The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t lead to the baby boom that many were anticipating, but it certainly resulted in a puppy boom.
The BC SPCA says the level of interest in adopting a dog, or any pet for that matter, has rocketed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly two years later, the demand for a family pet is still high, said SPCA communications manager Lorie Chortyk.
“We really saw an increased demand in applications for adoptions. It wasn’t that we had more animals in our care, but there was more people applying for each animal,” Chortyk said.
“We’ve been very fortunate in that our animals do find homes fairly quickly. It’s a matter of days, not months, that animals are in our care.”
Chortyk said it’s not uncommon for the SPCA to receive up to 100 applications for a puppy or small dog, as both are fairly desirable for people looking to adopt.
But it’s not just dogs that are finding new owners. Chortyk said everything from guinea pigs to horses are being quickly re-homed.
“There are more people seeking animals. For the animals, it was a wonderful thing because more people were looking for them. I think it just really spoke to the value that animals bring to our lives. That companionship and the unconditional love,” Chortyk said.
“For many people, it was their pet who got them through the pandemic.”
Chortyk said the SPCA has heard anecdotally that pets were particularly beneficial for people who lived alone. It gave them a bond when social networks were turned upside down, she said.
“Coming home to a place where there’s a creature there who’s waiting to greet you. Someone to talk to, even if they are not talking back. There is just so much about the relationship and the bond with animals that I think is so important to humans,” Chortyk said.
Earlier this year, news stories from the U.S. reported a new crisis of people returning so-called pandemic dogs to shelters. There are conflicting reports about whether that was ever an actual issue, but Chortyk said it’s not a problem in B.C.
“We have 36 shelters across the province and we just have not seen that,” she said. “We always have a low return rate but it decreased during COVID, it didn’t increase.”
While COVID-19 has been great for dogs, it’s had some drawbacks for certain dog-related businesses.
Surrey-based Cloud Nine Canine dog daycare almost had to close down in the early days of the pandemic because pet owners who began working from home no longer required the service.
“On our end, we saw very quiet days. It’s a big shift, it was a bit of a struggle,” Cloud Nine owner Renata Iannone said.
“We stayed open because we didn’t want to close while all of the essential services were running and needing someone to watch their dogs. We also have a lot of EMTs (paramedics) that bring their dogs, as well.”
Iannone said they secured government funding and hedged their bets there would be a puppy boom.
It paid off.
At one point, they were taking in fewer than 10 dogs a day. Since then, Iannone said, that number has increased to more than 40.
One drawback to the pandemic, Iannone said, is that many of the new dogs coming to daycare – particularly if their owner has been working from home – were showing severe signs of separation anxiety.
“We know how to work with it, but the amount of dogs, all of a sudden. I can tell what age they are and at what point they were brought home based on their anxiety. It was a lot of (younger) dogs that had really high separation anxiety. Luckily, that whole batch has settled in,” Iannone said.
Iannone said a dog that suffers from separation anxiety can get “really panicky” when their owner leaves them.
“It can be something that makes sense, like you leave the house and you’re gone. But it can also be things that don’t make sense, like you leave the room or they can’t see you, but you’re still in the room.
“Luckily, I think it’s on the downturn now.”