The pandemic phenomenon we have been witnessing for the past months certainly brought plenty of challenges to the surface. Many people faced stress, anxiety or even more concerning mental health issues. Staying permanently at home made some of them realize they might want to bring a furry friend home. In other perspective, people who already owned pets had the chance to connect and establish a stronger bond with them.
The benefits of having a pet in the family are many and well known. So, did this make people adopt more animals during the pandemic? How are the city’s rescue organizations going through this historical episode? To have a clearer look on the matters around this topic, we got in touch with Lisa Krawiec, adoption coordinator and member of the AVA Board of Directors. AVA (Action Volunteers for Animals) is an all-volunteer run charitable animal rescue dedicated to improving the lives of stray and feral animals. It is running since 1981 and has now several locations predominantly in the GTA.
Milénio Stadium: During quarantine people spent most of their time at home and many felt the need of welcoming a pet to their family. Working with AVA, how would you say the pandemic affected the adoption numbers?
Lisa Krawiec: During COVID-19, AVA’s adoption numbers have been steady and consistent with previous years. We have been very grateful that many people have chosen to adopt rescued cats. AVA firmly believes that cats and other companion animals are family members for life: indoor cats can live 15 to 20 years, so any adopters should be prepared for a lifetime commitment to their pets.
MS: AVA has volunteers and animals to adopt in several pet stores across town. Since the pandemic we haven’t seen them as usual, so can you tell us what solutions AVA found to adapt to COVID-19? How are the adoptions currently being processed and how are your animals being taken care of?
LK: At the beginning of the pandemic, all of AVA’s cats that were in our partner adoption centres were moved into foster homes. AVA moved very quickly to a virtual adoption process to help keep our volunteers, foster parents and adopters safe. Our work rescuing vulnerable animals did not stop because of the pandemic, so we had to find ways to continue to rescue, get medical attention for, and eventually adopt out cats and kittens.
While our physical adoption centres were closed, we encouraged people to view our cats on our website (avacats.org/adopt) and through other channels like our Facebook and Instagram pages and Petfinder. They would then complete an adoption application online and participate in a one-hour adoption interview over the telephone. If there was a match, we then set up virtual/video meet-and-greets for potential adopters and the cats with their foster families. They were able to see the cats in a home environment and watch them interact with their foster families, and also ask more detailed questions about the cats or kittens.
We would then make special arrangements to transfer the cats to their forever homes using as much physical distancing as possible and have adopters complete an electronic adoption agreement.
When the province moved into Phase Two of reopening our adoption centres slowly and carefully started to re-open under strict health protocols.
MS: Managing an animal shelter is a challenge for itself, but are you finding new challenges emerging with the pandemic?
LK: One of our biggest challenges relates to Trap-Neuter-Return-Monitor (TNRM or TNR) programs. These programs help to keep the feral cat population down in our communities and reduce the amount of homelessness – or worse – that these animals experience. With the pandemic, many TNR programs were closed for many months, so AVA dedicated its own resources to TNR cats in order to keep this critical work going.
With the reduction in these services overall, we are now seeing a spike in the number of cats and especially kittens being born outdoors. It has been challenging to keep up with the amount of calls for help we receive. Our biggest challenge remains securing temporary foster homes for these rescued cats, pregnant moms and kittens. We are always seeking new foster homes and people are encouraged to apply online if they are able to open their hearts and homes to some of these beautiful creatures: www.avacats.org/volunteer/form-foster
For our adoption centres, we are grateful to be slowly returning to our adoption work onsite under strict health and safety precautions. The return to semi-normal operations is going well so far – we could not be here without the amazing support and dedication of our volunteers.
MS: What are the benefits of having a pet as part of the family, especially in this difficult time?
LK: As the saying goes, pets are “part” of our life, but we are their “whole” life. Companion animals can reduce loneliness and alleviate depression and anxiety for many people. Now more than ever, people are relying on their pets for love and companionship. For many people, they have found extra joy in helping rescued animals who may be shy or skittish come out of their shells – it can be a mutually rewarding experience to love, care and provide for a rescued animal, and to have them, in return, show you love and trust. Companion animals are not just here to get us through this pandemic, but through all the ups and downs of life.
MS: Many pets suddenly got the opportunity of having the company of their owners 24 hours a day. And now most people are going back to their routines. How can these transitions impact their pets?
LK: We know there are many memes on the internet that cats especially are not happy that their human guardians are home 24/7! However, many people have reported that their cats are developing an even closer bond with their humans and seeking out more attention. Indeed, it may be hard on pets when their humans return to work or school. It’s important to maintain a daily routine for ourselves, as well as with our animals, especially when we are quarantined. We encourage people to keep to their cat’s schedule for playtime and feeding. When you are starting to return to work and normal activities, you can ease your cat into your increased absence by going for a longer walk each day, for example. When you return to work/leave for longer periods, you can consider leaving on the radio with soothing music or nature videos on the computer to give them some extra stimulation and entertainment. Our cats wait for us to come home, so make sure to give them extra attention when you are home – be present in the moment with them!
MS: The pandemic is also affecting many organizations financially. As an all-volunteer run charitable rescue, how have been these past months? What kind of help are you in need for at the moment and how can people help?
LK: AVA is very grateful for our amazing volunteers who have taken cats into foster care, for people who have donated food and litter, and donated money online to support our work. We have not been able to undertake our usual spring fundraising activities, even though our rescue season has been busier than normal. As with most charities, cash donations help the most since the majority of our expenses include veterinary care for our animals, as well as food costs. Donors can make a contribution through AVA’s Canada Helps page (donations of $20 or more are eligible for an automatic tax receipt).
We also accept donations of unopened wet and dry food, litter, gently used cat carriers, new scratching posts and other supplies that help support our foster parents and our cats and kittens in our adoption centres. These can be dropped off at one of our adoption centre locations.
MS: What advice would you give to people who are struggling to take care of their pets during these times of uncertainty?
LK: We know these are challenging times for many people emotionally as well as financially and our hearts go out to them. Food banks often accept donations for food and litter, so we encourage anyone struggling to provide for their pets to contact their nearest food bank, such as Woodgreen in downtown Toronto. The City of Toronto has partnered with PetSmart Charities of Canada to assist guardians who may be struggling; similarly the Toronto Humane Society has food bank locations to help.
MS: COVID-19 can be transmitted to our pets too. How can we keep them safe from the virus?
LK: While there is low risk of transmission of COVID-19 from humans to companion animals, there have been cases reported globally. The US Centres for Disease Control advises that if anyone in the household becomes sick, they should isolate away from their pets as a precaution and not allow those pets to interact with others outside the home.