‘PANDEMIC PETS’ NEED HELP POST-PANDEMIC

Since the start of covid-19, animals in shelters all over the world have been affected significantly by the pandemic. This is something I don’t believe should be forgotten and serves as an important opportunity for animals. Pandemic pets have been talked about in the media for some time during the pandemic and it might be a missed opportunity if it is not continued to be talked about and if the community cannot step up to take care of such a large group of animals. I will be introducing who pandemic pets are, why they exist, and how we could help them.

WHO ARE ‘PANDEMIC PETS’

Empty animal shelters could be seen all over Canada as many were seeking companionship during the Covid-19 pandemic. In Toronto, a rescue group known as Redemption Paws had 600 dogs adopted or fostered in 2020. On November 11th 2020 an online survey was conducted in Toronto by Logit Group to determine how many Canadians have chosen to adopt an animal since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Logic Group results indicated that 18% of Canadians have obtained a new pet since the start of the pandemic from mid-march 2020 to November 2020 [1].

Staff and volunteers at the Palm Beach County animal shelter in Florida celebrate that all of their animals were adopted. April 16th 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/16/us/empty-animal-shelter-trnd/index.html

With many people restricted to staying home, adopting a companion family member seems like a great idea. And it is. It is wonderful that animals are able to find homes during this difficult time and receive quality care. It also reduces the number of animals being euthanized at shelters. Since the pandemic restrictions were always intended to be temporary, what is happening to these animals now that the restrictions are being lifted and people are returning to work? With less time for these adopted pets, it would make sense to assume a large portion would be returned or re-homed. Unfortunately, this is the case that many news establishments are reporting to the public. Exact stats are not yet collected/released by humane societies here in Canada however an increase in surrenders can be expected due to the pandemic ending. To follow the statistics of Canadian Animal Shelter Reports you can click here or follow the referenced link [2]. Orillia Matters reported an ‘Ugly Trend’ emerging as an 80% increase of people surrendering animals back to the shelter in the United States pandemic pets on May 18th 2021 [3].

During this transition, The Ontario SPCA and Humane Society posted on August 25th 2021 a handful of tips and suggestions for owners to help them to prepare their animals for when they return back to work or school on their blog. I assume this is because nobody, especially shelters and humane societies such as The SPCA, wants to have these animals returned to them. The SPCA’s suggestions aim to reduce the animal’s stress levels, increase owners’ patience, and overall help both to understand the adjustment that is being made [4].

WHY WE NEED TO STEP UP FOR ‘PANDEMIC PETS’ RIGHT NOW

Many new animal owners sought help during the pandemic from supply stores, trainers, and online support. But with their return to work or school, additional help and support will be needed from the community to ensure these animals are not surrendered. As a single parent to one large dog and one cat, I understand the difficulty of caring for an animal during busy times. I work full-time and sometimes I have to rely on a trusted friend to help take care of them or take on extra training responsibilities. This is something I have had to deal with and adjust to for many years now. But the truth is, life happens and the only way to get through it is to adapt and ask for help. As a vegan and animal lover, I followed the news not just about covid-19 but also about what was happening to animals at shelters. I decided to take a course for pet CPR and first aid training in June 2021 (something I wished I had already done) and decided to take on a second part-time job to help look after my neighbourhood’s animals. It has been a very busy time, but I came to enjoy it much more than I imagined. It is a simple job for me because I am familiar with caring for my animals and I only service those who are nearby due to my personal transportation restrictions. It is something I would really like to encourage other animal lovers to take on even just to make themselves available for others. I do believe it would be an enormous help for individual communities and the animals in them.

As animal advocates in particular, who care deeply for animals, I do think we should be stepping up and taking leadership for ensuring “pandemic pets” stay in their forever homes. Having this pandemic gave them wonderful opportunities to find a home, which is a great first step that they have been wanting for a very long time. As vegan activists, we know animals rely on humans for a lot of help for liberation and I believe this is a time where they need us to help them achieve what they need and deserve. It is a great opportunity for more people to connect with animals and for them to understand how to care for them long term and how special they truly are. In light of this issue, I have constructed some suggestions of ways you can help yourself, others, and animals during this time.

FIVE WAYS TO HELP CARE FOR ANIMALS DURING THE POST-PANDEMIC

1. Offer or invest in pet sitting, walking, and basic care for local animals in your free time. You can even become certified in pet CPR and first aid training. You can do this as a volunteer or charge a fee depending on your needs. You can post this on social media, offer this help to a friend, or ask for it from others. As someone who recently took on this second job to help those during the post-pandemic, I would encourage those needing this help to ask their community, many are able to assist with this and would enjoy being able to help. Alternatively, if you are able to do this for someone then I would encourage you to give it a shot and make yourself available. Not only will it build your skills, your resume, and experience but this small act could result in an animal not being euthanized or surrendered.

2. Educate yourself or invest in a professional trainer to help you manage this stressful transition period and any issues that may occur in the future for you or others. Remembering that patience and understanding your animal’s needs and how to communicate with them will help tremendously. Personally, I often find myself googling animal behavior, training tips, and tools that I think would be helpful for my animals. There are many options available such as pet cams, radios, enrichment toys, and pheromone diffusers that might surprise you. I also regularly budget to meet with a professional trainer for myself and my dog to help keep us on track and improve.

3. Take advantage of doggy daycares and boarding facilities. There are many great establishments that offer care and socialization for your dog. A good establishment will be super reliable and some even offer pick-up and drop-off services. Although this comes at a price, it is also a good idea to look into forming a community group with people who are also looking for dog socialization meet-ups.

4. Help raise awareness and encourage others to get help or offer help. Pandemic or no pandemic, the issue of animals not having homes, overloading shelters, and euthanization has always been a concern. This is an opportunity to help raise awareness about this issue and try to improve and potentially eliminate the issue in the future. To do this you can offer information to others, support ‘pandemic pets’ by offering care services or asking for help.

5. Consult with a veterinarian. Before giving up on yourself or your animal you can consult with a veterinarian. Just like people, sometimes animals can have anxiety issues beyond environmental and emotional help. A veterinarian can determine if your animal suffers from an anxiety that requires ongoing medication or casual medication. For example, my dog gets severe anxiety on car rides. I have tried for a long time now to help her overcome this but nothing was working. Since we do not go in the car often, my veterinarian offered medication to help keep her stress down if a car ride was required.

REFERENCES

[1] https://narrativeresearch.ca/canada-has-seen-a-significant-increase-in-pet-owners-since-the-start-of-the-covid-19-pandemic/

[2] https://humanecanada.ca/our-work/focus-areas/companion-animals/canadian-animal-shelter-statistics/

[3] https://www.orilliamatters.com/local-news/column-ugly-trend-emerging-as-people-surrender-pandemic-pets-3787939

[4] https://ontariospca.ca/blog/media-release-helping-pets-adjust-to-your-return-to-school-and-work/

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