Scrolling through Petfinder suddenly became a short-term hobby for Emma Post. Her full-time internship abruptly ended due to the coronavirus pandemic, and she was stuck at home like thousands of other Durham residents. The Smith College grad school student is waiting until June to start her classes – all of them online. Another reason to flip open her laptop and scroll through the many animals looking for a home.
“I was left without anything to do,” Emma says. “I’ve always wanted a dog, but always not done it, being busy and working so much.”
It was days and weeks, application after application, until she finally matched with her 2-year-old pup, Meadow, from the Animal Protection Society of Durham (APS). Meadow quickly brought some comfort to Emma’s sudden lack of socialization.
“I was going to school for social work, so connecting to people is important to me,” Emma says. “I do it all day. So I guess I felt lonely, not really doing that. But in general, I think dogs can help you feel more at ease and can be very therapeutic when things feel awful.”
Emma is not the only person who feels that way. Animal shelters nationwide report massive upswings in the number of animals being adopted or fostered. In New York City and Los Angeles, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says applications to foster dogs and cats are up 200%. PetPoint, a software program shared by some 1,200 shelters nationwide, reports fostering and adoptions up 700% over last year.
“We’re busy,” says Shafonda Davis, executive director of APS, “but in a different way. It’s sheltering like we almost dreamed of in good times, and it’s happening now, unfortunately, due to COVID-19.”
As people practice social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19, many – like Emma – find companionship with their animals. Many shelters put out calls for adopters and foster parents as the outbreak strains their resources, but others have found the surge to be entirely organic, an upwelling of kindness and care from the community.
That trend is no different in the Bull City. More than 100 animals from APS have been adopted since the outbreak began.
“I’ve been at the shelter for 22 years, and I’ve never had fewer than 50 animals in the shelter at one time,” Shafonda says. “On Tuesday of [last] week, we had 23 animals in the shelter. 12 dogs and 11 cats. That’s all of the animals.”
Of course, the pandemic also brings its share of challenges to pet adoptions. Everyone is turning virtual – meaning fewer in-person interactions and more phone interviews and Zoom meet-and-greets.
“We were worried,” says Tenille Fox, communications specialist for Orange County Animal Services (OCAS). “When this all started, we said, ‘Are people going to stop adopting? Are our adoptions going to suffer?’ But that has not been the case. I think we’re following along with a lot of the [shelters in this area]. It turns out, people want companions during this time.”
At OCAS, people will line up out the door (or more accurately, in virtual queues) for puppies or special breeds, Tenille says. Two-and-a-half hours after the shelter posted new chihuahua puppies online, there were already nearly 70 applications.
Mary Dow, a leader of the cat foster team at Independent Animal Rescue (IAR), says that the national lockdown also coincides with the start of the imminent “kitten season,” when cats who are not spayed go into heat. Shelters expect to be inundated, like always, with many baby felines.
“We have about 70 cats that we don’t yet have on our website, which will soon be going on as they age into adoptable kittens,” she says. “We expect our adoptions to go up majorly in the next month or so.”
Mary says people are spending more time on IAR’s website, and her team has 20 more adoptions than this time last year. “We hope that continues,” she says.
Many pet owners are taking advantage of the quarantine to train and develop a relationship with their pet. “I have so much time to spend with the dog, bond with the dog and make sure she gets well-trained,” Emma says. “We live near the Eno [River], so we walk it a lot; she loves that. … We get a good routine going and everything, which is what always stopped me before.”