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Area animal shelters see uptick in adoptions, fostering amid pandemic

There’s a flurry of furry beneficiaries from the coronavirus pandemic — animals looking for a home.

While dogs and cats might be debating the benefits of Americans staying home more often, animal shelters and rescue organizations across the country are reporting nearly unprecedented levels of animal fostering and adoptions.

Angie Gunter, executive director of the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, said the shelter’s 207 adoptions in April were the most for any April in the organization’s history.

Shelters across the country put out a call for foster homes at the start of the pandemic and saw an overwhelming response.

The Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA also has more than 700 families on a waitlist to foster animals, although it typically doesn’t have any type of waitlist.

Bette Grahame, volunteer director of Almost Home and president of the Humane Society/SPCA of Nelson County, said her shelter is seeing similar trends.

“I think people are home and they are maybe lonely or just bored and think now they have time for an animal, and I think they’re just wanting the company of an animal,” she said. “They keep you up because you have to keep on doing things and can’t just sit back.”

At the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, total adoptions for the year are slightly behind 2019, but that’s because March saw a heavy decline when sweeping stay-at-home orders altered operations.

Shelters have kept volunteers and potential adopters away to ensure the coronavirus doesn’t spread. Applications are being handled online or over the phone and adopters are coming by appointment only.

“The process is slower than just stopping in and picking out your animal,” Gunter said.

Some activists have cautioned that adopting a pet during quarantine could backfire once life returns to some semblance of normal and people find they no longer have the time to care for an animal. But Gunter said adoption counselors are working with adopters and some are deciding to foster first.

“I do believe our adoption counselors are doing a really great job at making sure this isn’t a fleeting desire versus a long-term commitment,” she said.

Owner surrenders are also down and there hasn’t been an uptick in returns at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA. The shelter, which usually has hundreds of animals on-site, had a total of 74 on Monday, a number Gunter expects to drop closer to 20 in the coming days.

“It’s pretty empty here. This is really empty,” she said. “This is a ghost town for us.”

An unfortunate side effect of the pandemic for Grahame is the transporting of kittens to a large shelter in Massachusetts. She said the Nelson County shelter usually sends 25 to 30 kittens north each month, but has been unable to do so since March. Luckily, those animals have been placed in foster homes.

The Nelson shelter also had to cancel its spay and neuter clinic and close its thrift shop, but Grahame is hoping to reschedule the clinic and open the shelter after receiving guidance from the state.

Despite some shortcomings and a revised adoption model, shelters are seeing a benefit to the animals they serve.

“For now, I’m thrilled with how it’s going, considering everything. This is a good thing, considering the pandemic,” Gunter said. “I think the big thing is I’m really grateful to the community for the support they’ve given us and I’m thankful for our staff.”


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