Looking for a pet online right now is a frustrating process. I would know: for two weeks I swept through a rotation of adoption agencies’ websites, multiple times a day, looking for kittens. Each time I saw one I liked and applied, it was gone the following day. So, I went a different route. Eventually, my partner and I brought home a 10-week-old grey kitten we named Moose from Foothills Animal Shelter in Golden, which recently reopened for in-person visits. Moose is an expert at climbing up pant legs, sleeping under my chin like a scarf every night, and playing fetch.
Before the trip to Foothills, I was advised by a staff member to arrive early if I wanted to see kittens, but I got there an hour early and still wasn’t the first one there. People continued trickling in until we were put into a queue, with only two families allowed in at a time in accordance with their new safety guidelines. Then there was added pressure not to take too long when visiting with the animals.
It’s become clear that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t just had an impact on those with two legs. The difficulty I experienced while finding a pet was due to small-animal rescues temporarily shutting their doors, turning to virtual-only services, and working with veterinarians—an integral part in getting animals healthy and ready for adoption—who are backed up with appointments for weeks at a time.
The spring and summer is already a busy season for adoption and fostering, and while the pandemic made the process more complicated, demand for rescue pets only increased. Rachelle Matossian, who fosters and handles marketing and community relations with the Douglas County Canine Rescue (DCCR), says they have added 140 new pet fosters since March 17. Their adoptions had nearly doubled for 14 weeks straight after the shutdown until slowing again two to three weeks ago due to vets being backed up with appointments.
Some veterinarian services were also closed for a period of time and are playing catchup with backlogged appointment in addition to having a limited staff in the office, says Jessica Roeger, who fosters and works on promotion, fundraising and development at Demi’s Animal Rescue in Aurora.
Roeger saw that people who had been considering adoption or fostering before the shutdown were given a perfect chance once they started working from home. Suddenly, the ability to commit more time to prepare and gather supplies, and of course spend time with a new pet, was made available.
That demand was felt at shelters across the Front Range. Like DCCR, Demi’s Animal Rescue also recieved 28 new pet foster applications within a month and a half’s time, which was a 200 percent increase from the same time period last year. Similarly, they are already nearing last year’s total adoptions of 183 pets with 160 so far this year.
“Most of our animals are not even making it to the website,” Roeger says. “We try to give [the fosters] priority, and we have a waitlist. We just got a huge rush of applications, nonstop, so we’ve held on to those and we reach out to people as the animals are ready to be adopted. Once they’re all vetted, a lot of them are adopted within 48 hours.”
Foothills Animal Shelter and Denver Cat Company, home to the cat cafe on Tennyson Street, were the only places I found where I could go see cats in person. That was a huge plus in choosing a pet, and frankly, garnered a faster result rather than endlessly surfing the web and waiting days for replies.
“We think meeting your future family member is incredibly important prior to taking them home, so we worked to figure out the best way to make that happen while keeping our community and staff as safe as possible,” says Jenny Homan, the marketing and community engagement manger for Foothills Animal Shelter. “We have implemented protocols to help with social distancing, installed more hand sanitizing stations, and require all patrons to wear masks when entering the building.”
To accommodate as many adoptions as possible, volunteers and staff at these shelters are working around the clock, and the community has stepped in to ensure that animals are still finding forever homes.
“We continue to be impressed by the support of our community,” Homan says. “We have had so many people reach out asking how they can help during this time—from fostering to volunteering to donating—it’s really been a testament to the collaborative approach we take here at the shelter each day.”