Rescue groups across Canada see surge in demand for pandemic pets
TORONTO -- Animal rescue organizations from coast to coast are reporting a surge in demand for rescue dogs and cats as Canadians look for furry companions to keep them company during self-isolation.
CTVNews.ca reached out to half a dozen rescue organizations from B.C. to Nova Scotia, and each group said applications to foster pets have spiked, with some fielding six times more requests than average. One group received as many applications in two days as they normally get in six months.
“We have more foster applications than we have dogs right now, which happens almost never,” said Rory O’Neill, a dog behaviourist with Rocky Mountain Animal Rescue.
The reason behind the trend, the groups say, is simple. As COVID-19 shuts down workplaces and schools, many Canadians find themselves with enough time to welcome a new pet into their lives, either permanently or as a temporary foster.
Fostering was the original plan for Fiona Groves, 40, a fitness coach from Canmore, Alberta who recently adjusted her business to online sessions. She figured she had extra time for a foster dog.
“The idea was that, when I went back to work, obviously my schedule would no longer be suitable for a dog,” she said.
Last Sunday, she picked up Maya, a high-energy greyhound mix, from Rocky Mountain Animal Rescue. There was only one staff member on the shift, and Groves said she was able to practice physical distancing during the exchange.
By Wednesday, Groves and her husband decided to keep Maya for good -- a decision sometimes referred to as a “foster fail.
Falling in love with Maya was a major factor, but Groves added that the pandemic has forced her to reconsider what she wants her life to look like once things go back to normal.
“There has been a shift in perspective. I realized that I can’t keep on working those really long days. So I’m still going to be going back to my face-to-face teaching and personal training, but I’m definitely going to make some adjustments so they’re no longer 15-hour days,” she said.
“Now I’m going to make sure my schedule is also dog-friendly.”
SOME ADOPTIONS SUSPENDED
While some groups are still offering fosters and adoptions, others have stopped. Save Our Scruff, a Toronto-based dog rescue organization, is putting all adoptions and intakes on hold for the time being out of concern for physical distancing.
Even so, the group has still seen applications for fosters soar, from 33 in January to 203 in March.
“While we are so happy that people are offering to open their home to a rescue dog right now, we are looking for people who are still able to foster after they go back to work. Because we do not have any intakes planned at this time, we don't have any new dogs coming in,” said Eleni Pallotta, assistant adoption manager with Save Our Scruff.
In Halifax, Marley’s Hope Dog Rescue has received 20 foster applications in two days. Typically, they’d receive that many in six to eight months. Regardless, the group isn’t processing those applications.
“To keep our volunteers and the community safe we are adhering to the public health order keeping to social distancing rules,” the group said in a statement. “Once the pandemic is over, we will process any applications we received."
While many adoptive pets are available domestically, some Canadian rescue organizations import stray dogs from overseas. The federal government has not banned animal imports during COVID-19, but federal authorities have asked rescue groups to postpone importing animals “as much as possible.”
MAINTAINING PHYSICAL DISTANCING
But other groups said they’ve been able to maintain social distancing throughout the foster and adoption process. The Toronto Humane Society and Calgary Humane Society are only accepting online applications, and measures have been put in place to ensure physical distancing during meet-and-greets.
Second Chance Animal Rescue Society has been using FaceTime to do meet-and-greets with potential owners and foster families. When it comes time to meet a dog, extendable leashes are used to maintain the two arms-length distance recommended by public health officials.
“I know a lot of groups closed their doors, but we didn’t feel it was necessarily the right thing to do,” said Terra Maclean, a training co-ordinator with Edmonton-based Second Chance Animal Rescue Society.
"We don’t know how long this situation is going to last. And the longer the foster pet stays in the foster home, the more attached and settled they get as well. And to unroot them in two for three months is almost unfair, if they can go be with their people immediately.”
Self-isolation may feel like an opportune time to get a new pet, but Rory O’Neill with Rocky Mountain Animal Rescue said new dog owners need to take extra precautions not to smother their new pet with non-stop affection.
Her advice is to take occasional walks outside alone or spend time in a different room than your new pet. That way, it doesn’t develop separation anxiety.
“When they go back to work, it could be upsetting to the dog because it’s a pack animal, it wouldn’t be used to be suddenly by itself,” she said.