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'The Bottom Line Is COVID Has Been Very Good for Dog Adoptions'

Jupiter — one of many pets adopted in part because of the pandemic.
Jupiter — one of many pets adopted in part because of the pandemic.
Lee McMahon

Lee McMahon had been wanting a dog since she moved to Tucson a year ago, but her family and friends advised her to wait, reminding her that her first year of medical school was going to be busy.

Then classes at the University of Arizona moved online due to coronavirus. McMahon saw her perfect dog on the Arizona Humane Society’s website, and made her decision.

Soon Jupiter, a six-month old pit bull and greyhound mix, was her running partner, guard dog and “cuddle buddy.”

“The best part is that he gives me a schedule,” she said. “It would be so easy for me to just basically do whatever I want and I could wake up at noon. I could wake up at one. And he doesn’t allow me to do that.”

McMahon is just one of many Americans who have turned to a four-legged friend for comfort during the uncertain times the pandemic has presented.

“I think people realized they don’t want to be alone for like two months straight,” she said. “It’s kind of a nice thing to have something with you, and not be alone and have some semblance of normalcy.”

States from New York to Arizona have reported large rises in numbers of dog adoptions since the COVID panic began back in early March.

“At no point during COVID did people shy away. Instead, it was the perfect time to integrate a pet into their home, train them, and spend time with them,” said Bretta Nelson, spokesperson for the Arizona Humane Society.

While AHS is not reporting an increase in the number of adoptions, it has seen the average length of stay for both dogs and cats decrease by nearly 10 days, meaning those who are adopting are not wasting any time.

Some Arizona dog adoption agencies say they have seen an increase in adoptions.

Central Arizona Animal Rescue has “definitely had very strong adoption numbers,” according to director Mike Wiederhold.

Back in mid-March, the rescue posted about the increase of adoptions it had seen from people saying “if we are going to self quarantine for two weeks, the kids are out of school, etc, that this is a great time to get a puppy and have a lot of time for house training.”

Adoption rates have since slowed: CAAR gets their dogs from county animal control, which has shut down nonessential procedures, and because vets discontinued nonessential surgeries which made it hard for CAAR to prepare its animals for adoption, according to Wiederhold.

The rescue has been getting dogs again since the state's reopening in mid-May, and the available dogs are “getting a lot of inquiries and [are] usually adopted out very quickly,” Wiederhold said.

Kathy Hamel, director of Arizona Shih Tzu and Small Breed Rescue, said Shelterluv, the management system she uses to post about available dogs on adoption sites, has said “the inquiries and the adoptions are triple what they normally are due to COVID-19.”

Hamel runs her rescue on her own, so she has been unable to increase the number of dogs she adopts out. Regardless, she recognizes the increase others have seen.

“The bottom line is COVID has been very good for dog adoptions,” Hamel said.

Even people who are worried about committing to a dog full-time are finding a way to quarantine with an animal, according to Nelson. At the height of the pandemic, AHS had 250 people on a list waiting to foster animals.

“People have certainly stepped up to the plate,” said Nelson, who said AHS has never seen any fostering numbers this high before.

AHS transitioned to a virtual adoption program on March 16, following the governor’s stay-at-home order. People interested in adopting now have a virtual consultation 24 hours ahead of their visit, during which they hash out details to determine which pets they should meet the following day. This has successfully lowered the number of people coming in and out of Humane Society facilities, and allowed for a more customized matchmaking process, according to Nelson.

The virtual adoption program has been so successful that Nelson expects elements of it to continue past the pandemic.

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For smaller rescues like Hamel’s, the changes have been equally as drastic, and not as pleasant. Before the pandemic, Hamel, who fosters the dogs herself, would meet people either at a Petsmart or a park. She required the whole family be present, including any pets.

But in light of coronavirus, things have changed.

“Since COVID I have been having people come to my house,” said Hamel, who wears a mask when she greets adopters in her front yard. She only requires one person in the adopting family be present, and they don’t have to bring any pets. The adopter is then allowed to take the animal home to “try it out” and can return it or finalize the adoption, depending on how it works out.

“Obviously, I want my dogs to have the right home and I want adopter‘s to have the right dog,” she said. “I want to be as accommodating as I can to ensure a cohesive union for my dogs and their new forever families.”

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