Nicole Healy watched as Alachua County residents emptied the once-full shelter cages and welcomed foster dogs into their homes by the dozen.
“We ended up at one point having more animals in foster than we had physically here, which was huge for us,” said Healy, the Alachua County Animal Services director. “We've never seen that before.”
Pet adoptions and fostering were on the rise throughout the pandemic.
As many owners return their “pandemic pets” now that quarantine has ended, however, shelters across the country are forced to take the brunt of an overwhelming amount of unwanted pets. More than a year later, the amount of dogs entering the facility has risen to the point of overcrowding.
Luckily, many foster dogs were adopted when quarantine was over. But the COVID-19 pandemic also posed some unique challenges, as the shelter had to limit in-person visits coordinated by appointment only.
“We could only fit in maybe five a day, and you weren't sure they were going to go home with an animal,” she said. “It definitely hurt us for a bit.”
The Alachua County Animal Services shelter returned to a pre-pandemic normal with adoption rates as it resumed one of its in-person special events Saturday. The shelter hosted its second-ever “Harry Potter” Animal Adoption Event, transforming the facility into a child-friendly utopia with arts and crafts and themed decorations.
Twenty cats and 17 dogs were adopted at the event. Bringing children in with activities, is a surefire way to ensure more adoptions because kids often sway their parents to adopt, she added.
Veema Jhagru, a shelter volunteer and 21-year-old UF Japanese and women’s studies junior, was one of the people who decided to foster a dog during the pandemic. She said she was sure to choose a senior dog, Reba, because older dogs are often overlooked by potential owners. She was over-the-moon, she said, when the redbone coonhound was adopted.
Jhagru said it was hard for people to get appointments during the pandemic due to the high volume of calls. Events like the one on Saturday are helpful, she said, because it gives people who are not actively considering adoption or fostering pets a reason to consider it.
Most of the dogs at the shelter are American Staffordshire terriers or American pitbull terriers, she said, largely due a stigma associated with the breed, which historically was bred for fighting or other aggressive activities.
Jhagru said another reason dogs are often abused or abandoned due to Florida law.
“Florida dogs are considered a human's property,” Jhagru said. “You can do whatever you want to.”
Christene Tran, a 20-year-old UF biochemistry junior and shelter volunteer, said events like the “Harry Potter” adoption allow for volunteers to draw families and local students into the shelter when they may have otherwise not decided to come.
Tran said adoption events are special because some of her favorite dogs are adopted. It’s often hard to say goodbye, she said; she cried when one of her favorite dogs, Jazelle, left the shelter. But each person that wanders into the Animal Services building could provide another potential forever home.
“Seeing their smiles as they leave just warms your heart,” Tran said.
Contact Alan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @AlanHalaly.
Alan Halaly is the Metro desk editor and a second-year journalism major. He spent this past summer reporting for the Miami New Times and his first two semesters in college on The Alligator’s Metro desk covering city and county affairs. Above all, he’s passionate about bringing Gainesville’s hidden stories to UF’s campus.