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COVID-19 has affected animals as well as humans

We have talked a lot this year about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted education, the economy, employment, and more. But what about our four-legged friends? 

When the majority of the world was quarantining last year, the Animal Rescue League (ARL) of Boston’s Animal Care Staff was hard at work trying to uphold their mission of keeping pets and people together during unprecedented times. 

The ARL launched a Keep Pets S.A.F.E (Serving Animals Facing Emergencies) program, which was created because of the pandemic. This program helped bring the ARL’s services, including veterinary care, delivery of pet food and supplies, temporary pet housing, and intake of pets requiring emergency surrender, to families and animals in need. The ARL plans to continue the Keep Pets S.A.F.E program as long as necessary. 

When they were temporarily closed to the public, the ARL moved as many of their shelter animals as possible into foster homes. However, there were some animals that needed to remain in the ARL’s Animal Care and Adoption Centers, according to Cheryl Traversi, Director of Animal Care and Community Operations at the ARL. 

After the ARL opened to the public for adoptions again, Traversi described their process of finding safe homes for animals in their care as “different, but not difficult.” They adjusted to an adoption by appointment-only system, which included virtual conversations with potential adopters prior to an adoption appointment. “Even though the process was a little different,” Traversi said, “we continued to be able to find loving homes for the pets in our care.” 

While there was a national decline in the number of animals in shelters, the pandemic caused an increase in families with pets facing eviction due to financial instability. In response, the ARL established its Temporary Pet Housing Initiative. This initiative allows eligible pet owners experiencing housing instability in Massachusetts to temporarily surrender their pet to a foster family within the ARL’s network. Aimee Christian, ARL’s Vice President of Animal Welfare and Veterinary Medicine, described the subject as “something that’s always been on [the ARL’s] radar, and has become increasingly apparent…since housing stability could get a lot worse due to the pandemic.” 

Additionally, many saw the lonely and dull months of quarantine as an opportunity to bring a pet into their homes as a source of companionship and excitement. The term “COVID puppy” became a common one across social media, referring to a dog that was adopted during the pandemic. However, as we begin to see a return to normalcy, there could be some negative effects, such as separation anxiety, on these pets that are used to a full, active household. 

In an interview with WCVB 5, Laney Nee, the ARL’s Animal Behavior Manger, explained that “that adjustment can be really difficult.” Nee advised pet owners to look out for certain behaviors that might indicate a pet is struggling to transition, including increased pacing, panting, spinning, shaking, trembling, and overall more alertness. She also recommended that owners prepare their animals for the adjustment by incorporating more structure and routine in their daily lives. Traversi believes “the benefits of having a pet outweigh the extra effort that may be necessary with a pet’s training or care as people return to their normal routines.”

To learn more about how you can help animals in need, or if you are interested in adopting a pet, visit the ARL’s website.

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