'The reward is worth it': For some pet adoption centres, 2020 was a banner year

Published Dec. 21, 2020 6:00 a.m. ET
Updated Dec. 21, 2020 6:51 p.m. ET

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TORONTO -- While the COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on many people and businesses across the country, it’s been fairly good to pets looking for a new home.

At the beginning of the pandemic in the early spring, adoption centres across the country reported a spike in new adoptions and pet fostering as people suddenly working from home had more time to care for a pet in need.

Natalia Hanson, marketing and communications co-ordinator for Humane Canada, which represents humane societies across Canada, said the spike in pet adoptions and fosters was not just exclusive to the spring months.

“Throughout the year that trend has continued, so much so that a lot of our shelters across the country are low in capacity right now,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

Hanson said the Prince Edward Island Humane Society, for example, did not have any dogs available for adoption as of late November.

“There are some in the foster system that will be available soon, but clearly shelters are being emptied out, which is a good thing,” she said. “We don’t want the animals at the shelter.”

She said the P.E.I. SPCA was able to rehome 102 dogs in 2019, but has already rehomed 118 dogs this year, with more than a month to go.

In Canada’s largest city, Hanson said the Toronto Humane Society is reporting a lower number of adoptions this year, but also says it’s at a lower capacity than normal.

For Amanda Panacci of Toronto, adopting a dog had been a goal of hers for a about a year, but the pandemic provided the perfect opportunity to take the plunge and bring home her puppy Charlie in late October.

“I knew that I would be working from home for, the indefinite future, at least until early Spring 2021, so it just worked that I got him now because I could be home and take care of him in his puppy stages,” she said.

Panacci added that having a puppy has helped her get some consistent fresh air. 

“One of the best benefits of it is there were days where I wasn't even leaving the house or I would start my day, workout at home, work until six or seven some nights and I wouldn't go outside because I had no reason to,” she said. “Now it's just easier to get out and do that when you have a dog that actually needs to go out.”

In March, Rory O’Neill, a dog behaviourist with Rocky Mountain Animal Rescue in Calgary, told CTVNews.ca that the surge in foster applications during the pandemic left theorganization with no more dogs to foster.

Now, O’Neill said that while they do have dogs for fostering or adoption, they’ve been “extraordinarily busy” this year. She doesn’t, however, believe the pandemic played much of a role in the increase.

“I don't think it's necessarily COVID, even though there was a spike of fosters,” she said. “I think it's more and more people are veering away from buying from puppy mills, pet stores … and breeders.”

In Fredericton, N.B., The Purrfect Cup, a cafe and lounge with adoptable cats, has seen so many feline adoptions that it can’t keep up.

“Once we reopened, our cats have been going so fast,” Brenna Gauthier, the assistant manager at The Purrfect Cup, told CTV News Atlantic in early November. “It’s been amazing, honestly.”

Due to the pandemic, many shelters have had to shift their operations when it comes to matching a pet with a potential adopter. This means shelters have taken up many of the strategies seen in workplaces: video conferencing, virtual meetings, phone calls and emails.

“It's, of course, not the same experience, because when we’re not in a pandemic age, the people would be able to go into a shelter and have an actual encounter face-to-face with the animal, but given the times we're in, they have to completely pivot their operations and become more creative,” Hanson said. 


A spike in adoptions doesn’t come without its range of concerns, Hanson said.

There’s a worry among humane societies and SPCAs that people who adopted a pet during the pandemic may realize they can no longer take care of it when life gets back on track.

Meanwhile, O’Neill isn’t worried about a drop in demand among people wanting to foster an animal in the future, in part because those fosterfamilies now see how much of an easy and fulfilling venture it can be.

“Once people start fostering, they realize it's a really great way to help animals,” she said. “They realize it's not that much of their time, it's not that much effort, and it's more rewarding than anything. The reward is worth it.”

Hanson said there’s also a concern that limited availability of adoptable pets will lead those desperate for a companion to puppy mills.

“We know that there is some decrease in adoptable dogs and this is unfortunately driving up some people who are driven by profit and are just to breed dogs for profit,” Hanson said. “We need to do our due diligence in ensuring that we're not inadvertently supporting a puppy mill operation, because if the demand doesn't decrease, the supply will never decrease.”

This increased demand has also led to an increase in puppy scams. In September, the Better Business Bureau said Canadians lost about $300,000 from people pretending to be breeders, about double the amount compared to all of 2019.

Humane societies and SPCAs also worry that given the shifting economy, those who’ve been recently laid off or are having trouble re-entering the workforce will be forced to surrender their pets because they can no longer afford them. To help curb this, Humane Canada is working on Canada’s first national pet food bank, which is expected to begin operation in within the next couple months.

As part of the program, Humane Canada is providing grants for shelters if they wish to set up a pet food bank in their region.

“We see definitely a shift in the future of humane societies and SPCAs to be more of a service or community oriented organization rather than sheltering animals,” Hanson said.

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