The presence of pets has been one of the silver linings during the pandemic for so many millions of Americans. A recent, evocative NPR story delved into the joys and comforts of such companionship at a time when people are isolated at home and less able to socialize with family and friends.
There is an underappreciated social dimension to petkeeping that the pandemic has highlighted. The "pet factor," as the NPR article suggests, “does bring people together in helpful ways: Pet owners are more likely to get to know people, form friendships and get the social support humans need.”
The article highlighted stories of new pet adopters, like Karol Kullberg, a psychiatric social worker (and the mother of the HSUS’s director of marine and wildlife protection, Kathryn Kullberg). Karol’s typical work day for many years has involved face-to-face contact with patients in a comfortable small room. After the pandemic hit, she moved to online therapy platforms to meet her patients’ needs but found her own time at home isolating and somewhat alienating. That’s one of the factors that led her to adopt Molly, a five-year-old terrier mix, whom she describes as a wonderful and comforting presence.
Karol quickly realized that Molly was "like getting something you didn't know you missed; you forgot how wonderful it was to have something you didn't notice until all of a sudden it's there again."
We have plenty of evidence that pets bring joy, companionship, social benefits and relief from stress. So it was not really surprising that soon after the pandemic began, there was a big spike in the numbers of people adopting pets.
Shelters across the country quickly adapted to the new opportunity, moving animals into foster homes and coming up with innovative, socially distanced programs to facilitate adoption. We shared with you inspiring stories of fosters stepping up to give pets a home during the crisis, with some taking in multiple animals.
The demand for adopted pets has leveled off since, and shelters have pivoted to meet new challenges that have arisen.
One of the most serious among these is the large number of pet owners struggling with unemployment, lack of resources and the potential loss of their homes. The last thing people should have to face, in such circumstances, is the loss of their beloved companion animals.
Last month, we reported that 30 to 40 million renters across the country were at risk of being evicted from their homes this year because of the pandemic and the resulting unemployment. This means that an estimated 10 to 11 million pets could be displaced in coming months.
Shelters have now turned their focus to keeping as many pets with families as possible. Many are providing food pantries, low-cost veterinary care and behavioral support to those in need.
Our Pets for Life program, which provides increased access to resources services in underserved areas, is also designed to keep people and pets together. In a number of communities, PFL has stepped in to help with food, supplies and veterinary care. We have provided 700,000 pounds of pet food to people and pets so far this year.
We have also created a toolkit for shelters on various strategies to keep people and pets together.
The holidays are a great time to support your local community shelters and rescues. Here are some ways in which you can do so:
- Contact your local animal shelter or rescue group to become involved in supporting its work in your community. This may be by fostering, volunteering or donating. Type in your zip code at theshelterpetproject.org/shelter-search to find organizations near you.
- Consider donating supplies, both through local groups and agencies like human food banks.
- Support rental assistance and forgiveness programs in your community and state that could help pet owners.
This is also an important time to remind anyone looking to bring companion animals home and into their families during the holidays to carefully consider their sources. We encourage people to adopt and rescue, and not buy animals from pet stores, which often source from puppy mills.
The holiday period, as a season of giving and of thanks, centers in large part on family and on the social relations that bind us --- all of us --- together. Millions of Americans count pets as family members, and want to see them receive the love and care they deserve. As we enter the holiday season, let’s all do our part to honor the human-animal bond.