People often say they are planning on adopting a pet, but rarely go through with it. But, since COVID-19, a growing number of Long Island residents have welcomed animals into their homes.
“There has been an increase in adoptions since the pandemic,” said David Ceely, the executive director of the Little Shelter Animal Rescue and Town of Huntington Cat Shelter, both in Huntington, Long Island. “I think it created more time for people who were home because the pandemic hit and they aren’t going out to socialize.”
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 1.6 million shelter animals are adopted each year and 44% of households in the United States own at least one dog. Additionally, the ASPCA reports that smaller animals are adopted faster than larger ones, but color and gender don’t affect adoption rates.
However, shelter pets who can’t find homes are eventually euthanized. But the numbers have been decreasing. Fuzzyrescue.org, an online information guide for pet owners, says, “Fewer dogs have been euthanized due to factors such as increasing adoption rates and the successful return of stray dogs to their owners.”
Some therapists and pet owners attribute the increase of adoptions to the pandemic, as a way to cope with sudden free time and loneliness.
Marissa Owens, a kennel manager at North Shore Animal League America in Port Washington, said that the number of pet adoptions has definitely risen, and the number of inquiries about adoption or fostering has exponentially increased. “People are spending more time at home and reevaluating the things important to them,” said Owens.
According to an interview that an ASPCA spokesperson gave in April, there has been a 500% increase in foster applications in New York City and Los Angeles.
In particular, cat adoptions have increased during the pandemic. According to Ceely, cats don’t usually get adopted at high levels, but the pandemic has changed that. Owens noticed the increase too and said her shelter is also seeing a growing number of cats with medical issues being adopted.
Nicole Chresomales, a 21-year-old student at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, adopted her kitten, Luna, in late August. Because of the pandemic, she is living at home in Flushing, Queens, attending school online. She said the timing of the pandemic influenced her decision to get a cat. “I think I might have waited an extra year otherwise, but now knowing that I have the extra time to spend with her, it’s good.”
The increase in pet adoptions may be connected to improvements in mental health, according to Janet Zimmerman, a certified social worker in Plainview, Long Island. Dogs and cats, which both can serve as emotional support animals, might help ease anxiety brought on by the pandemic, said Zimmerman, adding that animals can also help people with extreme PTSD. When people are “stressed out,” she said, “a pet really is a wonderful answer.”
Chresomales said her cat has helped her with her anxiety. “She makes me happier,” she said.
Joyce Bolz, a retired restaurant and catering manager from Northport, Long Island, adopted her golden retriever, Meadow, in late July, after her previous dog, Shea, passed away. Although the pandemic was not the sole reason for the adoption, it did play a part in her decision, said Bolz.
“I was not ready to get a new puppy because I was still grieving the loss of Shea, but being in quarantine can be very isolating. I felt the puppy would lift my spirits and keep me busy throughout the day,” said Bolz.
Dana Sevely, from Manhasset, Long Island, a CFA candidate, had a similar experience. She adopted one of her dogs, Pearl, in July, and had only planned on fostering another, Cedar, in August. But after she adopted Cedar as well, Sevely said that her pets have helped her get outside more. “I go on walks with them twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. It’s nice to have some type of structure during these chaotic times.”
Fostering has also increased since the pandemic, said Ceely, who is worried that the pets might be returned at the end of the pandemic. When the shutdown started, Ceely said he noticed that “a lot of shelters were using that time to push foster homes. I didn’t think that was a great idea.”
But Jonnie Coe-LaRosa, an animal shelter education specialist at Brookhaven Animal Shelter, in Long Island, isn’t concerned. “The majority of the dogs we fostered out were adopted,” she said.
Owens had a similar experience. “We haven’t had an increase in animals being returned and people have slowly started going back to work,” she said.
Jenna Mantis, a volunteer at Safe and Sound Satos, an organization that rescues dogs from Puerto Rico, said there is some fear of how animals will react when their owners go back to work and can’t spend all day with them.
“I do always advise that the owners make a concerted effort to leave their dog alone at home sometimes, so the dog avoids developing attachment issues,” said Mantis.
Owens agreed. “People need to be careful,” she said. “With the animals having you there, all the time, they can experience separation anxiety.”
(Photos, l-r, Pearl and Cedar, photo by Dana Sevely; Meadow, photo by Joyce Bolz; and Luna, photo by Nicole Chresomales)