Pet owners adopting, keeping animals during COVID-19

Metro area shelters say they have fewer available animals than previous years


May 26 marked the first day that the Denver Animal Shelter reopened its animal adoptions after more than two months of suspending the process during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. That day, hundreds of customers showed up interested in adopting a new pet, said Tracy Koss, the shelter’s customer care manager.

“Part of it was that it was the first day and part of it was that we had two popular dog breeds available,” Koss said of the large number of customers. “The very next day, it was very light traffic and has remained that way due to the lack of animals; we only have three to five (available for adoption) per day,” she said, while on average, the shelter can have anywhere from 75 to 100 animals available for adoption at one time.

“In times of turmoil or uncertainty, people tend to hold onto their animals,” she said, “so I think we could be seeing that here.”

Nationwide and across the Denver metro area, animal shelters have seen a decrease in the number of people surrendering their animals to shelters, even as many shelters have stayed open for surrenders throughout the pandemic. At the same time, the percentage of available animals that have been adopted has increased.

At cat shelter Angels with Paws in Lakewood, in a usual week, the shelter oversees one or two adoptions, said kennel technician Rachel Jones. But from March 1 through June 17, there were 76 cats adopted from the shelter, or an average of about five adoptions per week.

“We’ve seen a huge jump in adoptions,” Jones said, “and we actually saw a big jump in adoption of our less adoptable animals with special needs.”

According to the Shelter Animals Count database, shelters took in 912,143 animals from January to May 2019. Only 691,760 were taken in during the same period for 2020. The count receives data from 1,207 organizations nationwide.

For the same timeframes, the number of adopted animals has also decreased. However, the percentage of available animals that were adopted increased from about 51% in 2019 to about 58% in 2020.

“For the past several months, adoption numbers have started to decrease, but as a percentage of intake they remain very high,” said Jim Tedford, president and CEO of the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement. The association is made up of leaders running shelters and rescue groups across the nation.

These trends have been a necessity for shelters, Koss said — especially in the months when shelters were required to run operations with fewer staff members because of the coronavirus.

“It could have been a really scary situation with a lot of animals coming in. We were prepared for that and never saw it,” Koss said. “We just really want to thank the Denver community. They kept their animals.”

As for why intake is down and a higher percentage of available animals are being adopted, some shelter employees and new pet-owners point to the pandemic.

Frank Carlson from Aurora was one of those who adopted a Denver pet on May 26, saying that as a single person, he had been feeling isolated, particularly after being laid off from his job because of COVID-19. Carlson’s eleven-month-old Australian cattle dog, Tom Brady, is the first dog he’s owned in 30 years.

“It was either a dog or a girlfriend, so I picked a dog,” he laughed. “Mainly, I wanted the exercise because I was just hanging around, and the companionship as well.”

Many recent animal adopters who found a new pet at the Dumb Friends League, which has locations in Denver and Castle Rock, have given similar reasons to Carlson’s for why they wanted to adopt, said Maia Brusseau, the league’s interim director of marketing and communications.

“I know that we have heard from some people that they were thinking of adopting anyway, and then all of a sudden, they have this extra time on their hands,” she said. “And for some, if you’re living alone, it can be very lonely without a pet.”

The Dumb Friends League has only been conducting virtual adoptions to help keep residents safe throughout the pandemic. The process takes more time to complete than the typical process, she said, and the league has encountered huge public interest in adoptions. As such, the shelters have been asking those who would like to adopt to expect a slightly longer wait before their adoption can take place.

Another request of adopting residents: “We’re asking people to think about what their lives will be like when we go back to whatever normal looks like,” Brusseau said. “Think about that so you are prepared for changes and setting your pet up for success whenever you’re going back to work.”

As for pet-owners like Carlson, adjusting to having a pet in the house is already going well, he said. While COVID-19 has brought up some new challenges he never faced as a previous dog-owner — for example, the vast majority of off-leash parks near him are closed — he emphasized that the experience has been a very beneficial lifestyle change.

“It’s been great. It’s kind of like having a family member,” Carlson said. “I would advise anyone else in my situation to adopt a dog. They’re a great companion for times of isolation.” 


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