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Animal shelters grateful but cautious about adoptions amid COVID-19

Animal shelters grateful but cautious about adoptions amid COVID-19

Organizations want people to be committed to new pets beyond crisis
Animal shelters grateful but cautious about adoptions amid COVID-19
Courtnie Burke, second from the right, and her family pose with Benson at the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society.
Photographer: Photo provided

The ripple effects of the coronavirus have undoubtedly impacted many in the Capital Region.

That includes Latham resident Courtnie Burke and the rest of her family, who, thanks in part to the virus, have recently adopted a dog named Benson.

“We wouldn’t have this dog if it wasn’t for the coronavirus. I’m a dog person and it’s always been a [discussion], but . . . my sisters are home from school, and it’s given us a chance to be home with Benson and get him used to us,” Burke said. 

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Burke and her sisters, Sierra and Zoe, who both go to school in Niskayuna, all went to the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society last weekend with the intent to foster a dog. That changed when they met Benson. 

“They opened the door and this dog came jolting in, jumped on my sisters, jumped on my mom and me. . . . It’s like he knew and hugged every single one of us. It was really cute,” Burke said. 

They’re one of many families in the Capital Region who recently decided now is the time to adopt or foster. With so many people staying inside and isolating themselves, some are looking for the comfort that pets can provide. According to the National Institutes of Health, interacting with animals can decrease levels of cortisol, lower blood pressure, reduce loneliness and boost one’s mood. 

Shelters like the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, which has had to shut down the clinics and medical programs it normally offers because of the virus, are grateful for the adoptions. 

According to Marguerite Pearson, director of marketing and communications at the Society, adoptions have plunged in the past few weeks. They had 42 adoptions from March 16-23 compared with 83 during the same time the previous year. 

“It's definitely less, but honestly, given what we’re going through, we’re pretty happy with those numbers. We’re just grateful that people are still considering adoption an option for them at this time,” Pearson said. 

Libby Post, executive director of the New York State Animal Protection Federation, recommends that shelters across the state try to free up as much space as they can, whether it be through adoptions or fostering. 

“What we’re seeing is the shelter community coming together, recognizing that they need to do as much adoption now to clear out the space so that they have plenty of kennel space to deal with the influx that we anticipate of people who have not planned on what to do with their dogs and cats if they get sick,” Post said. 

The Federation expects that increased drop-offs will lead to overcrowded and overwhelmed shelters. To curtail that, Mohawk Hudson Humane Society has been leaning on its foster homes.

“We were able to get 56 animals into foster homes. This helps us to reduce the amount of care needed in the shelter and the amount of people needed to do that care. Some of the animals that are in foster care would normally be in foster care anyway. But we have others that we’ve moved out of the shelter to reduce the amount of time needed to care for those animals in the shelter,” Pearson said. 

They’re also relying on adopters like Burke. At the same time, Pearson said they’re being cautious about who adopts. 

“We don’t want people adopting if they’re not 100 percent committed to it for the long haul. We don’t want people to say ‘Oh, it’s a crisis, I’m going to do this right now,’ but think that down the road it’s not a full-time, lifetime commitment,” Pearson said.

Other shelters, like Adirondack Save a Stray, have the same concern. 

“We are seeing a lot of people wanting to adopt during this time because they’re home from work, they want to feel fuzzy with a cat or a dog. So we are screening people a little bit more carefully -- that they don’t want a coronavirus puppy or cat fix to get through this hard time and then they don’t want it after the virus or the crisis is over. So we’re being very, very careful about that,” said Meredith Fiel, the group's executive director. 

The Corinth-based shelter has potential adopters go through an in-person interview and a 20-page contract. Fiel said they’re looking for people who know how to handle animals and who would treat them as part of the family. 

“ . . . The type of person that wants a dog that can sit on the couch, or have its own little wonderful bed or sit by the fire,” Fiel said. 

Anita Weklar is one such person. The Albany resident recently adopted Aurora, a young black cat, from the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society. She and her daughters, Olivia and Tessa, had originally planned to adopt a cat when Olivia came home for the summer from Fordham University. With Fordham’s campus closing, they decided to move their timeline up. 

“It was the perfect time. Both girls were going to be home, could take care of the two pets,” Weklar said. 

In the past week or so, they’ve been slowly introducing Aurora to Eva, the family’s pit bull terrier mix, who they adopted from the Humane Society back in 2012. Tessa and Olivia are enjoying having a kitten around the house to play with. 

Meanwhile, Benson has already settled into the family routine with Burke and her sisters. 

“He eats breakfast when we eat. We let him outside and he does figure eights around the backyard at like 45 miles an hour. We’re a very energetic family, and when they said [Benson] needs an energetic family we all looked at each other and started laughing, and we’re like ‘Well, he’ll fit in perfect here,’ ” Burke said. 

They’ve also given him the middle name “COVID.” 

“We definitely want to remember that we got him during this time and the timing was perfect,” Burke said. 

Both Weklar and Burke encourage people to adopt, especially because in the coming months, according to Post, shelters across the region are going to be financially hurting. 

The Mohawk Hudson Humane Society is already feeling the strain.  

“Our spay-neuter and wellness clinics are closed right now. We haven’t set an open date for those, and as we’re reducing services like those, of course, our revenue is decreasing and as adoptions are slower, revenue is decreasing, so our budget is really tight right now. If people want to help, really cash donations are most essential,” Pearson said. 

Adirondack Save a Stray is in a similar position. 

“This is hurting the rescues and we rely on donations. We rely on the kindness of others to keep our doors open. So we’ll probably have to put a plea out for some donations at some point just so we can keep going,” Fiel said. 

“The fact of the matter is that spring is upon us," Post said. "There were going to be a lot of galas and big events scheduled for the spring that are no longer going to happen. The costs of caring for these people’s animals are going to increase. It’s not like they’re going to turn them away. So we do need people to support their local shelters." 

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