August 2020

Companion animals can lower stress and anxiety, help keep people active, and according to WebMD, a dog in a meeting can increase trust, team cohesion, camaraderie and, ultimately, productivity. A recent article by the American Association of Retired Persons, Pets and Their People During the Coronavirus Pandemic: How animals are helping make lockdowns more bearable, provided snippets of people’s comments about their animals’ contributions to their lives during the pandemic, showing that during this stressful time, people’s animals have helped them cope:

  • “I feel very blessed to have the ability to ride on the trails during the pandemic. For a brief and precious time, I feel at peace. My horses have always been my sanctuary,”
  • “I’m the therapy-dog coordinator for a hospital, and my two golden­doodles are certified. They haven’t been doing therapy since the pandemic, but life would be much lonelier if I did not have them. My husband and I have lost dear friends to the illness, and the dogs have been a source of comfort, not only to us but to other people.”

Pandemic-related stay-at-home orders and the shift for many to working from home have also benefitted companion animals with 24-7 companionship they may not have had before. Brian Hare, PhD, Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology, Director of Duke Canine Cognition Center concurs that During A Pandemic, Dogs Are Essential Citizens. He also notes that being home during the pandemic can be an opportunity bring home new companion dogs. But this is not without potential difficulties. According to Hare, staying home means that young dogs will not have the opportunity to be properly socialized in order to build confidence and decrease fear and aggression. They also need to spend time alone now, so that once their humans go back to work they do not develop separation anxiety.

Given all the benefits, of course it is understandable that as people found themselves uncertain, lonely, and with more time on their hands in the first part of the pandemic, both adoptions and fosters were up. In most cases that trend appeared to be holding steady as of late July, with shelters adapting to virtual adoptions and socially-distant clinics. One study ranked US cities by the increase animal adoption-related Google search terms, with one city (Berkeley, California) posting an over-50% increase from January to June.

However, while adoptions might be up, so too are we seeing shelter abandonments on the rise. Concerns come from the U.K Kennel Club, which has warned people this might not be the time for impulse buying animals without considering their future, as “there’s a worry animals will be abandoned once life goes back to normal and people no longer spend so much time at home.” That worry appears warranted. Although life is nowhere near back to normal in the UK or US, as of early July about 40 pets a day were being abandoned across England and Wales, according to the RSPCA. That concern is shared by Jayne Bashford, the RSPCA’s chief inspector for Cambridgeshire who has “seen 30% of our usual annual total for abandoned animals in just three months.” Bashford sees concerns about the future driving the spike in abandonments, as people decide they can no longer afford to keep a pet. This appears to be the precisely the case in some instances: As the State of Alabama spiked in coronavirus cases, Alabama animal shelters were overrun as people ditched pets adopted during pandemic.

In most cases, the abandonments appear cost-related—people have lost their jobs and simply cannot afford to care for their companion animals. Organizations are stepping up with both advice and assistance. According to the ASPCA, there are several agencies that are trying to help caretakers keep their companion animals during this pandemic, which are listed on its website. Other organizations, including RedRover, a national nonprofit animal welfare organization, have resource programs for those in need of help covering costs. Other groups, such as Drifter’s Hearts of Hope in Colorado and the Kentucky Horse Council’s Equine Safety Net program, are also offering help to equine owners during the pandemic.

Our tasks at this point would seem to be both helping to get information about resources out to those in need, and supporting organizations that are trying to help. Toward that end, please circulate the resources above if you think the messages might reach people in need.

 

NOTE: The articles in “The Animals and COVID-19 Research Collection” are copyright © 2020, the Animals & Society Institute. All rights reserved. This material may be reproduced for personal use or by not-for-profit organizations with proper credits and the web site link https://www.animalsandsociety.org. For other uses, no portion of this publication may be reproduced or distributed, in print or through any electronic means, without the written permission of the Animals & Society Institute. Contact gala.argent@animalsandsociety.org

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