Animal Shelters and the Coronavirus

Saahithi Gaddipati, Staff Writer

You walk into the shelter, ready to adopt a pet. Large eyes and tufts of fur peek out from steel cages. You call over a staff member, ready to get to know a cat. They open the cage and send you into a different room to play with a possible pet, a gesture that precedes your eventual adoption.

That was what adoption would have looked like before quarantine. Now imagine this:

Bright pictures pop against a bland webpage. You scroll through images of animals that the shelter currently houses. Once you find a pet whose personality description matches your needs, you fill out an online form to request adoption.

The coronavirus has largely impacted shelters, causing major shifts in how they operate. Alina Marshall, a staff member at Seattle Humane, a local animal shelter, outlines how they have adapted. “We haven’t had any volunteers on campus; everything our volunteers did, now our staff members do. All educational programs, and anything we did onsite or offsite have shifted to virtual,” she says. 

Marshall explains that during the early stages of the coronavirus, Seattle Humane halted all adoptions, and placed the majority of the shelter animals with foster families. She states, “Now we only have ten or so animals on campus at any given time. Once we realized quarantine was going to be a long-term situation, our adoptions team managed to come up with some protocols for socially distanced adoptions.”  

These “socially distanced adoptions” include filling out adoption forms for animals listed on the website, sorting out complications over the phone with the shelter, and driving to meet a staff member to receive a pet in no-contact fashion.

Most would feel that the impersonal adoption process would cause a lower adoption rate. After all, there is no longer personal time with considered pets pre-adoption, a huge part in choosing a specific animal. For math teacher Kristi Hardy, it was her cat’s paw reaching towards her that won her over. In that moment, Hardy “knew she was the one.”

Without taking the time to get to know animals, making a lifelong commitment to them is difficult, to say the least. Animal shelters have combated this by posting pet pictures and personality biographies on their websites, and it seems to be working. Marshall states, “The interest has definitely stayed the same as before,” an impressive rate when one considers the economic hardship that coronavirus has caused.  

Junior Emma Crothers says, “I was more inclined to adopt during quarantine since I was lonely from online school.” Sophomore Akash Sathi had similar reasons for buying his pet. “We never would’ve gotten a dog if it wasn’t for quarantine. It was mostly something to occupy us. But we started researching it, and eventually we got the dog,” he says. Both students were influenced by the reclusive life that quarantine caused, deciding to get a pet for companionship.

It was not just companionship that caused interest in animal shelter adoptions; it was the reputation that they held. Senior Julia Karchenko passionately voices her opinion on shelters, saying, “I think if they are well kept and well maintained, like many of them are, then they are the best place to adopt from…I’m in favor of shelters because then you know that you are making a cat’s life better.” Hardy shares Karchenko’s opinion, further elaborating, “There are so many shelter animals that are a mixed breed, so they’re not a purebred…and I felt good that I was basically saving the life of this cat, that otherwise might be in the shelter forever, because nobody wanted to adopt a mixed breed.” It is not just Karchenko and Hardy who feel this way. The 2019-2020 APPA Survey shows that 44 percent of dogs, and 43 percent of cats are adopted from a shelter or rescue. 

With these adoption rates staying strong throughout quarantine, Marshall worries that returning to normal may have an unintended effect. “I can’t speak for every animal, but I think it’s going to be interesting when people go back to work. Animals suffer separation anxiety just like people. They might find that really hard. Of course, that depends on their personality as well.” However, Sathi says, “[My dog] likes to spend time with us, but I honestly don’t think it’ll be a massive issue.” 

Although separation anxiety may occur when quarantine ends, Marshall explains that it is “definitely a good thing that [there are] more people looking after these animals.” She talks about the stress that shelter animals experience, comparing it to being stuck at school all day, and “only being able to go out for bathroom breaks and extracurricular things.”

Quarantine has changed many aspects of life, and animal shelters are no exception. The adaptations that shelters have gone through have enabled animals to find a family. Even though you might not have looked into a cat’s eyes and known they were the one, you can still keep them off the streets and shelters, providing them with a warm, stress-free home, where they could lounge on a windowsill, purring with their head tucked staring out towards the lawn.