At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, animal shelters across the U.S. saw a rise in demand for adoptions. This includes shelters in Northern Nevada and the Eastern Sierra.
KUNR's Bree Zender has been checking in with the leaders of a few local shelters to learn what they are going through.
At the SPCA of Northern Nevada, change came fairly quickly after non-essential businesses and facilities were ordered to close by Gov. Steve Sisolak in mid-March. During the first few weeks, SPCA Executive Director Jill Vacchina Dobbs said demand for adopting and fostering was up. There were some obvious changes, like a decrease in overall donations, and the need to update how adoptions are conducted, which typically involves contact with other humans.
“And then we took about another week and a half to develop a very fluid process to conduct virtual adoptions,” Vacchina Dobbs explained.
Vacchina Dobbs said this virtual adoption process mainly has potential adopters fill out forms online, check out an online profile of the animal, and have an interview with the SPCA over the phone to see if they are a good fit. And then, the pet is transferred to the new family in a socially distanced way, with masks and gloves for both human parties.
Vacchina Dobbs said another big change was a rise in the number of families wanting to temporarily place animals in their homes.
“We have far more people wanting to foster at this point than we have animals to place with them,” Vacchina Dobbs said. “They want animals to be their companions during this uncertain time.”
Heading east to the Elko Animal Shelter, resources are limited because of the pandemic. Karen Walther manages the facility. She said all operations have slowed, but are starting to pick up in pace. This includes both adoptions and surrenders, which is when people who can no longer care for their animals surrender them to the shelter.
“Well, don't forget that it's not only the adoption process that it affects, but it's the picking up of stray animals and also the number of surrenders,” Walther said. “And the staff here is doing a very good job of trying to keep it in check.”
In the months ahead, Walther and other area shelters said that because financial hardship is likely to grow, some may be forced to surrender their pets — especially if pet owners are evicted, or need to move into cheaper housing with restrictions on pet ownership. Vacchina Dobbs from the SPCA said her shelter is preparing for evictions to eventually happen.
“The concern is as we march down this path of recession, how deep the recession goes, depending on circumstances none of us foresee, but when more and more people start losing their housing, losing their jobs, that's when we're likely to see again the traditional uptick in surrenders,” Vacchina Dobbs explained.
Over the state line in California, Stephanie Nistler is the CEO of the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe. She said that her community’s pets are already seeing the effects of financial hardships.
“We've always had a pet pantry program, which is free pet food for our community. But the moment that this happened, the need for that really dramatically increased,” Nistler said. “And so our community came through with an incredible amount of food donations, which was really wonderful.”
Looking back, Nistler said that her shelter survived the Great Recession of the late 2000s, and they’ve learned from it. “Just to have faith, honestly. Believe in ourselves. Believe in our community. Even though it's hard for everybody, people have come together to help us, and we got through it then. We will get through it now,” Nistler said.
The National Bureau of Economic Research said this week that February of this year marked the beginning of a recession. In Nevada, Gov. Sisolak ordered evictions to cease until the end of the state of emergency. And for Californians, Gov. Gavin Newsom extended the power of local authorities to halt evictions through late July.