Adoptions and sales soar during pandemic, with no end in sight

The Cabbage Patch Kids craze of 1985. The Tickle Me Elmo mania of 1996. Tounderstand what has been happening with the sales and adoptions of real, livepuppies and dogs during the novel coronavirus pandemic, you have to think backto buying frenzies that consumed the consciousness of the entire nation.

“Within my circle of friends, there are at least five people who have gotten apuppy,” says Tess Karaskevicus, a schoolteacher from Springfield, Va., whoseboxer puppy, Koda, joined her family on May 28. “It’s been great. We’ve beenhaving friends come over and play with the puppy while we socially distance.They’re getting a puppy dosage of happiness. It’s been really amazing.”

What began in mid-March as a sudden surge in demand had, as of mid-July,become a bona fide sales boom. Shelters, nonprofit rescues, private breeders,pet stores — all reported more consumer demand than there were dogs andpuppies to fill it. Some rescues were reporting dozens of applications forindividual dogs. Some breeders were reporting waiting lists well into 2021.Americans kept trying to fill voids with canine companions, either becausethey were stuck working from home with children who needed something to do, orhad no work and lots of free time, or felt lonely with no way to socialize.

At the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles, anonprofit shelter, adoptions were double their usual rate in late June, with10 or 13 adoptions a day, president Madeline Bernstein said. A waiting listhad formed for certain types of dogs, and for puppies in general, because sofew were left in the shelter.

“My inventory is low,” she said. “All the shelters are in the same boat, butpeople still want to adopt.”

Bernstein saw the continuing demand as a second wave happening within thecoronavirus crisis. The first wave, when the virus initially struck, consistedof people fostering and adopting in part to help clear the shelters beforethey had to shut down. Months later, she said, a different type of adopter hascome forward.

“There’s been a realization that this is going to go on for a while,” shesaid. “People will not be getting on planes to travel. They’re going to planstaycations or driving vacations that are more amenable to pets. So they’lladopt now. This is like a second group of people on a whole other timeline.”

On the other side of the country, at Animal Care Centers of NYC, about 25percent of the people who agreed to take in foster dogs temporarily at thestart of the pandemic had adopted them permanently by late June. Usually, thatfoster-turned-adopter figure is 10 percent, said Katy Hansen, director ofmarketing and communications.

And the New York shelter was seeing lower-than-usual return rates on adopteddogs, she added. More adoptions may be working out, she said, in part becauseof the way the virus forced shelters to change their processes. There havealways been pre-adoption forms to fill out in most parts of the country, alongwith things like home checks and reference calls to verify adopters’information — some adopters have joked in the past that it’s easier to bringhome a child than a dog. Now there are more virtual touch points added to thepre-adoption process.

“There’s so much more interaction with the shelters before the adoption,”Hansen said. “You’re getting people who have found the animal on your websiteor on social media, have seen the video, read the bio, sent the email, askedfor more information, then we do the virtual meet-and-greet — there’s a lotmore interaction before the adoption happens. It shows that the person isreally invested.”

Breeders, too, reported unusual levels of business continuing into midsummer.Hank Grosenbacher, a breeder of Pembroke Welsh corgis who owns the HeartlandSales auction in Cabool, Mo. — where commercially licensed breeders often buyand sell dogs as breeding stock — said that as of late June, some breederswere investing more heavily than usual in puppies they could raise intobreeding-age dogs. Other breeders were reporting pet stores buying fulllitters of puppies that hadn’t been born yet, putting the money down inadvance just to try to keep inventory in the pipeline going forward.

“That means everyone thinks this boom will go on at least another 60 to 90days,” Grosenbacher said. “For most breeders, business is the best it’s everbeen.”

Joe Watson, CEO of Petland, which operates dozens of pet stores in the UnitedStates, says demand was so strong in May and June that the breeders thecompany usually works with saw a flood of new buyers for puppies.

“Demand for all pets were strong in May and June and continues thus far,”Watson said in mid-July.

Many consumers caught in the demand crunch have found themselves navigatingthe shopper’s equivalent of an obstacle course to bring home a dog from anytype of source.

Natalia Neerdaels, a scientist from Sea Ranch, Calif., tried for weeks toadopt a dog from a rescue group while she and her husband, who is in the techbusiness, were both working from home alongside their 11-year-old daughter.Neerdaels said she contacted nonprofit groups from the San Francisco Bay areaall the way up the West Coast to Oregon. All of them were overwhelmed withapplications.

“The majority, when I got a reply, said they just didn’t have enough dogs,”Neerdaels said. “They said: ‘You’re too late. Don’t even leave your name.’”

She ended up paying $1,375 for a toy poodle puppy on Craigslist. The familynamed her Cala Lili.

“She’s now 11 weeks old, and she’s wonderful,” Neerdaels said. “We are veryhappy. I had wanted to help a dog, to rescue, but it wasn’t possible.”

Ginger Mitchell of Grand Junction, Colo., also came up empty in her initialsearch. She could find larger dogs in her state’s shelters, but the 68-year-old retiree didn’t want a German shepherd or pit bull.

She turned to the Internet, too, and found a 3-year-old, 15-pound terrier mixnamed Sammy on the PetSmart Charities website, which features adoptable dogsfrom around the country. Sammy was in San Antonio with a nonprofitorganization called CareTX Rescue.

“This was in early April, and the airlines were starting to shut everythingdown,” Mitchell said. “You couldn’t ship a dog on a flight that required aconnection. It had to be nonstop. There were no nonstops from San Antonio, sothese lovely people drove Sammy and some other dogs about five hours toDallas-Fort Worth. They were supposed to ship him here to Grand Junction on adirect flight from there, but both flights were canceled. We ended up havingto drive four hours over the mountains to Denver. It was in the 20s, and therewas snow on the ground. It took four attempts to get him to us.”

Sammy was traumatized from the journey, Mitchell said, but soon settled inwith her and her husband, who is also retired.

“We had a lot of time to spend with him and bond,” she said. “If not for thepandemic, we’d probably be traveling.”

Karaskevicus, who got her boxer puppy from a breeder her family knew, said heronly worry now is about what will happen with the upcoming school year. Bothshe and her husband are teachers, and if schools reopen, she wants Koda to beready for a new daily routine without any people at home.

“I thought we should pretend to go to work every day in the garage or she’dhave separation anxiety,” Karaskevicus said. “So we crate trained her, justfor like 45 minutes a day, we’ll go in the front yard or grocery shopping justso she can get used to us being away.”

Shelter directors, too, are wondering what will happen as Americans startreturning to school and work. Bernstein, in Los Angeles, said there could bean increase in dogs being abandoned, or the dogs may have bonded so much withtheir families that they’ll keep them forever. Like so many things with thecoronavirus, the territory is uncharted. Just as nobody predicted that thestart of a pandemic would lead to a buying spree for pet dogs, nobody is quitesure what the end of a pandemic will mean for the pups either.

“While we have general ideas and can make good guesses, we really don’t knowhow this will turn out,” Bernstein said. “Nobody has ever done this before.”

Source:Kim Kavin Washington Post

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