust and attachment difficulties for some in the future.

    • That’s been my concern, too, Amy. I have also been surprised that shelters haven’t seen a big influx of dogs being surrendered by people who have lost their jobs and can’t afford to keep them. And then there’s COVID itself! So many people have died. I’m sure that many of them had dogs. So I’m surprised and hopeful at the low numbers in shelters.

    • I would bet my bottom dollar (to coin a phrase) that ‘back to work’ means ‘back to the shelter’ for these dogs 🙁

  3. Low on dogs and cats. I suspect they euthanized a lot at the start of the panic and pandemic shut down when they sent lots of staff home. Then the supply of adoptable pets has dried up without transport (also prohibited or made challenging by shut-down orders). Many shelter are touting high rates of adoptions while hiding their euthanasia rates during this time. Hope I’m wrong…

    • I’m sure it does depend on the shelter. The ones who are “high kill” unfortunately don’t have the resources that others have. Our county shelter definitely didn’t euthanize more dogs and our community stepped up and fostered and adopted in record numbers. Summer is here though and the intake numbers are increasing and yes, many of our volunteers are worried about lots of fosters and adopted dogs being returned as more people return to work. So far, it hasn’t happened though so our paws are crossed!

  4. They absolutely are emptying out in the New England area (at least Maine and New Hampshire). There are waiting lists at some rescues which was unthinkable prior to Covid-19. I just hope that many of those pups don’t find their way back to the shelter when people go back to work and aren’t equipped to handle/work with a dog who has some separation anxiety. Or worse, that the adopter just doesn’t have the time to give to the dog any longer and doesn’t want to keep her/him.

  5. We’ve had 13 dogs over the years, usually 2-3 at a time. Rotts / Akita’s/ Boxers/ Ridgebacks and many smaller shelter dogs.
    Well before Covid we have been looking for a companion for our 4 year old boxer. Always the same thing, “ You don’t have a fenced yard?”- Sorry.
    There are full time adults in the home with plenty of time for walks and a nearby dog park.
    Not fond of going back to a breeder but are left with little choice.

    • Sorry to hear that. I’ve fostered for years so I can understand both sides of that equation. Have you thought of looking on Craigslist or nextdoor? Lots of dogs looking for homes there too? Thank you for trying to rescue!

  6. I’m in Nashville, TN. I’ve always adopted dogs from shelters. We lost our Lab in June of 2018, leaving us with his senior “brother.”

    After a few months we decided we were ready to adopt another. So of course I looked first to the shelters. Well, it was a dramatically different experience in 2018 than in 2005, the last time I had adopted. There was so much competition for dogs. You really had only a very short time to make up your mind, because people were (sometimes literally) standing in line behind you.

    We did not feel comfortable with such a quick decision. We ended up adopting from a rescue. He was a dog who had been fostered while recovering from hw treatment, by a friend of my husband’s. That worked perfectly because he’d been with her for a few months and so she had a definite idea of his temperament and whether he’d be a good fit with our senior. He’s been absolutely perfect in every way.

    So, getting to your question about how the pandemic has affected adoptions…the shelter dogs were already in pretty high demand here, so I can’t imagine how much competition there is now. I follow a lot of rescues on social media, and the dogs seem to be getting adopted very shortly after posting.

    It’s a very good problem to have! But it does make it a little hard for potential adopters who would like a little time to deliberate on such a big decision.

  7. I’m writing from North Carolina, and my perspective is quite different. There are many dogs here in shelters and rescues. The problem with a lot of the dogs in the shelters is that there is little information other than a picture for many of them, and while in the past it might not have been a big deal to just decide to go to the shelter and meet potentially adoptable dogs, now you have to either make an appointment regarding a particular dog, or you might have to schedule a “virtual meet and greet” and decide to adopt on the basis of only what you see in that video visit. Usually households which already have a a dog or dogs, and want another, will bring that dog to a shelter or event to meet the potential new dog, but now they’re not allowing that and of course there are no public adoption events. Some rescues are operating the same way, with only virtual meet and greets and/or not allowing a resident dog to meet the new dog before a trial adoption starts. We are looking for a new dog ourselves, but a lot of the dogs who are in rescue either need to be with an established and secure resident dog which we don’t have right now, or need to be the only dog, and we want to adopt one now and more later. Many of the dogs in shelters are large dogs and they’re not getting the same level of interest; we can’t adopt over 50 lbs. ourselves. But the bottom line is that here in NC there are tons of dogs in shelters and rescues, and the restrictions on close interaction in public places and between strangers have made it much harder to select a dog who really fits.

  8. Usually here in New England (Downiest Maine) dogs are brought up from the south where there are many dogs in need of adoption as in the above post from NC. Is that still being done during these days of COVID-19 concerns?

  9. I work with a rescue in Illinois and we mainly get our dogs from Missouri and Tennessee. While our foster dogs are being adopted pretty quickly (we’re 100% foster-based), the request for rescues to take shelter dogs has not slowed so my guess is that the shelters in Missouri and Tennesse are not emptying out. We are doing in-person meets still (started back when we entered phase 3), but we do it at a park so there is plenty of fresh air and space to social distance. On the bright side, we’ve added a number of new fosters to our ranks for the time being. Hopefully, some of them will continue to foster for us after they go back to “normal”.

  10. Are there any rescue centers that specialize in particular breeds such as Maltese or Maltipoos? Especially in the tri-state area of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana?

  11. Hear ya guys! The emptying of shelter kennels across the country weird and wonderful at the same time.
    As a matter of fact, as horrible and devastating as this nightmare called “Covid-19” is, one good thing it has done for us is it has opened up many eyes!
    We now see our current government in a whole new light (well, some of us saw the light long ago, but now the darkness is causing far too many deaths…and its clear things must change). We now see the work in front of us as we all struggle with the atrocities brought on by inequality and racial predudice and finally this country is ready for action to change this. And… people are now truly feeling the overwhelming benefits of having a bond with our dogs in such an impactful way that it would be impossible to imagine weathering the storm of this pandemic without two extremely critical elements – The Internet and… OUR DOGS! I know I wouldn’t be able to. kr

  12. My husband and I volunteer at Last Chance Ranch, PA. We have gone and gotten dogs at least 2 times from Georgia since March. And they all pretty much get adopted. It is so great when “Suzie” isn’t there any more. They are such good dogs, they just need the right person or family. So now we just got 45 dogs, from puppies to older dogs from Georgia. I am hoping they will get adopted soon. I could bring home 5 today. (In 6 years we “only” have adopted 2 and have been up to 4 total. )

    • Thank you for transporting from the southern states. I’m from the south and it kills me that we have to depend on the goodness of the northern states to save so many of those dogs. We have some of that problem also in the SW where I live now. I sure wish we could get these people to believe in taking better care of their pets.

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