Interest in pet adoption is on the rise thanks to working from home

By Anthony Torrise

Proud new pet owners pose with their new addition, Ricky, who found a new home thanks to Playa Vista’s Annenberg PetSpace
Photo courtesy of Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

COVID-19 has turned daily schedules upside down, but the limitations that once came with owning a pet (like being chained to an office desk) have been lifted for those who suddenly have more disposable time and attention due to working from home. It’s a leap of faith for some but most of the time the result is an unbroken bond.

From March to July of 2020, there has been a nationwide decrease of animals brought into shelters compared to the same period of time last year, according to industry data by petpoint.com. It also indicates lower rates of adoption as well, which is actually a good thing. Fewer intake and adoptions simply means that animals are not being surrendered as frequently. Most Westside shelters have closed down their in-person operations, but they have not stopped finding homes for the animals they care for.

The numbers of pets that found a new home through foster care and adoption are impressive for some of our Westside shelters. Collectively, No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA), the Wallis Annenberg PetSpace in Playa Vista and the City of Santa Monica Animal Shelter all claimed to have a lower intake of animals during the pandemic compared to the same time frame last year.

PR Manager Michelle Sathe of NKLA, an initiative of the Best Friends Animal Society, reported that 50 to 60% of the cats and dogs in the shelter found a foster home within two to three weeks of COVID-19 striking in March. That’s based on the shelter’s average of 250 animals at any one time.

“I’ve been with Best Friends for seven years here in Los Angeles, that has never happened, not even during the wildfires or anything like that. This was like a whole new level of community engagement,” Sathe said with amazement.

By mid March, Sathe was fostering a four-year-old Chihuahua from the shelter named Sugar. After a brief two weeks under Sathe’s care, Sugar found her new home with a first-time pet owner who hadn’t planned to fully adopt in the beginning.

Morgan Saunders went through the process of fostering Sugar in late March, but when the month quickly passed, Saunders was asked for her opinion about Sugar being put up for adoption on NKLA’s website. Unable to part with the soft-eyed pup, Sugar became a fixture of the family and is now staying with the rest of the Saunders’ loved ones on the East Coast.

“It helped me a lot, just knowing someone else was there, knowing I can pick her up and hug her and she’d want to snuggle with me. … It would just help me so much more to get through the day,” remarked Saunders.

In Playa Vista, things are looking to be on the up and up as well for the Wallis Annenberg PetSpace. PetSpace’s animal care manager Courtney Stone spoke with optimism as she said that interest in adoption has skyrocketed since more people are working from home and not in traditional office settings from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., (nor, we might add, stuck in LA’s notorious rushour traffic).

“Before COVID, that was probably one big deterrent that I frequently heard and saw from people being interested,” said Stone. “They just didn’t have enough time. They worked. They weren’t at home as much so that did deter people from adopting prior, where now that’s kind of a benefit because they are home and they’re able to spend time with their new pet.”

Through it all, the staff at PetSpace feel a shared sense of positivity thanks to the massive amounts of support coming from members of the surrounding community. This support has gone far in finding homes for some of PetSpace’s long-term residents, Stone notes.

Like other Westside shelters, the City of Santa Monica Animal Shelter reported that the amount of incoming dogs decreased from 81 to 39 from 2019 to 2020 and from 91 to 39 for cats since last year. From that decrease the shelter currently only has five dogs and three cats available for adoption, according to Animal Control Supervisor Ford Matsuoka.

Despite having to let go of the kennel staff due to less intake, the remaining staff at the Santa Monica Animal Shelter feel rather happy about the animals still being able to find homes.

“We’re ecstatic, even though people can’t just walk in and adopt the animal coming off the street. They have to make an appointment,” says Matsuoka. “But people have been making appointments, they have been sticking to those appointments, coming in, viewing the animal, talking it over with the animal control officers that are now the staff for the kennel. Usually they end up adopting the animal.”

Even if we aren’t able to go about adoptions like we used to, the move to put more animals in foster care has done a massive amount of work in allowing pet personalities to fully come out in a home environment.

In celebration of National Dog Day, which just happened on Aug. 26, Wags and Walks is celebrating with a virtual auction lasting through Sept. 2 in order to provide for the dogs under their care. Even those who aren’t able to adopt can support by bidding on prizes like a luxurious Montecito getaway, custom pet portraits and a personalized audio recording from Kristen Bell.

Seven hundred dogs have been saved by Wags and Walks since social restrictions were established in March. While it’s not a full-blown shelter, the dog rescue reported to have moved all of their dogs to foster care as of April. The work has been nonstop but the end result is worth it. So far, it doesn’t look like Wags and Walks will be slowing down anytime soon.

“The challenges of COVID have certainly taken a toll, but thanks to our incredible staff, volunteers and fosters, we’ve been able to maintain our rescue efforts without much of a hiccup,” says founder Lesley Brog. “With many people working from home now, folks are seeing the benefits of adopting a dog and we’re optimistic that we’ll see a significant spike in adoptions over the next few months! It’s a great time to rescue!”

The community of animal lovers on the Westside has spoken for itself. The outpouring of support through donations, volunteer foster care and adoptions have given a new “leash” on life, so to speak, to pets deserving of loving homes and the people who open their hearts to them. Pets do wonders for our mental health and if there is any time to help yourself as well as another, now seems to be the time.

Visit nkla.org, annenbergpetspace.org, bit.ly/santamonicaanimalshelter or wagsandwalks.org to learn more.

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