Virus Outbreak-Pet Adoptions

Nikki and Andy Smith and their sons, Braeden, 11, and Tyler, 8, play with their new dog, Thor, on April 30 in front of the family’s home outside of Cleveland, Minnesota. The pandemic motivated the family to adopt a pet because they are spending more time at home.

MANKATO, Minn. — Last Christmas, the Smith family from Cleveland, Minnesota, pondered the idea of getting a puppy. But as days ticked down to Dec. 25, mom and dad decided it just wasn’t the best time.

But then the coronavirus hit, priorities changed and spare time needed to be filled. And what better way to occupy a restless 11-year-old and his 8-year-old brother than with the rambunctiousness of a new puppy?

“Now just seemed like a really good time,” said Nikki Smith. “Who knows how many weeks we’re gonna be home? This will be a good time to get the dog trained.”

For all the ill the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought, at least one silver lining exists: Pet adoptions, it seems, are up. The Mending Spirits Animal Rescue in Mankato is nearly out of adoptable pets. The story is similar at the Blue Earth Nicollet County Humane Society, where only a handful of adoptable pets were recently available, the Mankato Free Press reported.

The situation is the same across the country. The Dane County Humane Society in Madison, Wisconsin, at one point had one animal available for adoption: a 20-year-old quarter horse named Big Guy. Petfinder, one of the top national online clearinghouses for available pets, reported recently that traffic on its website had increased by 43%, and actual inquiries about specific animals was up 116%.

And if you need financial proof, shares of Chewy, a company that allows pet owners to purchase pet food and accessories online, has seen shares jump in value by about 7%; same with a company called PetMeds, which fills pet medication prescriptions online.

It’s all great news for our furry friends, which often languish in shelters or foster care for months or, in extreme cases, over a year before a home is found.

Kristy Olson, executive director of Mending Spirits, said the demand has been overwhelming. But in a good way.

“We’re having a hard time keeping up with demand,” she said. “As fast as they’re becoming available, they’re getting adopted.”

The biggest reason is the most obvious one.

“A lot of people now feel like they have the time to invest in an animal,” she said.

Andrew Burk, executive director of BENCHS, said their adoption rate is flat right now. But just before the state was locked down and shelters were prohibited from adopting, they had a huge adoption week.

“We did 63 adoptions in the week before it hit,” Burk said. “We nearly cleared the shelter.”

Both Mending Spirits and BENCHS said they’d thought about the fact that opportunistic adoptions could result in some of the animals coming back when people realize they didn’t really want a puppy after all. But both also said filtering that out early is baked into the adoption process.

Prospective pet owners are screened, and shelters try to match pets properly with prospective owners. In Mending Spirits’ case, they’ll typically do a home check. But because they’re not allowed to inspect homes in person, they’re doing it virtually, relying on photos or videos of prospective pet owners’ homes. It’s not ideal, they say, but it’ll have to do.

For people still looking, don’t let the low numbers at area worry you. Olson said they’ve got another big shipment coming in from Alabama soon that will have more than 30 dogs. (They regularly get deliveries of animals from kill shelters in the southern U.S.)

Olson encourages people who are still looking to be patient.

“As much as people are helping the animals, the animals are helping the people, too,” she said.

To get proof of that, just talk to the Smith family.

Thor is just about house trained, and he’s getting all the attention a puppy could ever want.

“He’s quickly become a great part of our family, a part that we were missing for the longest time,” Smith said. “I’d always wanted a dog, and I wanted my kids to grow up with a dog. He’s definitely found his forever home.”

Thor is part collie and part Labrador.

“The kids have wanted a dog for a long time, and he’s become a buddy for them. And it’s been a positive distraction in the midst of staying home. He’s lifted our spirits. And they adore him and play with him all the time. He’s getting lots of extra love and attention right now.”

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