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One positive side effect of the coronavirus pandemic? A surge-and now a shortage- of adoptable pets

This is an excerpt from the Seattle Time's article first published on August, 18, 2020. By

Annie Aguiar-Special to The Seattle Times

"A few weeks after the tedium of coronavirus lockdown started to sink in for many people, as staying at home soured into mid-April boredom, the staff at rock ‘n’ roll-themed pet rescue Motley Zoo in Redmond started seeing applications in droves. 

Suddenly, the rescue was fielding 10 times more requests for adoption and fostering than in a typical year, all in the middle of a pandemic that drastically changed the supply chain, procedures and availability involved in bringing a new pet into a home. 

Before COVID-19, when someone didn’t get the first animal they wanted, Motley Zoo co-founder Jme Thomas used to joke that there was no shortage of adoptable animals. 

“I can’t say that right now,” she said. “There is a shortage, which is something we never really thought we would see.” 

While national statistics from PetPoint, which collects data on animals in shelters and rescues, actually show a dip in adoptions since 2019, multiple shelters across the country reported higher applicant interest in the spring. Now, months after the initial rise, organizations and hopeful pet owners alike must navigate the conditions of the new supply and demand.

King County is indefinitely frozen in Phase 2 of Washington’s Safe Start plan, and shelters and rescues including Motley Zoo, the city-run Seattle Animal Shelter and Seattle Humane have pivoted to socially distant adoptions using appointment-based systems to limit the amount of visitors.

The effect on the process goes beyond the day of adoption; the pandemic has shifted where animals come from and how they get to shelters. Before coronavirus began spreading, Motley Zoo regularly received transports of animals from different states or other countries to be adopted in Washington. Interstate transports have started to pick up, but international transports are still suspended. 

Also, spay and neuter clinics in Washington were closed for months due to the pandemic, which Thomas credits for a rise in adoptable kittens that she’s seen refill some of the capacity drained after the initial adoption surge. 

During that first push, the increased demand created competition for available pets and led to  more people adopting pets considered harder to place due to age or special needs.

Annie Lennox, a 14-year-old cat with a grumpy reputation named for the lead singer of ’80s British pop duo Eurythmics, and Corey Taylor, a pit bull missing his two back legs and named after Slipknot’s lead singer, have both been adopted from Motley Zoo since the pandemic began.  


Will the pandemic pet adoption boom hold?

While the initial wave of pandemic pet adoptions has ended and new pet owners are settling into novel household dynamics, the realities of the coronavirus pandemic and the slow process of reopening remain. 

The surge in adoptions did not necessarily lead to a financial boost for everyone.

Motley Zoo’s dog day care doubles as a funding source for the rescue, and was a popular service before the pandemic. Money the day care brought in helped bridge the gap where donations fell short — which is necessary because the rescue typically loses money on each adoption and spends more on supplies and care for the animals than it takes in with each donation, Thomas said.

And that’s not even including the special cases, which require extra care at a higher price. 

The dog day care closed in the spring as the pandemic spread in Washington. It reopened in early July, but Thomas said attendance is a fraction of what it used to be. 

Motley Zoo is trying to recoup some of its losses with Strut Your Mutt 2020, a pandemic-adjusted fun run event where participants track their walks and runs using apps on their phones and pledge money for mileage from now through Oct. 24. 

“We’re pretty much throwing all our eggs into that basket,” Thomas said. “That’s kind of the one thing we can really see making a difference and turning the year around for us.”

Another consequence of the rise in adoptions is the threat of a potential sudden reversal. Bringing home a new pet is a serious commitment, and widespread surges in adoption — often inspired by pop culture like television or film, such as huskies after “Game of Thrones” — are frequently followed by a subsequent return of pets once the gloss of having a new furry friend wears off. 


Thomas said every animal surrendered to Motley Zoo during the pandemic has been because of behavioral or financial reasons, as opposed to the usual reasons for surrenders, such as a big move or a new baby. 

But as the financial crisis worsens and months of unprecedented unemployment build into an expected wave of evictions, the price of caring for a pet could become too much for some. Thomas worries about a potential wave of money-motivated pet surrenders to come.


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