Rachel Bender found herself painting to get through the quarantine, but she craved a companion.
Her response was to foster 11 dogs over the last four months. She eventually adopted one: an 8-year-old beagle named Bagels.
The 20-year-old UF psychology junior fostered from Faithful Friends Pet Rescue and Rehoming, and the Humane Society of North Central Florida in her Gainesville apartment.
Just as Bender’s loneliness drove her to adopt a dog, Alachua County residents have caused a spike in the number of animals being fostered from shelters and rescues in the area. However, adoptions remain stagnant in some animal shelters despite the growing trend of fostering and adoptions throughout the U.S.
Fosterings at the Humane Society of North Central Florida rose 100 percent, Leesha Baumann, the organization’s development coordinator, wrote in an email to The Alligator. All of the 276 animals in the foster program were sent to homes between March 18 and March 21.
Even though fosterings have risen, adoptions have decreased. A year ago, adoptions at the shelter amounted to just under 400 animals around this time, according to Baumann. This year, the shelter has only found homes for 300 cats, dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits and ferrets since mid-March.
Haile’s Angels Pet Rescue, on the other hand, experienced both increased fosterings and adoptions. Out of the shelter’s 153 animals in the foster program, 75 percent of them are in foster homes. In February, only 34 percent of these pets were placed with families, according to Cassie Wheeler, director of the rescue.
Wheeler also said adoption rates in April were up 75 percent from last year, jumping from 33 adoptions to 68.
Despite this, Wheeler said she expects adoption rates to go down as people return to work.
“The reason that people were able to do this and to open their homes is because they are home,” she said. “I think that it will decline again just for the simple fact that they don’t have time.”
As the number of animals in the rescue went down to the single digits, Wheeler has increasingly brought staff from the kennel into the office. Employees who worked with animals are now doing administrative work because of the sharp decrease in the animals on site.
Unlike Wheeler’s rescue, Robin Tjiong, director of the House of the Happy Cats and Dogs Rescue in Levy County, said more people are offering to foster, but adoption rates remain slow compared with large shelters. However, she said she doesn’t usually have high adoption rates at her rescue.
Last year, six cats were adopted in March and six in April. This year, five were adopted in March and eight in April. She said there hasn’t been a noticeable change in adoptions because of the size of her rescue.
Sam Kephart, a 19-year-old UF criminology sophomore, fostered six kittens from House of the Happy Cats and Dog Rescue this past month. While she said some people are ready to foster or adopt because of the amount of attention a new pet requires, she also said there are others who aren’t.
“Some people in some cases probably shouldn’t because they’re bored, and they want an animal,” she said. “I know a lot of people do impulse adoption or impulse buying animals.”
Although people seem more interested in rescuing animals than in previous years, the Levy County rescue is having trouble finding families to take in the cats and dogs, Kephart said. She believes this is happening because the organization is lesser-known than other animal shelters in the area.
While COVID-19 hasn’t affected adoption rates at the rescue, it has impacted the amount of money Tjiong receives from PetSmart in preparation grants.
Tjiong said PetSmart hosts National Adoption Weekend four times a year. During that time, animal shelters and rescues receive grants based on how many animals are brought to the event. The director said the June event was canceled.
“That’s $2,000 I’m not going to get,” she said. “For a group like mine, it’s hurtful.”
She said she uses this money to spay and neuter her cats and dogs and give them vaccinations.
Tjiong meets people who want to foster or adopt her pets in person. She said she has continued in-person interaction with those interested in adopting or fostering because this has been an integral part of her rescue, but the way she’s carried out these meetings has changed.
The owner takes a series of precautions while maintaining face-to-face interaction. Instead of meeting with families and groups, she interacts with one person at a time and asks where the person has been. She also said she always wears a mask and sometimes meets potential owners at PetSmart rather than the rescue as an extra precaution.
Tjiong believes the rising adoption rates in the country will open up more people to the idea of taking in animals in need.
“In some ways, this has been good because people have seen how easy it is because they have more time, and I think they’re saying now, ‘It’s a breeze,’” she said.
The Humane Society has approached meetings in a different way. Rather than opening the shelter for adoptions, which is what the organization usually does, Baumann wrote that meet and greets are available by appointment every day of the week. The adoption application and paperwork must be done online.
While the shelter hasn’t let volunteers come in for the last two months because of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the director wrote that volunteers have found other activities to do in the meantime. Many have sewed facial coverings, delivered masks to the society’s donors and assembled cat carriers.
While the animal shelter directors look to life after quarantine, Baumann wrote that she’s hopeful adoption events will resume soon and foster rates will continue to rise.
“Over the last three months, we have seen an amazing outpouring of support from the community,” she wrote. “We are incredibly grateful.”