Pet adoption still a good idea, but NJ shelters’ COVID stories vary
The earliest months of the COVID-19 pandemic were stereotyped as time to catch up on Netflix, order takeout pizza, adjust to working from home, and shut off from the outside world.
One other trend quickly became apparent: a spike in pet adoptions that seemed to be as pronounced in New Jersey as anywhere else in the country.
Shelters of the Garden State say that pace has slowed in the two years since, but their own specific circumstances were impacted by the health crisis too, and in differing ways.
At the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, executive director Ross Licitra said the animal population is lower across the board than in years past.
"We're at an all-time low when it comes to cats right now at the shelter," Licitra said. "Normally we have several hundred cats in the shelter, and at the moment we're down to about 20."
The same is not true for St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center, although director of communications Diane Ashton said some of that is attributable to COVID necessitating St. Hubert's consolidating its adoption services just to its main branch in Madison.
"Our shelters are full, they're at capacity, there's always a need for adopters," Ashton said. "So I think that would be the headline, is to always encourage people to either adopt or foster."
Licitra joined Ashton in telling New Jerseyans to keep adopting or fostering, and both also debunked reports and rumors of pandemic pets being returned in droves.
That does happen, Licitra said, but typically not on a whim.
"What we're seeing is a lot of behavioral surrenders, people coming back to the shelter looking for advice on behavioral issues, especially with their dogs," he said, adding that as human life has returned to normal, pets who came into homes in the last two years don't know what "normal" is.
Also a factor: financial hardships brought on by COVID employment instability, which may have caused residents to give up pet-friendly homes.
As a rule, Ashton said, puppies and kittens always get adopted, and always will. But it's those longer-stay animals — either with behavioral problems, or older, or larger — that occupy shelter space when they, and the facility, would be better off being fostered, if even for a short time.
"Your shelter is filled with animals, a lot of dogs that are longer-stay dogs, and therefore you can't bring in as many dogs as you used to," Ashton said.
Pre- or post-pandemic, Licitra said, pet ownership is a huge, though worthwhile, responsibility that could last 15 years or more, and should be carefully considered by the entire family.