Pandemic Pets

When the pandemic forced many people to work from home, pets became the new coworkers

By Stephan Boissonneault

After watching their friend’s cat, Shmeow, during quarantine, Alberta resident Angela McCreadie and her boyfriend, Cameron, decided it was time to adopt their own feline friend. Like many people that decided to take advantage of their free time due to COVID-19, they found a shelter and began the adoption process. They landed on adopting a small black kitten through Zoe’s Animal Shelter and aptly named her Nikon.  

“She’s missing a leg,” McCreadie says. “She was found with a really broken leg and it had to get removed, so we have this little three-legged black cat. Super cute, super sweet. She’s our tripod kitty.”

Animal shelters across the country have been reporting that the demand for furry companions has skyrocketed. In March, Graham Slaughter reported for CTV that shelters across Canada have generated six times more applications than average since the start of the pandemic. “The reason behind the trend is simple,” Rocky Mountain Animal Rescue told Slaughter. “As COVID-19 shuts down workplaces and schools, many Canadians find themselves with enough time to welcome a new pet into their lives, either permanently or as a temporary foster.”

“Most of the people we’ve met have always wanted a pet of some kind and this is a time where there’s more space and time to put that effort in,” says co-director and co-founder of Zoe’s Animal Rescue, Kath Oltsher.  “It is a very life-affirming thing to have the affection of a pet, especially now.” Like many shelters across the country, Zoe’s had to adapt quickly once the pandemic hit and set up virtual animal meet and greets and home checks.

“It’s so worth it because it is so fulfilling,” McCreadie adds. “It’s so nice with all of the crappy stuff that’s been going on to have a cat there. Cam and I are actually working now, but I wanted to adopt a cat sooner rather than later. I felt it was really important to adopt one soon because I felt there was going to be a lot of cats out there that would need homes.”

Even though some people have now left their homes to go to work, the number of pet adoptions has not seen much of a decrease. In July, CBC reported that shelters across the country continued to struggle to keep up with the demand for pet adoption.

While an increased interest in adoption can be considered a positive, Oltsher—an old hand in the business—has a few worries as people settle into the “new normal” and return to work and school in-person. “People are busier now especially with school starting and people trying to manage the pandemic with kids.” Oltsher notes that volunteer numbers did increase at the start of the pandemic, but have “levelled out” as people returned to work and schools opened. Then there’s the question of returns—something Oltsher fears the most.

Oltsher and her volunteers at Zoe’s are always very open with people who are looking to adopt, listing the responsibilities both mentally and financially. “We’re going to get [returns] because people can’t afford to stay in a space that allows pets and can’t bring the pet with them in the event of a move,” she says. “Or frankly, all those puppies are going to turn into teenagers and people are not going to enjoy them as much as they did the puppy. We don’t want those dogs and cats back if we can help it. By doing the picky home checks and having people enroll in virtual or socially-distanced training classes, we ensure that we keep our return rate low.”

McCreadie says she did have her doubts while applying to adopt little Nikon and remembers the process being quite emotional for her. Even though little Nikon was McCreadie’s first adoption, she says that with a little research she had a general idea of what sort of finances she would need and felt prepared to adopt.

“I was tearing up a lot because I was thinking about the future I would have with this kitten and how much fun it would be to have a new part of the family,” she says. “It’s like a very low scale feeling of having a kid.”

Ultimately, Oltsher says you have to be realistic when adopting. Even though your first thought when looking into a pair of great big puppy dog eyes could be, ‘He’s so cute. I’m going to smother him with love and I need him right now,’ a puppy is first and foremost a responsibility. If you’re working from home at the moment, consider that you may not be working remotely forever—would that change your attitude towards owning a pet?

Oltsher says the most important aspect of adopting a new pet is animal enrichment, or rather, making an interesting life for your animal—especially if you return to a workplace after being at home for awhile.

“Dogs don’t need you there every night. Cats don’t need you there every night. If you’ve gone and done 20 minutes of work into it before you leave you can leave a dog happily in its crate or with a couple of different chews or outside with a few puzzles,” Oltsher says. “You can make feeding them an adventure … make puzzles and have them find it. There are littler things you can do to easily ease a transition of you leaving.”

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