When LSA junior Cat Groenke returned home to California after campus shut down, she came home to a new dog.

After their previous two dogs passed away, Groenke said her family was looking for a new pet. A friend referred them to a Facebook post about Arya, a mutt rescued from Mexico.

“My mom had put our family on a list with a bunch of humane societies for a pet adoption or a pet foster, but because of COVID there weren’t really any available because everyone and their mother is getting pets,” Groenke said. “So the way we got Arya, she was on the streets of Mexico … There’s a foster organization that one of my mom’s friends follows on Facebook … (She) saw the post and said that looks exactly like the kind of dog the Groenke family needs. Within a day of her being posted, my mom was like ‘OK, yeah’ and went down and got her.”

Groenke’s family was already in the market for a new dog, but the COVID-19 outbreak has sparked an interest in adopting pets across the country, as stay-at-home orders keep people at home with an abundance of free time. Nationally, there has been increased interest in pet adoptions and fostering.

The Humane Society of Huron Valley has served Washtenaw County for more than a century. HSHV altered its operations in response to the pandemic, though adoptions are still taking place. Tanya Hilgendorf, president and CEO of HSHV, clarified the shelter hasn’t seen an increase in actual adoptions, but  a rise in the interest in adopting. HSHV still conducts five to 10 adoptions per day, but Hilgendorf said this is far less than normal.

According to Hilgendorf, there are no longer any volunteers working in-person at HSHV and adoption appointments must be set up in advance, meaning only one family can be served at a time.

“We have a lot of interest in adoptions because people are at home, making this a great time to get a new friend for some, but not an uptick in total adoptions because our animal population is lower than normal,” Hilgendorf said. “The adoption process has been significantly slowed down, reducing the daily volume of adoptions, due to the requirements around social distancing.”

University of Michigan alum Emily Lerner, who graduated in May 2020, had been planning to adopt a cat after graduation for quite some time. It just happened to occur during a global pandemic, she said. 

“Before all this happened, my plan was to adopt when I graduated,” Lerner said. “I would be working 40 hours a week, but now I’m going to be home with my cat for like the whole time.”

Lerner said she had been visiting the shelter a few months prior to the outbreak to familiarize herself with the kittens, but that became more difficult as the outbreak progressed. 

“Before all of this you could just walk in and look around, play with cats, and now you can’t really go in unless you have an appointment with a specific cat,” Lerner said.

Hilgendorf said the shelter has seen the number of animals surrendered drop as the outbreak has upended the usual reasons why owners give up pets, such as moving homes or busy schedules. At the start of March, HSHV had 399 animals in its care. As of late April, there were 326, including 200 in foster care. 

Some of HSHV’s services, such as training tutorials, are being offered remotely. However, programs like the shelter’s youth education program and all preventative services at HSHV’s veterinary clinic have been suspended, in accordance with an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in March that restricted all non-essential veterinary services, such as getting animals spayed or neutered.

Hilgendorf said she expects the number of pets turned over to the shelter to increase after the stay-at-home orders expire as the economy tanks and unemployment surges. 

“When people are unemployed and having financial struggles, the demand on animal shelters increases as more animals are turned into shelters,” Hilgendorf said. “Particularly because there are so many shelters and other support services not functioning at all right now. Animals are also not getting spayed and neutered, due to the governor’s order, so overpopulation issues are expected to get worse.” 

Lerner said the delay in getting her kitten neutered or spayed means she will technically only be fostering until the animal can undergo the procedure.

“Instead of straight adoptions, a lot of humane societies are doing foster to adopt,” Lerner said. “I’m going to have to bring the kitten back to get spayed or neutered later because they’re not doing any non-essential surgeries right now. It’s still going to be my cat, I just can’t officially adopt until it’s neutered.”

Groenke said once the stay-at-home orders expire and the summer ends, her family’s new dog will require some adjustment. 

“I don’t think (the outbreak) is going to impact anything in terms of socializing the actual dog,” Groenke said. “She’s probably just going to have a harder time when everyone goes away in August and she’s at home for eight hours a day — she’s like, ‘Wait what?’”

Like HSHV, Michigan Humane Society is providing services online, including a telemedicine option for owners to talk with veterinarians about their pets’ health concerns.

MHS Communications Manager Anna Chrisman said the organization worked quickly to move its shelter population to foster homes at the start of the outbreak. In mid-March, MHS had between 450 and 500 animals in its care. Chrisman said as MHS consolidated its operations and reduced the number of staff members working onsite, the organization placed more than 400 animals into foster homes in two weeks. MHS then transitioned critical services such as emergency veterinary care and its pet pantry to a drive-up model.

Like Hilgendorf, she noted increased interest from the community in helping house animals.

“We’ve seen a definite spike in the number of folks interested in fostering for sure,” Chrisman said. “We have not been offering public adoption services for the last month or so but recently began a virtual adoption process. We post a video on our social media pages that shows a few of the animals currently available. Interested folks then call our team and we can proceed with the adoption process in a virtual setting.”

Hilgendorf said HSHV was bracing for financial strain in the coming months. The shelter had to furlough a quarter of its staff, although those workers still remain employees and continue to receive health benefits. 

Chrisman echoed Hilgendorf and said  the crisis would complicate the shelter’s finances.

“There’s likely not an organization anywhere that isn’t experiencing hardship related to the shutdown, but we are incredibly fortunate to be part of a community that really cares for their animals and continues to support us,” Chrisman said. “Our staffing model looks very different right now as a large portion of our folks are working off-site, but we’re looking forward to having the chance to all come back together soon.”

Chrisman said donations are the best way to help MHS and the animals in their care. Hilgendorf agreed, stressing the importance of financial contributions to HSHV.

“We had an incredible and heartwarming outpouring in interest in fostering when this first began so (we) are good in that area for now,” Hilgendorf said. “We rely heavily on financial donations to pay our staff, feed the animals and keep the lights on. We know people are struggling, but if those in the position to help who want to ensure our most vulnerable animals and people that love them are also taken care of during this crisis, donations are always deeply appreciated.”  

Managing News Editors Sayali Amin and Leah Graham can be reached at sayalia@umich.edu and leahgra@umich.edu.

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