I’ll always remember the last public event I went to before the lockdown began last March. It was a St. Patty’s themed adoption event at Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC). These adoption events drew large crowds and offered waived-fee adoptions in order to decrease the number of animals living at our city shelter. They worked too. 45 animals found their forever homes because of the adoption event. With more than 500 animals in the care at CACC at that time, it was a huge win.
It’s been more than a year since the Chicago lockdown began and we embarked on this new normal that is COVID life. Since that adoption event, a lot has changed. One of the first positive things to come from it was that so many people decided to adopt and foster.
HOW COVID-19 IMPACTED ANIMAL SHELTERS
When the lockdown was announced and then extended, the demand for a furry companion skyrocketed. With people required to stay at home, everyone thought it was the perfect time to foster or adopt. My phone exploded with messages from friends and family who wanted to help an animal. It was really a huge win in the animal welfare world. Seeing so many animals find a safe place to land was incredible. It was incredible to see our population at CACC go from over 500 animals to under 60 in a few short weeks.
Almost overnight, the rescue industry was turned upside down in a great way. Instead of us begging for fosters, we had people begging to have an animal. What normally felt like pulling teeth was now like handing out golden tickets to the elusive chocolate factory. Even dogs with behavior issues had people lining up for them.
By far, the biggest demand of all though was puppies. It seemed like everyone wanted an eight-week-old puppy now that they thought they had the time to train it. Heck, I even fostered and adopted a puppy. Unfortunately, because demand was high and rescue organizations didn’t have a dog for everyone who wanted one, many people turned to breeders. Pet stores and breeders saw sales explode. People who wanted a puppy got one how they could.
WHERE WE’RE AT NOW
Now, those cute puppies are full-grown and entering their obnoxious teenage phase. This is a critical time when dogs become disobedient, test boundaries, and are just a general pain in the ass. Dogs enter this new, lovely stage around eight-months-old and it can go on until they’re about two years old. Coincidentally, the average age of dogs in the shelter is 18 months. So, those Pandemic Puppies are right in that adolescence sweet spot. I’ve seen a lot of younger dogs in the shelter lately.
As puppies phase-out of their adoptable, little, puppy antics and head into teenage years, a lot of people feel they bit off more than they could chew. Plus, with everyone starting to head into work and travel again, dogs are getting put on the back burner. It’s not fair and it’s very much the result of people purchasing dogs without fully thinking through the commitment.
One thing I’ve noticed though is that adoption returns are not on the rise. Meaning people who adopted in 2020 aren’t rushing to surrender their dogs. I believe this has a lot to do with the adoption counseling, fostering, and adoption support that most rescues offer. Rescues spend a lot of time ensuring it’s a good fit for both the dogs and those adopting them.
While I was going through the rows of dogs at CACC (current population 139 dogs) I noticed an uptick in owner surrender vs strays. While it’s hard not to, I try to remain free from judgement. After all, none of us could have predicted how 2020 was going to play out.
Besides seeing pandemic puppies surrendered for being rambunctious teenagers, I also saw more COVID-related surrender reasons on intake forms. Some people listed that they could no longer care for the dog financially or they lost their jobs and homes due to the pandemic. People are struggling and running out of options on how to care for their pet. It’s heartbreaking and upsetting to see.
THE FUTURE OF RESCUE
When someone turns to surrender their pet, whether to a rescue or a shelter, options and resources should be given first. Rescue should not be about taking pets away from the people that love them. It’s not fair that someone has to say goodbye to an animal they love because they have to choose between feeding themselves and their animal. While there are a few interventional programs, I wish there were more. I hope one day CACC is a resource center for community pet owners rather than a sheltering facility.
Rescue Chicago is going to be focusing on community support this year more than ever. Keeping pets in their homes should be a priority in rescue. We have a few ideas that we’re working on in order to help the public struggling to care for their pets. Keep an eye out for fundraisers in the coming weeks!
Rescue isn’t the same as it was ten years ago or hell, as it was last year. Life has drastically changed and it’s only fair that rescue does too.
Hazlenut – Yep, she’s as cute as she looks. This nugget was purchased from a pet store and has been in a few homes since. She’s a social butterfly, rolling over for pets and generous with her kisses. Hazelnut is great with dogs outside of the home, but inside she needs to be solo. She has trouble sharing her toys and space so an adopter who is savvy with resource guarding would be a huge plus. With her in the house, I promise she’s the only dog you’ll need! Thank you Chi Town Pitties for introducing me to Hazlenut and all you do for so many pups!