By Kassidy Arena, Iowa Public Radio
When the pandemic began, shelters couldn’t keep dogs and cats for long at all, according to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa (ARL). Many people were working from home and they wanted someone to be at home with them.
When the ARL saw this spike in adoption rates, its staff was concerned people might return their “pandemic pets” once they returned to work. But it turns out, their predictions were wrong.
“It became very clear to us that actually, that period of time that people had to adopt a pet and bring them in and bond with them, spend time with them, do the training, do all that somewhat difficult transition time, worked in the favor of actually ensuring that they didn’t come back,” ARL CEO Tom Colvin said.
The ARL continued some of its programs throughout the summer of 2020, such as no-cost spays and neuters, Pet Food Pantry and, of course, its adoption program.
Three months after the pandemic hit Iowa hard, the ARL saw a record number of adoptions. Since then, those numbers have returned to normal levels in 2021.
“One of the trends we’re seeing is even a higher elevation of how people are looking at pets, the value of pets, the intrinsic value of pets, and are looking to rescues and shelters to find their next pet or multiple pets,” Colvin explained.
In 2020, pet surrenders decreased 12 percent compared to 2019. And so far 2021 looks to be below 2019 rates also at 2 percent. These numbers are similar to some national trends.
“Pandemic pet” patterns also highlight societal challenges when it comes to why an owner would surrender a pet. The ARL reports the top reason in 2020 was due to the owner’s health, whereas in 2021, pet surrenders seem to be prompted by housing and economic issues.
“Something else that I call a trend because it just continues and seems to actually even happen more is affordable, pet friendly housing,” Colvin said. “It’s very difficult for people to rent and find housing that will allow all breeds number one, and to be affordable in that they’re not expected to pay more monthly or very high pet deposit rates.”
Colvin said in place of pet surrenders, there has been an increase in calls to ARL’s Pet Behavior Helplines and an increase in behavior class enrollment. Work from home flexibility has also allowed more foster parent sign-ups for pets who need personal attention multiple times throughout the day.