Pets in the Pandemic | Alice Lin

So far, we’ve already seen how the prevalence of COVID-19 has some unintentional consequences for those of us stuck in quarantine with way too much free time to even think of doing anything productive. I once read that innovation is born from excessive boredom as a mechanism to get rid of the boredom, but after looking at what this pandemic has done to us, I would argue that excessive boredom actually just leads to questionable decision making. I’m pretty sure our collective thought process went about like “sure okay that sounds fun and at the very least it can’t be more boring than what I’m doing now” and we all went off to find a new hobby or at least some timesuck. Everyone and their dog was either baking sourdough bread, discovering the joys of anime and other new shows on Netflix, or becoming a Gamer™ with Among Us. Actually, perhaps “everyone and their new pet they got during quarantine” would be  more representative of the COVID experience, considering adoption rates had been rising since the beginning of the pandemic, with the boom lasting until around September.

When quarantine initially started the slight rise in adoption rates was as a result of people wanting to help clear shelters before they shut down. The second wave, which started around June and lasted all the way through summer, was larger and consisted of people craving companionship to fill the gaping social hole that distancing and isolating opened. During quarantine, people have to stay at home, usually have too much free time, and are lonely, which is pretty much the perfect scenario for adopting a new pet. According to ASPCA president and CEO, ASPCA saw a 70% increase in animals going to foster care compared to last year. In addition, these foster parents turned into adopters at a much higher rate than usual and shelters were seeing lower return rates. Shelters had even begun to run out of animals for adoption. Overall, many Americans were taking advantage of the quarantine to adopt pets.

Adoption during a pandemic is actually a decision that benefits both the animal and the adopter. During the isolation period, many Americans were struggling with mental health issues; anxiety and depression peaked from the stressful environment COVID created. As human-human interactions were restricted, human-animal interactions rose to take their place. Pets are companions capable of easing loneliness, improving mood, and giving at least some sense of normalcy. Dogs in particular are great motivation to get some fresh air and (socially distanced) exercise outside. According to the CDC, pets are also able to decrease blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels. Pets in general are nice to have around, but during a pandemic, they are especially comforting presences.

While the pet craze has overall been a good thing for shelter directors, some have been voicing concerns about the future of pets once the pandemic is over and businesses are able to reopen. Many new pet owners may no longer have the time and energy needed to care for their animals and be forced to return them to shelters. At this point, it is all speculation, but the unpredictability of the future for shelters and animals is worrying. In addition, due to some shelters running out of adoptable animals, some consumers had to turn to other methods. This has led to an increase in fraudulent dog sellers online. They do not allow buyers to meet the dog in person, yet demand payments from buyers under the guise of needing money for certain services to complete the transaction. While the boom in adoption during the pandemic is still overall a net positive, there are some consequences of it that we should be wary of. 

Objectively speaking, the pandemic was not a nice or good thing to have occurred, but it is nice to find the silver lining of catastrophes. There has been a lot of chaos in the past several months, but at least we are able to find solace in the bonds we have with our animal companions, knowing that the good memories from this time can help balance out the bad.

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