In March 2020, when decisions were made to almost shut down our animal shelter and limit our field responses to emergencies only, we had more questions than answers. It was and still is, a time of uncertainty and uncharted territory. There were unlimited zoom meetings and conference calls all over the state and nation among various animal service and protection organizations. People came together to share ideas, concerns, and support. In fact, one of the most wonderful aspects of working in an animal shelter is the willingness everyone has to help each other.
In this circumstance, none of us had prior experience to rely on. We had never had to “operate” under such strange and scary circumstances. But knowing we were not alone in our struggle to find balance made a huge difference. We have all been pushed to be creative, consider ideas we would have otherwise never given a second thought, and trust our instincts. It has been unnerving, sad, frustrating, challenging, positive, and rewarding all at the same time.
Shelter Pet Adoptions in 2020
With all the atrocities and heartbreak brought about by this pandemic, there have been a few silver linings, at least from my seat. We started doing virtual adoptions in April 2020 and found it was a great way to move animals into new homes more efficiently. Potential adopters could go online, view animals available for adoption, and complete an adoption application, which was most often approved. A staff person would then reach out and begin the dialogue about the individual animal, its needs, the process, etc. Citizens could ask questions via phone, email, or various social media platforms about specific animals to help them make an informed decision. Although it seems counterintuitive to think that adopting a pet without first interacting with it would actually work, our experience has been very positive. It has been immensely helpful to us in rehoming the unlimited supply of kittens we get during the summer months. Very few have been returned as failed adoptions.
We have continued to offer pet adoptions by appointment at the shelter as well and are finding that most people who come in are adopting. They have already made a pre-selection of pets they are interested in so the staff can focus on them with specific adopters rather than the entire adoption population. This translates into having fewer folks who just want to “come see the dogs and cats” into people who actually adopt.
Community Involvement During 2020
Another positive outcome for us has been greater involvement by our community to help get lost pets back home. More and more pets are being returned to their owners and reunited rather than being brought to the shelter. We work closely with others in Osceola County to create a network of people who post photos of lost/found pets, try to make matches, contact possible owners, and in some cases return pets home. Our Animal Service Officers do the same thing. If an owner can be identified, the pet is taken back home, except in matters of public safety or animal neglect. There is no penalty to the owner but this gives us the opportunity to provide important information to owners to help them avoid pet escapes in the future. Fewer lost pets are coming into our shelter due to the community’s willingness to get involved.
Our overall adoption numbers have declined but so have the number of animals coming into our shelter. And by working with owners who want to keep their pets but are facing financial challenges, we continue to grow services and pet retention options. This also prevents pets that are loved and that already have homes from being relinquished to our shelter.
Shelter Life After Covid-19
So what will our shelter look like after Covid-19? We don’t know. Nobody does. Some people have expressed tremendous concern that once pet owners start returning to work in large numbers, shelters will see an influx of pet relinquishments. Anything is possible, but after what we have already endured, I am confident that with the help of our community and partners, will we will be fine. Certainly, all of us would have preferred to have never heard the words, Covid-19, but like many disastrous events, it has given each of us an opportunity to become beacons of human compassion and resiliency.
Written by Dr. Julie Levy