Animal shelters in the Washington region are experiencing a unique problem: As the coronavirus pandemic has kept more residents at home, it has created such a high demand for adopting dogs that the supply is increasingly limited.
“We thought people would stop adopting because they would need to conserve their money,” said Cindy Sharpley, founder and director of Last Chance Animal Rescue, a nonprofit animal shelter in Waldorf. “But that hasn’t happened. It’s been just the opposite. They’re going like hot cakes. We can hardly keep them in stock.”
Last Chance saw its pet adoptions — mostly dogs — increase 30 to 40 percent last year over 2019. Lucky Dog Animal Rescue in Arlington said it expected to finish 2020 helping about 3,385 pets find homes, up from about 1,800 the year before.
Mirah Horowitz, executive director of Lucky Dog, said rising demand prompted her to boost the organization’s online adoption services. Many shelters have conducted socially distanced meet-and-greets for would-be pet owners but still encounter about a two-week wait for applications to be processed.
“Anyone who felt like, ‘I can’t adopt an animal because I’m at work all day’ is now finding they’re at home,” Horowitz said. “People want a pet for companionship and to give kids a sense of responsibility and a playmate.”
Kimberly Ross, 50, who lives in Northeast Washington, said she put in at least eight applications while trying to adopt a dog and finally got one from the Humane Rescue Alliance two weeks later. She met Steedle, a 19-pound mini pinscher mix, on a Zoom call.
“She was cute, and I could see she was nice,” Ross said, noting how much she and her 10-year-old daughter enjoy taking the dog on walks and getting licks.
“Normally we’d be running to tutoring or basketball,” Ross said. “We don’t have our normal activities, so we have more time at home to care for her.”
The pandemic has left rescue groups in the Washington area and elsewhere searching for pets to match the growing number of inquiries. Many local animal shelters and rescues get animals from crowded facilities in North Carolina, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, Texas, Georgia and Mississippi. They are in the position of competing with one another to bring in more pets from outside the area.
“There just haven’t been a lot of animals to take in,” Horowitz said. “It’s been tough getting animals.”
The increase in animal adoptions across the Washington region mirrors a similar trend nationwide.
Shelter Animals Count, which runs a database that tracks shelter and rescue activity, looked at pet adoptions during the pandemic. The group, which tracks about 500 rescue organizations across the country, recorded 26,000 more pet adoptions in 2020 than in the year before — a rise of about 15 percent.
In April near the beginning of the pandemic, it saw the national pet adoption rate jump 34 percent over the same time a year earlier, according to the group’s “Covid-19 Impact Report.”
Shelter Animals Count said rescue group 4 Paws 4 Life in Colorado nearly doubled the number of pets adopted during the first eight months of last year compared with a year earlier. Kimberly Davidson, the head of adoptions at 4 Paws 4 Life, said many people who adopted pets said they needed “an emotional support animal” during the pandemic. At Homeward Bound Cat Adoptions in Nevada, 488 cats were adopted in the first eight months of 2020, compared with 200 during that same time in 2019.
In the D.C. region, animal welfare officials said the last time they saw such a rise in pet adoptions was after 9/11.
On a recent weekend, rescuers from Last Chance picked up about 100 animals from Louisiana, and they were snapped up in adoptions in a few days.
At the Humane Rescue Alliance in D.C., officials said demand is up but the number of pet adoptions was down last year because of the low supply of animals. The group has a waiting list of people wanting to foster a pet, a program that keeps an animal in someone’s home instead of a shelter until it finds a permanent place to live.
Bhavna Mukundan, 29, who lives in the District’s Navy Yard neighborhood, said she adopted Samson, a 13-year-old Chihuahua mix, from the Humane Rescue Alliance in the summer. She normally travels for work but has been staying home during the pandemic. She applied for a dog through three shelters before bringing Samson home.
“You apply for a dog and then it’s gone the next minute,” she said. “There are just so many people waiting to get dogs.”
Daryl Pendleton, a gym owner and personal trainer who lives in Reston, said he had talked about adopting a dog for years, but considered it more seriously after the pandemic hit. He adopted Gus, a 4-year-old poodle-Maltese mix, in the summer from Lucky Dog animal rescue in Arlington.
“For me, the pandemic was the perfect time to get a dog because I had more time now to spend with him,” Pendleton said. “He’s a part of my family.”
Ray Ferrara, a real estate agent who lives in Shaw, said he’s planning to ask his parents to help take care of his newly adopted dog, Carson — an 8-month-old lab mix — when he resumes post-pandemic travel. He adopted Carson in the fall from Lucky Dog.
“Right now my schedule is very flexible, and I found myself having a lot of time so I could train him and take him on playdates,” Ferrara said. “I’m not sure pre-covid if I would have committed to that.”
Animal rescue operators said they worry that after the pandemic, some new pet owners might not have the time or want the responsibility and cost associated with an animal. That could lead to some being returned to shelters, but officials are advising new pet owners to prepare themselves — and their newly adopted pet — to the realities of “normal” life.
One tip is to leave the pet alone in a crate or other area for up to an hour at a time so they get used to being alone. Experts also encouraged pet owners to let their dog become accustomed to a walker or neighbor before they need assistance from that person.
“You have to prepare yourself and your pet for functioning in the world that we used to live in,” Horowitz said.
Alexandra Jeszeck, 29, of Kensington said adopting 1-year-old Wally, a German shepherd mix, in October has changed her lifestyle.
Before the pandemic, she and her husband weren’t set on adopting a dog because it could interfere with social outings and other events. Instead, Jeszeck said, Wally has helped them get out more in the neighborhood, allowing them to meet new people as they take him on walks.
When she goes back to work at the Government Accountability Office, she said, she plans to telework at least two days a week to spend time with Wally.
Animal rescue officials said their staffs and volunteers are working to keep up with the demand of processing pets and applications for adoption, but they’re also happy to see rising interest in animal adoption.
“It’s a wonderful problem to have,” Sharpley said.
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