Pet fostering spikes amid COVID-19 pandemic

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ATLANTA -- In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s become clear that people are turning to their furry friends for comfort.

24HourPetWatch, a pet microchip company that collects data from roughly 1,500 U.S. shelters and rescue centers, said the number of animals in foster care has increased since mid-March, but data points to a decrease in pet adoptions during COVID-19.

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According to Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), since March 15, applications to foster pets are up 400 percent compared to the previous year.

“While the ASPCA’s adoption and foster rates vary based on factors including the population of animals in our care and feline breeding season, there has been an incredible response from people looking to temporarily foster animals during this difficult time," Bershadker said.

A dog fostered and then adopted during COVID-19 pandemic.

A dog fostered and then adopted during COVID-19 pandemic.

With regard to adoption, Bershadker noted the ASPCA saw an initial spike in adoptions in March when the pandemic began, but saw numbers slowly start to plateau or decrease due to shelter closures and the slow nature of virtual adoption as quarantine progressed.

“This is partly due to the fact that, out of an abundance of caution related to the COVID-19 crisis across New York City, we closed the ASPCA Adoption Center to the public and worked hard to move the majority of the animals in our care into foster homes,” Bershadker explained.

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The Humane Society has experienced similar trends.

“We’ve definitely had an increased interest in adoptions,” said Christina Hill, communications director for the Humane Society. “But the virtual adoption process takes much longer to complete than our standard pre-COVID process. We also stopped intake, like many shelters have, at the recommendation of national veterinary and sheltering groups, and fewer in equals fewer out.”

A cat currently available for adoption from the Atlanta Humane Society.

A cat currently available for adoption from the Atlanta Humane Society.

During the week of March 7, around when the COVID-19 crisis began in the U.S., there were 17,930 pet adoptions. The week of May 2, there were 11,938 pet adoptions, showing about a 33 percent decrease in adoptions from the start of the pandemic to this month.

But the percentage of pets entering foster care is up.

There were 32,962 pets in foster care the week of March 7, and as of May 8, there were 47,856 -- a 45 percent increase.

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Jane Chiavelli is one quarantiner who decided this was the time to foster a dog.

“I’ve grown up with dogs, and since I’m working from home right now, I wanted to do something good and different,” Chiavelli said.

She decided to foster her dog, Gus, at the start of April, about one month into quarantine.

Jane Chiavelli and her dog, Gus, who she fostered before adopting during COVID-19 pandemic.<br>

Jane Chiavelli and her dog, Gus, who she fostered before adopting during COVID-19 pandemic.<br>

“I sent in an application to English Springer Rescue America and had a phone interview. Normally they come to inspect your house, but given social distancing, I sent pictures of my apartment and dog park. They matched me with Gus to foster, and I drove to [South Carolina] to pick him up,” Chiavelli said.

After a few weeks quarantining with Gus, she knew she had to adopt.

“I realized how perfect he was for me and couldn’t imagine giving him up,” she said.

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Chiavelli said, based on her experience, she encourages everyone to foster pets and consider adoption.

“Do it,” she said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to do something good, and also an opportunity to have some nice company.”

A cat adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A cat adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shelters across the country have implemented innovative solutions to make situations like Chiavelli’s possible, while ensuring the safety of their staff, animals, and communities.

“Many animal shelters have been leaning on technology to facilitate online adoptions to continue safely moving dogs and cats out of the shelter and into homes," Bershadker said.

Shelters are following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) guidelines around social distancing. For example, the ASPCA’s Los Angeles Feline Foster Program is set up to provide minimal-exposure and contact-free adoptions. Potential adopters are required to fill out an online adoption survey. From there, the ASPCA holds virtual meet-and-greets between cats and their potential adopters in an effort to find them loving homes during the pandemic.

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Similarly, for the Humane Society, interested adopters must fill out an online adoption application. Then, its operations team works with the potential adopter to schedule a socially-distanced meet-and-greet with the foster parent.

“Then, once everyone feels it’s a great match, the application is formally processed electronically and the adopter picks up the pet,” Hill said.

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To assist animal welfare organizations and struggling pet owners during this crisis, the ASPCA launched its COVID-19 Relief & Recovery Initiative.

“It’s a $5 million dollar response effort which will grant a minimum of $2 million dollars to animal welfare organizations in critical need of funds,” Bershadker said. “It will provide pet food and urgent veterinary care to vulnerable pet owners through regional pet food distribution centers in several cities across the country.”

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The Humane Society is also increasing its community outreach.

“We are currently offering free virtual veterinary and behavior assistance, free pet food, a COVID-19 pet hotline, and free pet boarding for those hospitalized with COVID-19,” Hill said.

“We’re also providing Instagram live Q&As with trainers and behaviorists where pet owners can ask their questions and have them answered live.”

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The Humane Society continues to showcase its animals on social media, but according to Hill, “interest in adoptions has been so high, we haven’t needed to do many extra special things to help our animals find homes.”

The ASPCA will host the National Adoption Weekend from June 5 through 7 to keep encouraging the public to #AdoptFromHome and help thousands of pets find homes across the country. The initiative will help prevent shelters and rescue organizations from becoming overwhelmed with an influx of animals when shelter-in-place orders are lifted.