Peach was just a kitten when Chris Henderson fell head over heels for her. He had recently moved from Scotland to Houston, and the whole city was under quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic. Chris was waiting for his fiancé Emma's visa to come through so she could join him, and he was feeling a bit lonely. He thought perhaps a pet might help with that. When he found Peach on Best Friends Animal Society's website, he was struck by her.
"There was just something unusual about her coat, and she looked pretty adorable," Chris said.
A few days later, he met Peach at her foster home and the rest, as they say, is history. After he adopted her, he was grateful to have learned about the kitten's habits from her foster mom.
"Peach uses her voice a lot when she wants something," Chris said. "It would have worried me, as it was different to the cats I had growing up. But knowing that was just her nature really put my mind at ease."
Emma met Peach via video chat and was instantly smitten. Once Emma arrived in the U.S., the couple adopted another kitten from Best Friends—a little black and white sister for Peach named Lyra.
"Adopting her was the best decision I made during the pandemic by a large margin," Chris says.
Chris and Emma weren't the only ones who turned to pets for comfort and companionship when the pandemic hit. A record number of pets found temporary or forever homes in 2020. In fact, some animal shelters saw their kennels cleared out for the first time ever as people sought pets to keep them company.
However, pandemic pet adoptions have waned as people have started to come out of isolation and return to work. According to Best Friends, pet adoptions are down 3.7% overall this year. Meanwhile, the number of animals coming into shelters in June was up 5.9% compared to 2020. Despite rumors of hordes of people returning their "pandemic pets", the data doesn't actually show that trend; however, shelters are struggling with too many pets in need and not enough homes to help them.
Adding to the crisis, shelters are experiencing the same employee shortage affecting many industries nationwide. A survey of more than 150 shelters and animal organizations conducted by Best Friends found that 88% are short on staff, 57% have cut hours or programs due to short staffing, and 41% are down more than 25% of normal staff levels. This, of course, puts more stress on those who are still working in shelters.
"I've said it many times before, but now more than ever, we need the public to adopt or foster," says Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal welfare organization dedicated to saving dogs and cats in shelters around the country and helping families to keep pets in homes.
"If you have been considering getting a new pet, now is the time. The public stepped up during the pandemic, and we need to do it again because countless animals' lives are at stake if this progress backslides."
Adopting or fostering from shelters genuinely does save lives. When animals outnumber people willing to take them in and the cost of caring for the animals outweighs available resources, animals unfortunately end up being euthanized. Thanks to advocates like Best Friends, the U.S. has gone from killing 17 million animals per year to about 347,000, which is great, but we need to remember that each one of those numbers is a life lost. Best Friends is dedicated to making the U.S. an entirely no-kill nation by 2025—an ambitious goal, but one that is within reach if more people choose pet adoption.
People who love animals but don't want to commit to lifelong care can foster, which frees up space in shelters, gives animals a temporary loving home until they are adopted, and helps get animals socialized with humans.
Fostering can also be a first step. Alix Walburn had only been a foster mom to a sweet dog named Giddy for about a week when she realized she didn't want anyone else to adopt her. Giddy had heartworm disease, and the plan was for Alix to foster her just during her course of medication. As it turned out, Giddy snuck right into Alix's heart with her cute face, loving eyes, and cuddly, playful personality.
"She will just curl up next to you, or put her little head on your lap," says Walburn. "No matter where you are, she just instantly melts into your hands."
Foster-Win! Heartworm positive dog gets adopted by amazing fosterwww.youtube.com
"Shelters, and the animals in them, need our help in a big way," Castle says. "Pets have been a part of our lives long before the pandemic, and we want to work with families to help them find their best friend while also saving a life."
Not everyone is in a position to adopt or foster animals, of course. But you can still help animals by donating or volunteering with your local shelter. You can also support the Best Friends mission of making the U.S. a no-kill nation by 2025 by checking out the Pet Lifesaving Dashboard to see where your community ranks. (Shelters with a 90% save rate are considered no-kill shelters, since some animals arrive at shelters too injured or sick to save. So far, just two states have achieved no-kill status, so there's work to be done.)
Adopting or fostering a pet from a shelter is a win-win-win choice—the animal gets a loving home, the shelter gets space freed up to help more animals, and you get a new friend to love and enjoy. If you've been thinking of adding a cat or dog or some other pet to your life, now is the time. Go to bestfriends.org to learn more about how to adopt or foster a pet.