Good news

More Victorians than ever want pets during the pandemic, and shelters are emptying

Owners seeking solace and companionship in animals have adopted record numbers of pets

By Emily Fagan
February 12, 2021
Good news

More Victorians than ever want pets during the pandemic, and shelters are emptying

Owners seeking solace and companionship in animals have adopted record numbers of pets

By Emily Fagan
Feb 12, 2021
Rhiannon Moore with her dog Jib. (Submitted)
Good news

More Victorians than ever want pets during the pandemic, and shelters are emptying

Owners seeking solace and companionship in animals have adopted record numbers of pets

By Emily Fagan
February 12, 2021
More Victorians than ever want pets during the pandemic, and shelters are emptying
Rhiannon Moore with her dog Jib. (Submitted)

Within twelve seconds of sending an email notifying 350 prospective cat owners of the newest arrivals to their shelter, the phones at Pets West were ringing off the hook.

It had been that way throughout the pandemic, with thousands of Victorians isolated at home eager for the companionship of a four-legged friend. Local shelters and pet stores are struggling to keep up with demand.

“Animals overall are more valued than ever,” said Lisa Nitkin, the owner of Pets West, a pet store that helps shelter cats find homes. “You don't have animals being considered to be disposable. They're not sitting in the shelters.”

This is a big change from a decade ago, Nitkin says, when she witnessed cats—especially older ones—sit in shelters or have to be euthanized because they couldn’t find homes. Now, a 10-year-old cat can find a home almost as easily as a kitten.

The pandemic didn’t prompt Rhiannon Moore to want to adopt a pet, but it accelerated the timeline for adoption. Moore had been pursuing adoption websites for two years prior to the pandemic, and knew she wanted to adopt when she moved to Victoria in 2020. The shift to working from home made her confident she could provide the attention and training a new puppy deserved.

“With so much time spent at home and especially by myself, I was like, ‘If I'm going to do it this year, it makes sense to do it now,’ since I know I'll be home,” Moore said.

Jib, an Australian Shepherd, was eight weeks old when Moore adopted him in May 2020. 

Rhiannon Moore with her dog Jib on a hike. Photo: Kara Foreman

Raising a puppy has been a challenge for Moore, but one she has appreciated. With three daily walks and the regular amusement that comes alongside life as a dog owner, she’s stayed active and allowed herself to enjoy the little moments of a difficult time. 

Not all Victorians have been as lucky as Moore in finding a pet available for adoption over the last year. The Victoria Humane Society has faced a shortage of cats and dogs available for adoption during the pandemic, as they are unable to safely transport animals that would normally find a new home in Victoria from remote communities during this time. 

On a typical weekend before the pandemic, about 100 animals would be transferred through the shelter, according to Victoria Humane Society founder Penny Stone. Now, that number has been cut by nearly two-thirds.

“We are seeing animals that are finding homes quicker, and that go to really good quality homes because you have a lot to choose from,” Stone said.

One unfortunate symptom of this, Stone says, is that there are hundreds of disappointed prospective pet owners that have spent months trying to adopt a furry friend. 

Some locals have turned to pet rescue centres like Loved At Last, a Vancouver-based adoption program that helps animals that have waited for a home for years in shelters around the globe find a home in Canada.

The high demand and low supply for animals in shelters will not be the case for long, Stone suspects. As the pandemic winds down, people go back to work, and animals from remote communities are once again brought to the shelter, Stone says there will be many more pets looking to be adopted. 

Pet ownership is a long-term commitment, and not one to be taken lightly, Nitkin says. New pet owners during the pandemic have to be cautious not to get their animals too used to constant attention, as pets may feel separation anxiety once the majority of in-person work and activities return.

Moore has planned ahead for this—her job is just a five-minute commute from home, which will allow her to keep up her lunchtime walks with Jib even after the pandemic ends. Until then, she says, Jib will continue to help her feel less alone in times of pandemic isolation.

“At first it was a little rough trying to raise a puppy by myself,” said Moore, “But now, I couldn't imagine going through this pandemic without him.” 


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