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All across the country, people are finding ways to adapt to our new stay-at-home normal, and for some, that means adopting a furry friend. Shelters in the US have reported an increase in adoptions since the start of the pandemic, some of which have had to create waitlists or pause applications until they can rescue more animals. Petfinder.com, which works with shelters and rescue organizations throughout the country, saw adoption inquiries jump 122 percent between March 15th and April 15th.
It’s led to a unique set of issues that many shelters haven’t faced before: juggling increased applications for pet adoptions and foster homes while having to adjust to their new circumstances.
Many rescue organizations have had to close their adoption and medical facilities, and with that change has come a shift in strategy. Their first concern was how to ensure their animals were well taken care of with limited staff and closed shelters. For many organizations, the answer is fostering. “Thanks to our extensive network of volunteers, we were able to temporarily move most of the animals in our care into foster homes,” says Kirstin Burdett, senior manager of admissions and matchmaking at the ASPCA Adoption Center, “enabling us to focus on the most vulnerable animals and support animal welfare partners who need our help.”
The second concern was how to adjust their adoption processes. That has led to many organizations switching to video meet and greets, virtual adoption events, and attempts to build connections between foster homes and potential adopters. “Some of our centers are still doing appointment-only, safe, social distanced in-person adoptions,” says Hannah Stember of the Best Friends Animal Society. Though, she added, most are doing virtual meet and greets.
Meanwhile, this is one of the busiest and most challenging times of the year for rescue organizations, as unaltered cats begin mating in the warmer months and litters of homeless kittens begin appearing outside. Rescue efforts will get busier than before, and more pets will become available for adoption.
As a result, despite the increase in inquiries, shelters are still looking for support, whether that’s via adopting or fostering. Even though you may not be able to visit an animal shelter, you can still use some of these virtual methods to welcome an animal into your home. Before you take these steps, though, remember that adopting a pet is a commitment for the rest of its life. “A decision to adopt a pet should not be taken lightly. It is a huge time and financial commitment,” says Meagan Licari, president of Puppy Kitty NYC.
Here are some strategies and advice for adopting a rescue pet during these challenging times.
Research local rescue organizations near you
First, make sure you decide what pet is right for you and your household. Cat, dog, lizard, rabbit, guinea pig?
Once you know, make a list of eight to 10 rescue organizations that are in your area. It’s important to consider several sources because many shelters are inundated with applications these days and some might have waitlists. Shelters don’t usually see this quantity of applications at any one time, and in addition, many of their facilities are understaffed with limited volunteers. So be patient. Don’t get discouraged.
While researching, verify that these are 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. Each nonprofit organization has to apply to receive their 501(c)(3) status and EIN number which allows them to be a tax-exempt charitable organization.
Take some time to also do some general research about each organization. Visit their website, read some recent articles where they’ve been mentioned, and check out their social media pages. Once you’re in the application process, you can also confirm with the organization how they keep medical records of all their animals.
Be flexible when looking for a pet
Start looking for the right pet for you and your household. Visit each organization’s website and take a look at their adoptable pet bios. You can also check out Petfinder and Adopt a Pet, where you’ll be able to see pet profiles and be synced up with a rescue organization.
Be as open-minded as you can and don’t settle on just one animal. Just as it’s important to have several options for rescue organizations, it’s also important to meet and learn more about several different animals.
Keep in mind that many of these shelters might not have the bandwidth to constantly update every pet profile, so if you choose one, it’s possible that it may no longer be available. Kittens and puppies are some of the first animals to be adopted, so there may be a waitlist to adopt when you reach out. Be flexible and have a conversation with the organization. They’ll guide you in the right direction.
Apply to adopt
Say you’ve found a pet you’d like to adopt — and it is available. Great! First, you’ll fill out an adoption application which can be found on each organization’s website.
You may need to wait, since many organizations are juggling an influx of applications. But eventually you’ll be contacted, via phone or email, to discuss the application and your interests, and possibly schedule a virtual home visit. Some of the things you may be asked include:
Your pet history
Whether your landlord allows for pets
If everyone in the household has okayed this decision
If you can afford to support an animal
If you’re open to advice and information about caring for your new pet
Whether you have any allergies to the pet you’re adopting
The organization will then review your information further and let you know if you’ve been approved.
Schedule a meet & greet
If you’re approved, you’ll then schedule an appointment so you can meet your pet. Some local shelters will schedule in-person appointments so they can regulate how many people are in the facility and take proper precautions. Others may schedule video calls as a way for you to virtually meet the animal. Ask each organization what their process is when they contact you about your application so that you can find one that you’re comfortable with.
If all goes well, the organization will schedule a good time for you to pick up your pet, or they may find a volunteer or transporter to bring them to you.
If the pet is in a foster home
If the pet that you want to adopt is being fostered, the organization might connect you with the foster home where it is currently living. This will be a virtual video call where you’ll be able to “meet” your future pet over the call. It’s a great time to ask the foster home detailed questions about the animal, its personality / behavior, and see if there’s anything you can do to make it happy and comfortable at your home.
Some organizations are also offering foster-to-adopt situations where you can temporarily foster a pet before officially deciding to adopt. Because in-person meet and greets are not possible for many organizations, this is a good alternative to ensure the adopter and pet are a good match.
Join a virtual adoption event
Keep an eye out for virtual adoption events! This type of meet is a first for many organizations but has become an effective way for adopters to learn about future pets. It’s also a great opportunity for you to hear from the organization, learn about its adoption process, and “meet” several different animals who are up for adoption.
“We have seen great success operating our virtual adoption events, which run every weekend,” says Alena Jones of Houston Pets Alive. Best Friends Animal Society also recently used Instagram to host an “adoptagram.” “It allows for the animals to be shown off in a way that’s not stressful for them and their personalities can really shine,” says Licari of Puppy Kitty NYC, which recently held its first event on Zoom. (Disclosure: Puppy Kitty NYC is an organization with which I regularly foster and volunteer.)
Be sure to follow these organizations on social media so you can see their adoptable pets and find out when the next virtual adoption event will be.
Puppy Kitty NYC held their first virtual adoption event with Bond Vet clinic on Zoom.