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