Reports claim many ‘pandemic pets’ are being returned to shelters. Is it true?
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
For the past year, people have been gloomily predicting that pets adopted during the pandemic would be dumped back in shelters when people’s lives started returning to normal. Let’s run the numbers.
Organizations such as Shelter Animals Count and Pethealth collect and publish data from more than 1,900 shelters nationwide. Last year saw a substantial decrease -- more than 20% -- in the number of animals coming into shelters across the country, says Brent Toellner, senior director of national programs for Best Friends Animal Society.
“We tracked it all last year, and then when we compared that versus the annualized number from our national dataset, which is about 3,600 shelters, their numbers held pretty true to what we were seeing across the country,” he said.
Shelter intake started increasing this April. But the numbers of pets coming into shelters are below what they were in April 2019, the last statistically normal year before the pandemic.
Julie K. Levy, the Fran Marino professor of shelter medicine education at the University of Florida, says perceptions of the numbers can be deceptive.
“I think some of the confusion has arisen because adoption percentages might be up, but because intake was down so much, the absolute numbers of adoptions and the absolute numbers of returned adoptions are still well below 2019, even continuing into this current year,” she says.
At Calaveras Humane Society in Angels Camp, California, adoptions have not decreased, and fewer pets are being relinquished.
“Now that we’ve fully reopened with some COVID-19 precautions in place, the intakes on dogs are way down,” says executive director Dee Dee Drake. “We have had zero returns from adoptions during the COVID-19 period. The demand is still super-high to adopt, and places that we’ve transferred pets from in the past don’t need us to because they’re able to do their own adoptions easily right now.”
Intakes are down and adoptions are up at Foothills Animal Shelter in Golden, Colorado. Local stray and owner surrenders have decreased at the shelter, which has an overall live release rate of 95%.
“Demand for adoptions continues to be strong, and we, along with the majority of rescues and shelters in Colorado, transfer in animals to meet the public demand,” says executive director Connie Howard. “We have not seen any increase in returns as some media outlets have reported, and I have heard from a majority of organizations that they have not seen this either.”
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, intake has been down about 25% during the pandemic, although it is beginning to increase again, says Santa Fe Animal Shelter Executive Director Jennifer Steketee, DVM.
“Interest in adoption has been strong throughout the last 15 months, although our actual adoption numbers are down a bit when compared to 2019,” she says in an email. “That is more a function of having fewer animals to adopt out and some restrictions in place that limited our adoption processes than lack of interest. Despite everyone’s fears that we would see a surge in adoption returns post-pandemic, that has not been our experience. In fact, our adoption return rate has decreased from 8.3% (year-to-date) in 2019 to 7.5% (year-to-date) in 2021.”
In a tweet, the Kansas Humane Society in Wichita reports, “We are not seeing any higher number of returns or intakes due to people returning to work.” Its 2021 intake and adoption numbers are similar to those in 2019.
“When you look at the data, both from Shelter Animals Count and from Pethealth, you see nationally that returns are down over 2019 both in total numbers and in percent of adoptions,” Levy says. “It’s common for 5% to 10% of adoptions not to work out because it’s not the right match. So far, the usual trends are playing out, and adopters are being just as thoughtful and committed as they always have been about acquiring a new pet.”
Teach cat tricks?
Q: I want to teach my cat some tricks. What’s an easy one to start with?
A: Contrary to popular opinion, cats take well to training, and one of the easiest tricks to teach is “down.” In fact, you can teach it while you and your cat are lounging around.
Start in an area where your cat already likes to nap, such as the sofa or your bed. When you see her lying down or moving into a down position, use a clicker (fearfreehappyhomes.com/clicker-training-basics) to mark the behavior, and reward her with a treat. If you don’t have a clicker, use your voice (fearfreehappyhomes.com/clickerless-how-to-train-your-pet-without-one), saying, “Good!” followed by a treat.
The click or the verbal marker help your cat identify what you want her to do, and the treat helps her associate that behavior with good things.
As she begins to move into a resting position, give a cue -- “down” -- and mark it with a word (“good!”) or a click. Immediately follow with a reward. The cue helps your cat to learn the name of the desired behavior. Pairing the cue with the action of lying down teaches her to associate the word, the action and the reward.
With consistent training, your cat will learn the connection between cause (lying down) and effect (getting a treat). Repeating the sequence of giving the cue, marking the behavior and rewarding it sends the message that lying down is an action worth performing.
Increase the length of time your cat remains in a “down” by rewarding her intermittently as she maintains the position. To let her know it’s OK to move, teach a release word, such as “free.”
Keep training sessions short -- one to five minutes -- and offer ample rewards to keep her interested. Find more tricks to teach cats at fearfreehappyhomes.com/3-easy-tricks-to-teach-your-cat. -- Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Nix chicken kisses
to avoid illness
-- Don’t kiss your chicks! Backyard pet chickens are snuggly, but it’s not a good idea to interact with them close up. Kissing or hugging chickens, especially by young children, is risky behavior that can lead to salmonella infection. A notice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention links 163 cases of illness and 34 hospitalizations in 43 states to close contact with backyard poultry. According to the CDC, illness can be transmitted by touching backyard poultry -- or anything in their environment -- and then touching the mouth or food, ingesting salmonella germs in the process. Wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap after handling chickens.
-- A guinea pig named Samantha Marie Buckaroo is doing well after chemotherapy for cancer of the lymph nodes. Sam, as she’s known, gets lots of petting and treats before treatment begins. When she’s not receiving medical care, Sam enjoys snuggling and attending Zoom classes with her human mom. So far, her lymph nodes appear to be reduced in size, and she’s enjoying good quality of life. It’s rare for guinea pigs to be treated for lymphoma, so it’s not yet clear how long Sam will survive, but her owners hope that what is learned from her treatment will help other animals in the future.
-- We can often tell when our animals are happy, but do they actually laugh? In certain mammals, vocalizations greatly resemble laughter. Recently, a team of researchers, whose work was published in the journal Bioacoustics, identified 65 species that appeared to laugh during play. Most were mammals, but they also included some birds. Sounds of playful laughter were made by most primate species, including vervet monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas and baboons; rats; and dolphins; as well as two bird species: kea parrots and Australian magpies. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.