• Jules-Pierre Malartre

COVID-19 and animal adoptions


THE JOURNAL FILE PHOTO

Animatch dog adoption operator Helen Lacroix says while canine adoptions have increased since physical distancing and isolation rules came into play, the organization is maintaining its high standards to ensure their charges go to good long-term homes.

Animal shelters in the area have seen a substantial increase in their adoption numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and while this might seem like good news for abandoned animals, it also raises some concerns as to their ultimate fate down the road once the crisis has passed.

Dogs

The number of adoptions at Animatch has more than tripled, according to Helene Lacroix, operator of the well-known dog adoption service. Lacroix and her team are obviously thrilled but Animatch still enforces strict screening procedures to make sure dogs go to a good home. Lacroix is aware of the possibility of some people adopting animals merely to keep children busy during social isolation, or as a ‘safety blanket’ to help them weather the emotional and psychological impact of the pandemic. Screening procedures have therefore become even more critical.

“We actually have a COVID file,” Lacroix said of a dossier of would-be adopters who were found to be unacceptable because their motives for adopting a dog were not necessarily in the animal’s best interest. “They’re people who never had a dog; who have no idea what having a dog is like. Some feel they don’t need to walk the dog. (...) Some people would be better off buying a stuffed animal at Wal-Mart,” she said.

While interviewing would-be animal adopters, shelter personnel are on the lookout for ‘red flags’ that identify people as not being the best choice for taking one of their charges home with them. Many well-meaning adopters simply end up reconsidering their decision within a short period of time. Such situations only end up hurting the animals and preventing them from meeting the right adopters. Screening techniques are therefore essential in preventing failed adoptions.

“Half don’t make it—not because they’re not good homes, but simply because they don’t meet the criteria,” Lacroix added.

While it hasn’t happened yet, Lacroix feels it’s only a matter of time before they start seeing the first round of dogs being abandoned when the COVID-19 pandemic winds down. “It’s still early. We should see the first cases around September or October,” she estimates.

Cats

CASCA, the local volunteer group that helps abandoned cats has also seen an increase in adoptions. CASCA is operating over capacity year around under ‘normal’ conditions but right now they are having difficulties meeting demand.

“We’ve adopted out all our adult cats,” Francine Pelletier of the Vaudreuil chapter of CASCA said. “It’s the only good thing that’s come out of COVID-19,” she joked.

“We still have kittens, but they need to be seen by a veterinarian first. They are being adopted out the moment they become available,” Pelletier added. Like Animatch, CASCA has strict adoption guidelines and screening techniques and while cats may not require as much care as a dog, there is still fear that some recent adoptees will find their way back on the street once the pandemic stress passes. Although CASCA sees abandonment cases on a weekly basis, none so far appear to be related to COVID-19.

Joelle Panchyshyn of CASCA Hudson also reports a high adoption rate of adult cats recently. She is hopeful that people would think twice before abandoning their recent adoptees given the adoption fees that CASCA charges. CASCA also takes back animals from adopters who decide for whatever reason to return the animals. CASCA then tries to rehome the pets but failed adopters must forego their adoption fees which go toward veterinarian care, including sterilization, vaccinations and any other possible needs of the animals before they are adopted.

Abandonment week

Right now, however, COVID-19 is not the main concern of some animal rescuers in the area. Christine Heidt of CASCA Hudson is now fighting a yearly battle known as ‘abandonment week,’ a period of increased animal abandonment coinciding with moving (although animal abandonment associated with moving starts as early as May). Animal abandonment sees a sharp increase every year around moving season and area shelters are ill-equipped to meet the large number of animals that will end up on the streets.

As of 2018, SPCA Montreal took in 50 pets a day around the traditional moving period. This is a high number of animals to take in regardless of the amount of resources available to any shelter. Many are simply abandoned.

“It’s a criminal act to abandon an animal,” Heidt said. “People think cats can survive in the wild but that’s not the case. They are not meant to live outside.” They end up slowly dying of neglect, hunger, disease or violence, and the general indifference of the greater public.

CASCA Hudson is in dire need of volunteers and foster homes—residents willing to shelter cats temporarily while Heidt and her team find permanent homes for them. Being a foster parent is a very rewarding experience—especially for anyone interesting working for a good cause and in saving an animal’s life. Anyone interested in adopting a cat, or in finding out more about fostering or volunteering for CASCA, can reach out to Christine Heidt by email at hudson.casca@gmail.com.

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