Animal adoptions on pause amid COVID-19

Leon County Animal Shelter urges the community to stay safe. Photo by Simone Williams

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the world is still scrambling to figure out the best practices for mitigating the damage this unprecedented event has on the elderly, the immunocompromised and the medically disenfranchised. However, there is another vulnerable population that few people seem to remember at this time: sheltered and homeless animals.

Like many other governmental services, the Leon County Animal Shelter has limited its services to adhere to recommended social distancing precautions. Walk-ins have been eliminated, opting to conduct adoption and surrender services by appointment only. However, according to Ericka Leckington, Leon County’s Director of Animal Services, this has made it even harder to get these animals adopted.

A shelter in Jacksonville is offering free adoptions in efforts to clear its kennels amidst this crisis. However, Leckington explained that this practice proved to be unfavorable in the past.

“We used to do free adoptions all the time,” Leckington explained, “but we ended up finding that it bottlenecked our population. So people would wait for the free events so [the shelter] would get filled up with animals prior to that event.”

In response to this issue, the shelter instead elected to decrease its adoption fees by over 50. Now it only costs $30 to adopt a dog and $20 for cats.

The shelter has also seen a significant decrease in volunteers to walk and socialize the sheltered animals due to a volunteer base that consists primarily of students. With so many students returning to their hometowns to finish the semester remotely, an additional strain has been placed on the remaining shelter employees and volunteers to ensure that the animals are still receiving optimum care.

However, on social media it seems like more and more people are adopting pets, wishing they had pets, or posting their pets more than ever before. Stephanie Perkins, Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare’s director of animal therapy, is a daily witness to the healing power of animals in dark times.

Perkins says that loving interactions with animals are proven to help increase the release of oxytocin and other endorphins. This helps to reduce cortisol levels, decrease the risk of heart disease, alleviate anxiety and help survivors of trauma heal from their past.

Perkins said, “With social distancing [having a pet] gives us someone to connect with that we can touch because we are social creatures as well. That sense of touch is very important to us and that’s what an animal can provide for us.”

Still, Perkins encourages anyone thinking about adopting a pet to consider how a pet will continue to fit into their lives after this crisis is over.

“Some people get [pets] just for a short term. I don’t think that’s a good idea, especially for the pets. But for those who plan to keep them long term, I think it’s really good for emotional and physical health and well-being.”