There hasn’t been a great deal of silver lining on the COVID-19 pandemic, but the rise in animal adoptions is definitely one of them. As more people work from home and may be boosted by the isolation of quarantine, people are adopting pets from animal shelters with such intensity that demand actually exceeds supply. Knowing anything about domestic dog and cat breeding cycles you know is an impressive feat.
But with the rise in adoptions, there can also be spikes in returns and surrenders. It will lead to a lot of clickbait-y internet articles and mean Supreme Court comments and judgment levels. And that’s what I want to talk about. For many pet owners like me, our pets are family members. If you have previously said goodbye to a shelter, you may have spent a lot of time and effort (and money) helping your pet recover from their previous traumatic life experiences. Giving up a pet can be almost inconceivable.
As I write this, my dog Janey is sitting at my feet. She shivers and gasps with fear because a spring thunderstorm is rolling through the area. Like many dogs, she is terrified of thunderstorms. But being with me seems to make it a bit safer. During our first thunderstorm together, she spent the entire time under a chair in the kitchen, shaking uncontrollably. She is not in a cave of her own right now, which means emotional progress for her.
I was Janey’s second attempt at adoption. Janey was adopted pretty quickly when she got into the Greater Portland Animal Refuge League (the Sheraton of Shelters) because she is utterly adorable. However, the wonderful retired gentleman who adopted her quickly realized that she had very high energy levels. (If she’s nervous, Janey freezes and avoids moving. I suspect that’s how she got the shelter staff to believe she was a calm dog.)
Also, immediately after her adoption, she jumped out of a car window and was on the run for two days, which made her a flight risk. So he reluctantly took her back to the shelter, where I found her shortly after, and the rest is history. (Herstory?) His brave and loving decision made me my best friend. I will always be grateful for that.
When I was growing up, my family got all of our pets from shelters, with the exception of Jazzy. Jazzy was a cute American Eskimo dog, and it was from a friend of a friend who moved and couldn’t have a dog in the new place.
Our beloved old dog Marvin, adopted by the Kennebec Valley Humane Society, was found on the streets of Augusta at the height of the 2009 financial crisis, well fed, friendly and collarless. We suspect it was purposely put on the street because shelters may refuse to hand over owners when they are at full capacity, but they are legally required to take in strays. Marvin was a big boy and ate a lot of food. He also had Lyme disease, which was expensive to treat. Was he ruthlessly abandoned, or was someone trying to make sure he found his way to safe shelter?
Are there people who don’t know how much work a dog does before they get one? For sure. (Protip: If you’re worried about not being home all day, get an adult cat. They love nothing more than being alone to take a nap.)
Do some people see animals as property rather than living beings? Yeah, apparently. But sometimes life happens; sad things cannot be anyone’s fault. Finances can change. Sometimes you have to move and the new landlord doesn’t allow dogs. Perhaps you have a child who develops allergies. If you’ve made this decision carefully and don’t send your pet to a shelter (which doesn’t exist in Maine), you deserve mercy and understanding. And luckily, there will always be people like me who will adopt the crazy people who might need a few shots before they find their home forever.
Pets are members of our family, that’s true. But families change. Spouses divorce; Children move out. In my experience, most people try to do the right things and we should show grace to people who make difficult choices. Perhaps it is not the choice you or I would have made; but maybe we were just lucky enough not to be confronted with these particular decisions at all.
Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a millennium in Maine. She can be contacted at:
Twitter: Main millennial
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