COVID-19 has affected how animal shelters operate, and the demand for pets.
When the state started closing down in mid-March due to the pandemic, a lot of businesses and organizations had to adjust quickly. For Tails Humane Society in DeKalb, that meant shifting their cats, dogs and other critters to foster care. Executive Director Michelle Groeper said the operation was a success, though a bit hectic.
“It was kind of crazy," she said. "I want to say in 48 hours, we really moved out over 200 animals into foster care or adoptions, so it was pretty cool to see.”
Other shelters, like the Barn on Baseline in Genoa, didn’t have foster programs and had to keep their animals on site. Once the state began to slowly reopen in April, shelters switched to a "by-appointment" visiting model. Baseline Manager Roberta Shoaf said it worked pretty well.
“People could come in during their appointed time and we would introduce them to the animal they were interested in adopting," Shoaf said. "And actually, our adoptions were probably up by more than a third during the last three months.”
Tails had a similar system, but Groeper said Tails had fewer adoptions than previous months.
“I think some folks were also not comfortable leaving their homes, which we understood, and those who were, weren’t comfortable coming into the shelter when we could make appointments for them,” said Groeper.
Even when the visits are by appointment, Groeper said it’s extremely important to ensure dogs, cats, and other animals are a good fit for adopters.
“You know, if you have a calm household, are you looking for a calm animal, or maybe you have a really active household even still in quarantine, a shy puppy may not be a good fit," she said.
Shoaf said that is particularly important when it comes to the long-term care and finding forever homes.
“Just because they were able to have an animal while they were home, their situation when it goes back to a more normal situation is going to be that they don’t have time for an animal," she said. "We’ll see how that pans out.”
Dogs in particular can be prone to separation anxiety after a significant change in routine. Donna Apgar is a retired adoption coordinator with Winnebago County Animal Services. She said owners should be aware of their pets’ feelings as they return to a normal schedule outside of the home. But it doesn’t need to be a sudden process.
“Give the dog a break and take a ride and leave the dog at home a couple hours at a time," Apgar said, "and see how they adjust so that everybody’s not just suddenly going back to work.”
As shelters limited visitors, animal control officers in Winnebago County focused their responses to emergency calls. As the state reopens, Apgar said officers continue to take precautions.
“They’re wearing a mask and they usually have the person put the animal in the van for them so that they minimize the contact they have with the people,” said Apgar.
To further minimize contact, Apgar recommends that pets get a collar or microchip, and identification is kept up to date. That way, if someone finds a lost animal, it can be scanned and returned directly to its owners without going through the intermediary of a shelter.
With Phase 4 of Restore Illinois underway, restrictions are being loosened on gatherings. But shelters like Tails will still limit how many people can be in the building at once, even if the animals are there. Groeper explained.
“If we feel things are getting a little crowded, we have a buzzer system kind of like when you make a reservation at a restaurant," she said. "20 minutes later they pull up your number. Your seat’s ready. The table’s ready.”
Other shelters, like the Barn on Baseline, will also keep limits on crowds. That’s even as they look to increase their service. Manager Shoaf elaborated.
“We may start to have staff here in the afternoon and start doing afternoon appointments and extend the hours that we’re open," she said. "But I don’t think we plan to change anything until things are a lot clearer as to what is allowed and what’s not.”
But even with these limits in place, the shelters still have plenty of dogs, cats and especially kittens, for anyone in need of a furry friend.