PANDEMIC PETS – THE COLLATERAL DAMAGE OF COVID-19

Dog - Rescue by Bebbuh and Paul June 2021

Photo Courtesy of Lyn Leis

Abandonment of animals – N.Y. Agri & Markets Law 353-b – Misdemeanor, 1 year imprisonment and/or $1,000 fine ~ Animal Protection Laws of New York 2018

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Mahatma Gandhi, Indian Social Activist

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”Anatole France

With more people returning to work, the issue might be raised of what to do with those pets they adopted during the height of the pandemic. What about those pets that people craved when they were sheltering and working from home, many in isolation and alone, others wanting a distraction for their kids who were also home fulltime?  And what became of the pets already in the homes of those who died of COVID-19?

There is no doubt that the pandemic took its toll on our pets. We don’t talk about that as much because of the human toll, which took so many lives and tore apart so many more lives. But for those who cherish pets and understand their value to human life, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the experiences of many of the nation’s dogs, cats, birds and other pets as a result of the pandemic (which isn’t over yet, by the way), and learn the steps to alleviate pet and related human suffering now and prevent it in the future.

Pandemic Adoptees and Returns

While the height of the pandemic was disastrous for most of the nation, it was a pretty good time for shelter pets. For the reasons noted, people were adopting pets at a greatly accelerated pace. In some areas, adoptions soared at an increase of 40 percent. Lucky dogs and cats were getting homes and families.

Losing loved ones to COVID-19 and other causes; being unable to say good-bye to dying loved ones because of strict hospital and hospice protocols; and having to quarantine, shelter, work and school the kids from home, and in many cases losing one’s job brought about a hellish mix of loneliness, fear and uncertainty about the future. Enter the sanity-saving and in some cases life-saving pets.

Some families in which adult members worked away from home pre-pandemic and thought that having a pet — especially a dog — was too much work now found that being confined at home provided time for a pet. And adopting a pet in a household with kids at home provided a distraction from the situation and helped make confinement a bit more tolerable. Of course, we have long known that pets are helpful to the social and mental development of children.

As well, many people were alone and lonely, and a pet for company seemed like a lifesaver on many levels.  In a December 2020 Forbes article, Dr. Janette Young, Researcher, University of South Australia, said, “To fill the void of loneliness and provide a buffer against stress, there has been a global upsurge in people adopting dogs and cats from animal shelters during lock downs. Breeders have also been inundated with demands for puppies quadrupling some waiting lists.”

Other folks who were sheltering might simply have been bored, and a pet helped stave off ennui. But as some areas  emerge from the pandemic and people are returning to work away from home, some have decided that the pets that helped them and their families through the pandemic are an inconvenience and are returning them to shelters, and perhaps even abandoning them. Consequently, those pets that rejoiced in getting a real home now find themselves back at square one, in a cage or worse. The more fortunate ones are in foster homes until another forever home can be found.

The bit of good news is, at least according to the ASPCA and other animal rescue individuals and organizations, the majority of people who adopted pets during the pandemic are holding on to them. But even a small percentage of adopted pets that are returned — or abandoned — amounts to a significant number of individual animals.

The Other Pandemic Pets

In the U.S. alone, more than 600,000 people — and still counting,  mostly among the unvaccinated — have died from COVID-19 and possibly its variants, and many more have become infected, with long-lasting symptoms. Many had pets that were abandoned in the wake of their deaths or incapacitation. So while shelter pets were going out the front doors to new homes, other pets might have been coming in the back door after their humans died — if they were lucky.

The Pooch In The Photo

This issue came home to me recently when I learned that our son-in-law, Paul, and our daughter, Lyn, rescued an injured dog (pictured in the photo) that Paul saw lying in a ditch on his way home one evening. As Paul tried to extract the bleeding, mud-caked pooch from the ditch, while simultaneously waving traffic around them, he called his wife, our daughter, for assistance. Lyn arrived with towels and first aid items and they got the ailing pup into their car. After calling the police, they were directed to a local animal hospital that had a contract with area animal control to treat lost or stray domestic animals that were injured or sick. There was further urgency as the facility was scheduled to close in 20 minutes! They arrived just in time, and the medical staff proceeded to assess the animal’s injuries, which were severe and consistent with being hit by a car.

The hospital was required to wait for two weeks for the dog’s owners to claim him before it could put him up for adoption. Unfortunately, the dog had no collar or ID, nor was he microchipped. The hospital posted his photo on social media, but no owner came forward. Thankfully, there were many offers to adopt him. When the two-week period ended, it appeared that the little fella was going to make it, albeit with a rather lengthy recovery and possibly requiring lifelong special care. The hospital would keep him until he was well enough to be released and final adoption (or in industry jargon “re-homing”) arrangements could be made. The alternative would be to release him to a local no-kill shelter, but in this little fella’s case it appeared that would not be necessary.

So, what happened to this adorable pooch, who has been called “a sweetie,” that he wound up alone and injured, with no frantic owner(s) stepping forward to identify him as theirs? There were no apparent signs posted; no one responded to social media postings; no one had contacted the local police or animal shelters and hospitals to report him missing;  and he had no ID tags nor was he microchipped.

Perhaps the pup ran away and traveled a long distance from his home, or that he somehow was lost during a family car trip or vacation and somewhere there is a heartbroken family that will likely never again see their beloved pet. Or perhaps after this pooch is adopted anew, his original owners will finally have tracked him down and demand his return. Finally, it’s possible that if this little dog had not been injured he might have managed to find his way home — dogs and cats have been known to do that.

Or could the little guy have been adopted during the height of the pandemic and now that the owner is returning to work or otherwise resuming their pre-pandemic lifestyle, the dog had become a burden and had to go? Sadly, while many pandemic pets are now being returned to shelters, others might simply be abandoned to fend for themselves. Of course, pets have been abandoned for various reasons long before COVID-19 came into the picture. Paul and Lyn later learned that the place where they found the dog is an area known for pets being abandoned there.

Along with many other pet owners and animal lovers, I cannot fathom returning a pet I have rescued, adopted or purchased — let alone abandoning a pet to an unknown fate. In another life, when I lived in the big city, I rescued and found homes for numerous lost and stray dogs. And over the years, with a few exceptions involving purebreds, Ted and I have adopted rescued pets — dogs, cats and in one case a finch. When Ted and I married, my friends implored him to curtail my dog (and occasional cat) rescuing activities — mainly because they were the first ones I called! But shortly after our wedding, while we were walking Jason, our Labrador-GSP mix, we came upon a little lost female dog, and it was Ted who insisted upon taking her in and either locating the owner or finding a home for her (we accomplished the latter). It is no wonder, then, that our daughter has a leaning toward rescuing lost pets and found a soulmate in that regard!

Adopting, Losing and Giving Up A Pet

So, what can be done about this? There are many things to consider before adopting a pet, as well as making emergency preparations in the event of finding a lost animal or losing or having to give up a pet:

Adopting A Pet

  • Assess whether you can afford a pet. Costs can creep up and over time pet ownership can become very expensive. There is food to purchase on an ongoing basis, and supplies and equipment to purchase regularly or occasionally. Healthcare is important and in some cases legal, and veterinarian bills can add up. Some dogs and cats need professional grooming. And then there are the costs of dog walkers and boarding when necessary.
  • Make time for your pet. Walks, runs, play periods, training and cuddling are essential on a continual basis — not just when it’s convenient for you. Pets need attention the same as humans do. They need to feel loved, appreciated and cared for. Pets can bring love and improve your health, but they can also be akin to children that never grow up. Some pets will live a very long time, and the older they get the more attention they will need and the more their healthcare will cost.
  • Have patience. In addition to training dogs, cats and birds, etc., and attending to your pet, there are other issues to consider. For example, if you take your pal on vacation that can involve finding pet-friendly accommodations and dealing with travel issues. Many other situations can and will arise that demand your patience in resolving them. And remember: pets are of a different species than you and I, and each species has its own set of protocols and etiquette that don’t always align with human behavior. You will have a shot with most dogs and cats and some birds to get your point across, but when you get into other species, well, do your homework!
  • Think ahead. What would happen to your pets if something happened to you? Whether you are single or married, arrange for someone you trust to assume ownership of your pet(s), get a firm agreement and then codify it in your will (the wording can be general to include all future pets or you can update your will as needed).

Losing (Or Finding) A Pet

  • Plan for an emergency. Just like the government and companies, individuals and families should have contingency plans for emergencies, including both sudden disasters such as a fire to longer term situations such as a power outage, pandemic, job loss, illness or financial problems. That plan should include what to do with your pets, either on a temporary or permanent basis.
  • Your contingency plan should include steps to locate and prove ownership of your pet should it run away or otherwise become lost. For starters, (a) prepare and protect your pet by getting your dog, cat, rabbit, horse, etc. microchipped; (b) clip up-to-date tags to your pet’s collar; (c) have several clear photos of you and your pet taken in and around your home that are ready to post at a moment’s notice; and (d) establish a good relationship with your pet’s vet practice. Keep cats indoors to protect them, the neighbors and wildlife; you can train an outdoor cat to be an indoor cat.  Finally, follow the guidelines set by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to reunite with your lost pet.
  • If you find a lost pet, the HSUS has guidelines for that, as well. As in the case of Lyn and Paul’s pooch rescue, your local police or animal control department might have an arrangement with a local animal hospital that will provide medical care and placement of an injured or sick foundling at no cost to the rescuers. And if you ever face the horror of hitting a dog or cat with your vehicle, be sure to stop and call the police; they can help.

Giving Up A Pet

If you are considering giving up your pet because of your financial situation, the HSUS also has tips to help with that. People often experience temporary situations concerning their finances, but it is worth trying to get through such a period without giving up your beloved animal companion.

However, if you feel there really is no way for you to keep your pet, follow the steps below. Never, ever abandon your pet to fend for itself. Not only is abandonment unethical, cruel, inhumane and dishonorable, it is also illegal in some states.

  • Ask family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers — everyone you know — if they would like to adopt your pet, and explain the reasons why you can no longer keep it. Be honest about any issues with the animal.
  • Post on social media photos of your pet and why it needs a new home.
  • Be sure to consider carefully who should adopt your pet; make sure it goes to the right person and home.
  • If all else fails, take your pet to a no-kill shelter. The HSUS is a good place to start, or do an online search for shelters and foster homes in your area. 

Ensuring America’s Greatness and Moral Progress

As Gandhi taught us, we can help to ensure America’s “greatness” and “moral progress” by treating our pets and wildlife responsibly, and with kindness, respect and care. This is one of the lessons we must learn from the COVID-19 pandemic. It took a little lost and injured dog to remind us.

Until next time,

Jeanne

Previous posts on pet etiquette and protocol: 

THE ETIQUETTE, ETHICS AND EMPATHY OF SAYING GOODBYE TO A PET: IN MEMORY OF MAXX (2008-2020)
PET PROTOCOL – In Memory of Bogie ‘Woof’ Nelson 2003-2012 Etiquette, Ethics and Empathy for Our Animal Friends

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