The pandemic has changed the nature of human life, from the way people look and work to the way they live and love. It has also raised questions about the role of the human-animal bond in the context of social distancing and widespread self-isolation.
According to the “Human-animal Relationships and Interactions During the COVID-19 Lockdown phase in the UK” study, conducted by Elena Ratschen et al., around 90% of 5,926 participants perceived their animals “to be a source of considerable support,” which was associated with “smaller increases in loneliness.” Although animal adoption has increased, and dog ownership mitigated some negative psychological effects of lockdown, the recent study shows some unpredictable insights.
Eva Lanska, an award-winning London-based director and screenwriter, is actively involved in the animal rights movement across the globe. She has recently reached out to dog shelters in the United States and the United Kingdom to conduct an independent study on 2020 trends in animal adoption.
In March, rescue organizations around the world have been transformed by surging adoptions and empty foster facilities. After shutting down on March 16, Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, a nationally-recognized organization that rescues around 1,000 senior dogs a year, saw a record-breaking adoption rate. Over the course of two weeks of shelter in place orders around the U.S., a foster manager, an intake manager, and an adoptions manager have received over 300 adoption applications and over 300 foster applications.
“We used to have 15-20 dogs living at foster homes,” said Kristin Hoff, an Adoptions Manager at San-Francisco-based Muttville Senior Dog Rescue. “Now, it’s 60-70 dogs in foster homes.”
The foster rate surged between mid-March and mid-May as people around the country experienced loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
“We have had a lot of people who want a dog for companionship,” said Hoff. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, people are home more often than not, which means they are able to train their dogs and maintain long-term learning.”
After changing their adoption procedure to Zoom conversations and contact-free handoffs, the rescue faced another challenge – donations. All the dogs are in foster homes, which means that Muttville Senior Dog Rescue sends out food to each foster family as “part of the support.” With COVID restrictions in place, the facility is more cautious about taking donations because they “don’t want the staff to be exposed,” said Hoff.
Volunteers who are feeding, cleaning up, and bathing dogs on a daily basis, have observed a common negative trend in animal adoption. Many families were being forced to move out of the state or to another country as they have lost homes or businesses during the pandemic.
“Due to that, sadly, we are being asked to rehome very elderly or even geriatric animals that have been part of the family for 10-12 years,” said Pali Boucher, founder of the Rocket Dog Rescue, a San-Francisco-based organization dedicated to saving homeless and abandoned dogs from overcrowded animal shelters.
The current economic climate plays a big role in animals being owner-surrendered. “During the financial crisis back in 2008-2009, we saw a large influx of animals surrendered because their owners were facing economic hardship,” said Deb Campbell, the spokesperson for SF Animal Care & Control. “People have lost jobs, housing, or have become ill and can no longer care for pets. We are a safety net, but it is heartbreaking when people have no choice but to give up a beloved pet.”
The pandemic has completely changed people’s lives, from the sudden changes in routine, financial insecurity to the fear of getting sick or making others sick.
“The psychological support that pets provide by their presence is irreplaceable. During the pandemic, many people found themselves in absolute loneliness, and an unexpected and sudden social isolation is a huge stress. Fortunately, many were able to find an opportunity and take a pet to their home,” said Eva Lanska “Today, many people are concerned that those who will soon return to their normal lives after isolation will also return foster animals to shelters. But I believe pets will not be returned since 2020 has forced many to reevaluate their true values and time. Mutual support, solidarity and human warmth are the qualities that are most in demand today.”