In WVa and beyond, pet adoptions soar during pandemic

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Something good came out of 2020 after all.

Sarah Tolley, the Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association’s community engagement coordinator, said the shelter experienced a 40% increase in adoptions last year. That was powered by a 60% jolt at the end of June that left the shelter down with “maybe five dogs available in the kennels, no puppies at all, no kittens available and maybe a couple of adult cats.”

The majority of those animals adopted aren’t being returned to the shelter, Tolley said.

“Something that stands out more than anything is we also have fewer returns of adoptions,” Tolley said. “That means people are more willing to work with pets, acclimate them to homes and give them the chance they need. It’s just super cool.”

And it’s all part of a larger trend.

According to PetPoint, a data service used by more than 1,400 shelters nationally, returns of previously adopted dogs dipped 24.4% from 2019. Cat returns were down 24.9%. Those numbers are consistent with total intakes (which include strays and owner surrenders), as 24.3% fewer dogs were brought into shelters, along with 21.4% fewer cats.

The retention rate became especially evident in June, when the Bissell Pet Foundation was planning to hold one of its regular adoption events in Charleston. The only problem was that there weren’t enough animals available to warrant a special affair.

“That’s when it really kind of hit us that people are keeping these animals; they’re not bringing them back,” Tolley said. “They’re trying their best to make it work and give them loving homes. It’s crazy to me it’s happening like this.”

The shelter then started reaching out to kill shelters in the region with especially high euthanasia rates, offering to take in what it could. It also arranged to secure animals in Texas that were at risk of euthanasia after Hurricane Laura hit that state in August.

But what’s happening in shelters locally and across the nation is part of a larger industry trend and not just an inventory aspect.

According to Packaged Facts, a consumer market research firm, parts of the American pet industry have been affected across the board. Some segments have been hindered by the pandemic, specifically service-focused areas such as grooming, training and veterinarian services.

However, it projects new conditions for sales growth in the hindered parts of the pet industry as restrictions and protocols continue to evolve.

Yet, that lag in service-driven business has been countered by a surge in food and nonfood pet supplies. Pet food experienced double-digit growth in 2020 — including a more than 70% increase in online business.

“Oh, yeah, the whole pet retail industry has increased since the pandemic started,” said Jim Ryan, manager of PetSmart’s Southridge location. “And it’s just everything pretty much across the board.

“A lot times, adoption events have been a little tough because of COVID restrictions, but we’re still reaching out to our partners and they’re still getting a lot of talk and a lot of adoptions. We adopt cats here for one of the local rescues and we’ve been steady when we can get some from them. We’re getting them adopted quickly.”

Tolley said animals have been leaving the shelter at a faster pace than at any other time during her four years with the organization.

She said the weekend adoption event held in December to honor fallen Charleston police Patrolman Cassie Johnson “had people lined up all around our parking lot. I’ve never seen that before.” Part of the formula was to honor a police officer killed in the line of duty, another part was to meet an increasing demand for furry companions.

“Maybe it’s the pandemic, and pets provide great comfort,” Tolley said. “But it’s just crazy the amount of people willing to adopt from us.”

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