Andrew Stillman and terrier Bacio met for the first time in person on March 26, 2020 at a no-contact adoption drop off. (Photo courtesy of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue)

In a time of isolation, the demand for animal companions has increased

Flooded with requests to foster or adopt, shelters and rescue groups move operations online

Andrew Stillman first met Bacio, a 10-year-old terrier mix, online through a video call.

“It was surreal and a bit of a risk because I made that decision to adopt him before actually meeting, but at the same time you can get a good sense of their personality,” said Stillman, whose adoption of Bacio went through on Thursday after several video calls with the dog’s foster family. “Right now is a unique time. I live alone, and so in some ways it was the perfect time to have someone to shelter in place with me and to build a relationship with.”

Stillman said while working from home and on calls, Bacio likes to lounge lazily on the couch next to him.

“We’re all going through this incredible moment of change collectively in this pandemic, and a dog can be a great partner in that,” Stillman said.

During these days of isolation, animal shelters and rescues have received a flood of requests to potentially foster or adopt animals in need of homes. After Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a statewide shelter-at-home and told non-essential businesses to shut down, animal shelters and rescues quickly tried to find foster homes for the animals left in their shelters. The community sprang into action.

Foster puppy Itsy gets a cuddle from Frances Hochschild, who decided to foster a dog while the shelter-at-home orders are in effect (Photo courtesy of SF SPCA)

Family Dog Rescue was flooded with foster requests and all 70 dogs in the shelter were placed with foster families in one day, founder Angela Padilla said.

“People need emotional support and companionship right now,” Padilla said. “Because they’re home from work it’s a good time to adopt and train. People are trying to help and the community is really coming together.”

Padilla said that with over 600 pending applications to foster or adopt, there aren’t enough shelter dogs to meet the high demand. Over 1,700 people signed up to foster an animal at the SF SPCA. Muttville Senior Dog Rescue has reportedly received 260 applications in the past week, a 300% increase over what they would normally receive.

“So many people who have reached out to us are suffering from isolation and loneliness,” said Sherri Franklin, the founder of Muttville. “An animal can turn that around in a split second. They need affection, can give affection, get you outside for a walk and help everyday with a little exercise.”

Although Newsom clarified that animal care workers are classified as essential service workers, many of the shelters have closed until further notice to protect staff and potential foster parents and adopters. Rescues like Muttville, which connected Stillman to his little terrier Bacio, have started virtual adoptions, meetings over video conference for potential adopters with dogs, and no-contact drop-offs.

“Everybody is adapting to this new way to do business and it’s been kind of fun,” said Franklin from Muttville.

Tigger meets his new family on a video call during a virtual adoption, which Muttville Senior Dog Rescue is using to continue adoptions while shelter-at-home orders are in effect. (Photo courtesy of Beth Kanter)

Other rescues, like the SF SPCA, have started to utilize tele-medicine for veterinary visits. The SPCA has closed their adoption center and shut down their volunteer program for the time being, but have kept the animal hospital open for emergency visits only. In the meantime, short video conference veterinary appointments have been servicing pet owners, said Krista Maloney, SPCA communications manager.

While shelters improvise ways to continue their essential services, they are also bracing for the long term impact of the shut downs and the pandemic. Padilla at Family Dog Rescue said this week several adopted dogs were returned to the shelter because the adopters could no longer afford to take care of the animals after being laid off.

“It’s wonderful to see this burst of support and energy but I’m afraid that if this pandemic goes on longer, more dogs will be abandoned because of the economic downturn,” Padilla said. “It’s an important time to remember that animals are part of our communities too.”

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