More people adopted pets at pandemic's start, and in the suburbs, they're keeping them

  • Gaby Keresi-Uresti, executive director of Heartland Animal Shelter in Northbrook, spends time with Ella, above, and Bandit, at top. Keresi-Uresti says pet adoptions sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic have been successful with no surrenders reported.

    Gaby Keresi-Uresti, executive director of Heartland Animal Shelter in Northbrook, spends time with Ella, above, and Bandit, at top. Keresi-Uresti says pet adoptions sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic have been successful with no surrenders reported. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • According to Chicago's Anti-Cruelty Society, one of the area's oldest and largest animal welfare organizations, none of the pets adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic have been surrendered as a result of the easing of restrictions or owners returning to work.

    According to Chicago's Anti-Cruelty Society, one of the area's oldest and largest animal welfare organizations, none of the pets adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic have been surrendered as a result of the easing of restrictions or owners returning to work. Courtesy of the Anti-Cruelty Society

  • Birthday girl Peaches is among the senior canines available for adoption through Young at Heart Senior Pet Adoptions in Woodstock.

    Birthday girl Peaches is among the senior canines available for adoption through Young at Heart Senior Pet Adoptions in Woodstock. Courtesy of Young at Heart Senior Pet Adoptions

  • Daiquiri, one of West Suburban Humane Society's adoptable pets, poses here with one of the organization's volunteers.

    Daiquiri, one of West Suburban Humane Society's adoptable pets, poses here with one of the organization's volunteers. Courtesy of the West Suburban Humane Society

  • Bunnies are among the companion animals available for adoption through the Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago.

    Bunnies are among the companion animals available for adoption through the Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago. Courtesy of the Anti-Cruelty Society

  • The West Suburban Humane Society in Downers Grove reported about 550 pet adoptions during 2020, about the same number as in 2019 despite the facility being shuttered for 45 days during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The West Suburban Humane Society in Downers Grove reported about 550 pet adoptions during 2020, about the same number as in 2019 despite the facility being shuttered for 45 days during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy of the West Suburban Humane Society

  • Sir Jonathon is one of the senior felines awaiting his new family at Young at Heart Senior Pet Adoptions, a Woodstock animal welfare agency.

    Sir Jonathon is one of the senior felines awaiting his new family at Young at Heart Senior Pet Adoptions, a Woodstock animal welfare agency. Courtesy of Young at Heart Senior Pet Adoptions

 
 
Updated 6/8/2021 12:50 PM

Fifteen months ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated, would-be pet owners flocked to shelters seeking animal companions.

Though some shelters across the country are reporting an uptick in pandemic pet returns this spring, that does not appear to be the case in the suburbs: Commitments established during COVID-19's darkest period are enduring now that brighter days have arrived, according to local animal welfare experts.

 

"We were inundated with adoption applications. To be honest, we still are," said Christina Morrison, director of development for the West Suburban Humane Society in Downers Grove.

During the pandemic's early days, the humane society didn't have enough dogs and cats to fulfill requests, Morrison said. "We were getting 10 applications for every puppy we had at the time." The society logged about 550 adoptions during 2020 -- about the same number as in 2019 -- despite the facility being closed for 45 days early in the pandemic.

And Morrison said the animal care team reports that no one has called to surrender a pet "just because the pandemic is over and they want to get back to 'normal' life." The society's adoption contract asks that people who've adopted a pet and have to surrender it return the animal to the society where volunteers will help find new homes.

Bandit, seen here with Gaby Keresi-Uresti, executive director of Heartland Animal Shelter, is one of 28 cats available for adoption at the Northbrook facility.
Bandit, seen here with Gaby Keresi-Uresti, executive director of Heartland Animal Shelter, is one of 28 cats available for adoption at the Northbrook facility. - John Starks | Staff Photographer
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Gaby Keresi-Uresti, executive director of the Heartland Animal Shelter, said more than 1,000 animals were adopted from the Northbrook agency during the pandemic, more than in any of the last 10 years.

And while adopters sometimes surrender pets due to health or housing issues, no Heartland adopters have done so for COVID-related reasons, as in owners working remotely giving up dogs after returning to their offices. Keresi-Uresti said the shelter experienced its lowest return rate during the pandemic, which she attributes to careful screening of potential adopters.

"We're thorough about matchmaking," she said.

Young at Heart Senior Pet Adoptions experienced its typical steady stream of adoption applications during the pandemic's first few months, said Dawn Kemper, executive director of the Woodstock animal welfare organization that finds homes for pets age 7 and older.

Bobby is among the senior adoptable dogs awaiting a forever home at Young at Heart Senior Pet Adoptions in Woodstock.
Bobby is among the senior adoptable dogs awaiting a forever home at Young at Heart Senior Pet Adoptions in Woodstock. - Courtesy of Young at Heart Senior Pet Adoptions
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Age is just a number," she said, "and older animals need love, too."

When it became obvious the pandemic was going to last, applications increased at the agency, which adopts out 75 to 100 senior dogs and cats annually.

"We did see an influx of less thoughtful applications," Kemper said, "but that didn't change how we screened or counseled" prospective owners.

People who adopt older pets "tend to be more thoughtful in terms of thinking more about what the animal needs instead of what they need," she said.

Young at Heart was prepared to offer adopters assistance during the pandemic if they needed it.

"We want to make sure if they were struggling we could help them in any way we're able," she said. "If we can help you keep your pet, we will help you."

Felines in the care of the West Suburban Humane Society await adoption into their forever homes.
Felines in the care of the West Suburban Humane Society await adoption into their forever homes. - Courtesy of the West Suburban Humane Society

Like its suburban counterparts, the Anti-Cruelty Society experienced a surge in pet adoptions at the pandemic's onset, according to Lydia Krupinski, vice president of mission impact and chief program officer.

Noting the society tracks adoption returns closely, Krupinksi said there has been no spike locally in COVID-related surrenders.

"People are committed to their pets," she said. "These pets have become family members."

However, Krupinski anticipates problems may arise when the statewide eviction moratorium imposed during the pandemic is lifted, which may force pet owners to move.

To that end, the society has established means to help adopters keep their animals, including pet deposit subsidies, which help animal owners pay the pet security deposit some landlords require. The Anti-Cruelty Society also offers emergency boarding, food and supplies for seniors who own pets.

A volunteer with Chicago's Anti-Cruelty Society communes with one of the society's canine residents.
A volunteer with Chicago's Anti-Cruelty Society communes with one of the society's canine residents. - Courtesy of the Anti-Cruelty Society

"While we're creating families with adoptions," Krupinski said, "we're trying to preserve them by keeping pets in their homes."

Adopt: Maybe more 'less thoughtful applications,' but agencies say they still screened carefully

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