COVID-19 leads to more pet adoptions, but local shelters still struggling

Nov 12, 2020

Coronavirus continues to upset life in Alabama with an uptick in cases going into the holiday season. Local animal shelters are seeing more adoptions amid the pandemic with more people wanting furry friends, but there’s good and bad that comes with those higher rates.

APR took a trip to the Dog House. A chorus of barking greets anyone who pulls up to the live-in area that houses two volunteer workers with the Humane Society of West Alabama and a pack of dogs spaced out in individual kennels. It’s a special day because a furry friend could soon be on the way to her forever home.

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Ronda and Dyre drove to Tuscaloosa from Birmingham to meet a pup they found online. Tina Miller is an adoption counselor with the Humane Society of West Alabama. She facilitates a meet and greet with any potential adoptee and the dog they’re looking to make part of the family.

Ronda and Dyre are meeting Gabby for the first time and give her lots of belly rubs and treats. This seems to be the new normal with many animal shelters as COVID-19 continues to surge in Alabama. Tina Miller with the humane society says the pandemic hasn’t affected the shelter too badly. In fact, she says adoption rates are booming.

“There have been mostly great results from our experience, and that’s been an increase in adoptions,” says Miller. “Normally, we see three adoptions a month, but over quarantine, we’ve seen 12 to 13 adoptions a month. We get most of our dogs from METRO, the government sponsored shelter in Tuscaloosa. They are usually overcrowded, but we weren’t able to get dogs from METRO for a while because their adoption rate was so high.”

Miller says while the pandemic has led to more adoptions, there are still downsides. That includes losing student volunteers and having to cancel fundraisers that normally bring in a lot of money for the shelter.

“Being a non-profit, we live off of donations,” she says. “We live off fundraisers, and this year, we’ve had to cancel our biggest ones that we would make over $50,000 with. We’ve had to cancel a third.”

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Miller is also the Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Humane Society of West Alabama. She says it’s been a challenge to come up with other ways to keep funding flowing. “Now we’re trying to think creatively on how to raise money,” Miller says, “because not everyone thinks, let me write a check to the humane society.”

As more adoptees turn to the Humane Society of West Alabama, Miller says they’re careful about who the dogs are sent home with. She says not everyone who comes in looking for a furry friend can leave with one. “It’s a lifetime decision,” she explains. “Sometimes the adoption has to be negated. We ask them to consider if they are really, ready for this. Is this a quick fix? Are you sad? The one thing I’ve been nervous about, but haven’t seen yet, is that so many have adopted, I was concerned that we would have a lot of returns, but we haven’t had any from COVID adoptions.”

Miller says these questions are important because not every adoption has a happy ending. Unfortunately, and sadly, we do hear some pretty sad horror stories,” she says. “A couple of years ago, a dog was left in a crate for a long period of time in an apartment. He did end up dying. The student just kind of left him.”

Miller says to keep something like that from happening, the Humane Society of West Alabama has a strenuous application process for students. “One of the questions was ask, we follow up with the parents of the UA student,” Miller explains. “And we ask what will you do with your pet? We also ask that of the parent. What is the arrangement? We have to hear an actual plan from the family before we allow an adoption from a college student.”

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Miller says they do everything they can do to avoid sad endings. But sometimes circumstances change. She says she’s seen a case where a family had to choose between feeding themselves and feeding their dog. “That happens, especially these days. People are struggling to make ends meet,” says Miller. “They’ve been furloughed or laid off. Unemployment ends, and they’re looking for something to save money, and they look at that dog who costs monthly. Something has to give, and sometimes it’s the pet. And it’s always hard to do that.”

The non-profit also offers hope to adoptees who can no longer care for their pets. “We have a saying here: all of the dogs that come through are secondarily ours,” Miller says. “If something should happen, we gladly take them back. No judgement. We find another good home for them.” Tina says the overall goal is to find the right fit for everyone.

Ronda and Dyre have been vetted to adopt Gabby, and they are excited to take her home to Birmingham to meet their other dog. But at The Humane Society of West Alabama, the adoption process doesn’t stop here. “They’ll get to keep her for 10 days as a trial period,” Miller explains. “If it’s a good fit, then they’ll come back and finish up the paperwork for keep her.”

Miller say she non-profit also has feline friends for those who aren’t dog people. “The Cat House is open Saturday morning,” she says. “They’re back open now. They weren’t during quarantine. You drive up, and you see them sitting in the window sill. If you love cats, it cat heaven!”

As COVID-19 continues to complicate life in Alabama, and the holiday season creeps up, Miller says the non-profit could use any assistance that’s available. That could be volunteers, donations, fostering or adoption.

“It all begins at our website. We have a list of things we need for our dog and cat house. We still have to feed them. We still have to clean. We’ve been cleaning more than ever with COVID.”

Fill out an application to become a shelter volunter here, or check out The Humane Society of West Alabama's wishlist