Shelters celebrate while vets attempt to meet extreme demand
By Holly Riddle
In early 2020, as many employees began working remotely and families began spending more time at home, it wasn’t uncommon to see the term “pandemic pet boom” floating around. The American Pet Products Association estimates more than 11 million U.S. households adopted a new pet between March and September 2020. But what did the so-called pet pandemic boom look like in the Adirondacks? And were there downsides to this sudden, strong growth in pet ownership?
For pet shelters and rescues around the region, the “boom” was certainly a good thing. Carla Stroud, shelter director at Tri-Lakes Humane Society in Saranac Lake notes, “We saw an increase in adoptions and cat fosters, but the really great thing was finding loving homes for some of our harder-to- place pets, a few of whom had been at the shelter for quite some time.” The shelter facilitated 208 adoptions in 2020 (compared to 185 in 2019), followed by 157 adoptions in 2021. “It does seem like people are more open to welcoming new shelter pets into their lives and might be more open [to] the harder to place pets than before. This does seem to be in keeping with the growing trend in the rise of people viewing pets as family,” she adds.
At the North Country SPCA in Elizabethtown, executive director Wendy Beeman reports something similar. “We saw an increase in adoptions and less surrenders in 2020. We think it’s because more people were working from home and able to spend more time with introducing and bonding with new pets, and the lower number in surrenders could be the same reasoning. The numbers for 2021 were lower overall.” In 2020, the shelter arranged 225 adoptions, down from 221 in 2019. In 2021, there were 142 adoptions.
For several adopting pet parents at Tri-Lakes Humane Society, while the pandemic wasn’t necessarily their reason for adopting, they still noticed the pandemic’s impacts on their experiences.
Shelly Smith adopted her cat Bartlett in September 2021 and says she “absolutely” spent more time with Bartlett than she may have under other circumstances.
“Normally, I would’ve been on the go, or I was working before, so this has given me 24-7 with him … It’s lovely to be able to do that, but I can see where animals would have a problem, then, as people go back to work,” she says, noting potential separation anxiety is a concern for her as well, as she prepares for out-of-state travel. “Even though [my pets] will be with someone they know very well, they’re going to miss me a lot. I’m worried about that, especially for [Bartlett] … He’s very attached.”
Tim Kelly adopted Quin, a seven-year-old, mixed-breed, who can be wary of strangers. Kelly worried about pandemic-related rules at the veterinarian’s office. “We were not allowed in with her at the vet office,” he said. “So we were worried about handing her off to somebody. It all went well, though.”
New social distancing requirements weren’t the only things impacting regional vet offices, though. As more pets found new homes across the region, demand increased for pet products and services such as health care — which caused some challenges.
Bobbi Levesque, hospital manager at VCA High Peaks Animal Hospital in Ray Brook reports the office serves quite a few seasonal patients within surrounding vacation communities, with fluctuating demand through the year, but those fluctuations seemed to plateau over the course of the pandemic, with demand remaining consistent.
“We never really had a slow season,” she says. With new safety protocols, it became more challenging to see a greater number of patients each day, and fewer veterinarians and staff were available overall to handle the higher caseloads, due to both the pandemic and a nationwide shortage of veterinary talent. At one point, the office was forced to restrict its care to sick or urgent cases only.
It wasn’t only the general influx of pet adoptions that drove increased demand, though. More time at home for all pet parents meant, in many cases, a greater and new attention to pet health.
“With pet owners spending a lot more time at home, they were paying more attention to their pets and noticed things they may not have before, such as behavioral changes, masses or skin issues, all leading to more calls and need for appointments,” says Levesque.
Similar demand was seen in the pet supplies and products industry. Sabine Weber owns Man and Beast in Lake Placid and says pet supplies demand overall increased during the pandemic, resulting in increasing prices and ongoing product shortages. She also notes that the vet shortage impacted her business as well, as more customers came into the storefront with questions they might normally take to a pet healthcare provider.
Both Weber and Levesque said they noticed more pet parents looking for solutions for pets with anxiety, as many young dogs didn’t receive adequate socialization during the earlier days of the pandemic.
Still, even with the challenges, Levesque says she’s happy to see pet owners being attentive to their pet’s healthcare needs and she hopes that attentiveness continues. VCA High Peaks Animal Hospital has accordingly been making small adjustments to its offerings to better address the ongoing challenge of increased demand, such as offering a 24/7 live chat option that connects patients with credentialed technicians any time of day, to help patients quickly determine if an emergency vet visit is necessary.
Regional shelters have made adjustments as well, even with the positive increase in adoptions. At Tri-Lakes Humane Society, Stroud says, “We are doing more to try to keep pets at home with the people who love them. Sometimes it means helping make spay/neuter more affordable, offering behavioral advice, providing access to our pet food pantry, attempting [a] return to home in the field — reuniting lost pets with their people without coming to the shelter whenever possible — or providing courtesy postings to help re-home animals without them needing to enter the shelter at all.”
Shelter, vet or pet products provider, though, one thing has remained the same for professionals in the pet industry throughout the pandemic, regardless of challenges. All are prepared to face those challenges head-on, if it means keeping Adirondack pets healthy and happy.