Dogged By Coronavirus Fewer People Adopting, So Why Is Selection Down?

Jamie Costa/Cortland Standard Sheryl Robertson of Cortland with her adopted dog, Cooper. Adopters have cleared out shelters, breeders and foster facilities during the pandemic to get pets. Robertson acquired Cooper last April for companionship. Cortland Standard

When trying to adopt an animal, you’ll face wait lists, questionnaires and limited selection.

The issue isn’t how many people are adopting animals, it’s that fewer owners are surrendering them, despite a brief surge in adoptions a year ago.

The Cortland Community Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is no different. When an animal is brought into the shelter, the SPCA sees hundreds of applications and emails inquiring about the pet, said Emily Bach, the shelter’s operation manager, and its wait list is long.

“In kind of a strange twist, I think less dogs were coming in to the SPCA during the last year, when COVID hit the U.S., because more people were staying home and had more time to spend with their dogs,” Bach said.

But what happens when the pandemic ends and people begin to return to work? Pet owners already report separation anxiety and behavioral problems with the animals. Shelters around the nation have braced for more animals being surrendered

Many Americans have opted to foster and adopt during the pandemic and fostering and adoption facilities have reported their shelters are going empty, shows a report from a Nielsen survey. Breeders are no different.

The Nielsen survey data, collected in July 2020, showed that 20% of respondents said they adopted one or more dogs and cats between March and June, which is up from less than 5% over the same time period in 2019, USA Today reports.

“I think a lot of people were really lonely, and being isolated from everyone, it’s natural to want to get a pet during that time,” Bach said. “I haven’t seen anyone bring their pets back personally (since people started going back to work).”


Still, shelters adopted out fewer animals in 2020 than in 2019. The latest data from animal shelter data management agency PetPoint showed that shelters reported a decrease in adoptions of 11% in cats and 19% in dogs in October, said Steve Zeidman, senior vice president for PetHealth, PetPoint’s parent group. The decline in pet adoption numbers resulted from fewer pets being surrendered and available. At the start of the pandemic, the numbers of dogs and cats entering these facilities decreased and shelters saw dog numbers fall by 34% and cats by 28%.

However, PetPoint statistics compiled from 1,200 animal welfare organizations in the U.S. indicate that the number of cats and dogs available for adoption may slowly be increasing.

“I hope that people who do adopt during the pandemic do hold on to their pets,” Bach said. “It’s very possible that people might have adopted because they have a lot of free time right now and they don’t think about five years down the road or a couple of years down the road.”

Before the pandemic, Holly Doe of Interlaken told her husband, who works in Cortland, that she was against getting a second dog. But as their lives changed and Doe transitioned to working from home, so did their working service dog and Doe noticed his loneliness.

“Our current dog was spending a lot of time alone,” Doe said. “A friend tagged me in the post saying ‘you should adopt this dog’ and I clicked on it and fell in love and knew she had to be ours.”

After filling out an application and competing with several other applicants, Doe had her within a week. But this isn’t the usual case with adoption agencies that tend to see hundreds of applications for one animal, Bach said.


Home Stretch Dog Haven in Moravia told Doe that her 4-year-old Husky, Lexie, was house trained and had no behavioral issues. But, when left alone, Doe realized the extent of Lexie’s separation anxiety.

“We didn’t realize when we got her that her anxiety was going to be so bad,” Doe said. “She has a lot of issues being left alone and has a lot of accidents in the house when no one is home and she chews on everything.”

Shelters are concerned about animals being adopted during the pandemic and how prone they will be to separation anxiety once their owners return to work, Bach said. Behavioral issues tend to be the most common reason individuals surrender their animals.

Some dog owners seek day care as they return to work. Michelle Anderson, owner of A Bark Bath and Beyond in Cortland, said 50% of her day-care customers have recently returned to work.

“Some of them have gone back to work and others are just working from home,” Anderson said. “People want their dogs to be socialized and have fun during the day.”

But Sheryl Robertson of Cortland was unhappy with local day care facilities when she considered it last summer.

“Eight out of the 13 dogs were in crates and only one person was working,” Robertson said. “They were all barking like crazy and they were all running everywhere.”


Even though her 1-year-old yellow lab, Cooper, suffers from separation anxiety, Robertson has figured out her own system, tapping friends, family and her boyfriend to check in on Cooper while she works.

“I go to work at 5 a.m. and my boyfriend lives upstairs so he comes down at 9 every morning and lets him out and plays with him for a little,” Robertson said. She is usually home by 1:30 from her responsibilities at SUNY Cortland.

“He’s a godsend because with the pandemic and living by myself, I ended up losing my cats,” Robertson said. When she returns home, she confines herself to her home. “It would have been a really lonely house without him.”

On March 19, Robertson is getting a second puppy. Because of Cooper’s separation anxiety and high energy levels, Robertson said it’s only fair that he has someone, too.

His separation anxiety is so severe that he barks and jumps at the door when she leaves the house for even a minute, and once accidentally locked her out of the house without her phone or keys.

But Robertson said she would never consider giving him up.

“I am getting another puppy for him,” Robertson said. “He’s helped me and that’s another reason why I feel it’s only fair to him to have a playmate because I know how lonely I would have been without him and he’s here all day by himself so I think a puppy will be really good for him.”

In late October, Robertson was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and although she doesn’t yet need treatment, she said focusing on Cooper helps her cope.

“He is always there if I need to cry, scream or just need a hug,” Robertson said. “It has been hard enough dealing with the loneliness through this pandemic, but not being able to be around friends while going through this is extremely hard.”


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