Amid the coronavirus quarantine, most U.S. animal shelters have noticed a drastic increase in dog adoptions, with some sources predicting adoption rates have increased as much as 700 percent. At first glance, dog adoption at a time like this seems mutually beneficial: Families get to fill their free time in quarantine with a dog and that same dog gets a forever home in return. While this is likely the case in many households, the idealistic attitude surrounding increased adoptions overlooks the dogs who will be abandoned once quarantine ends. After the quarantine is lifted, many people will go back to their jobs and lives, leaving their new shelter dogs at home or sadly back at the shelter, and dogs who have already faced abandonment will risk facing it again.
Shelter dogs are already returned at alarmingly high rates, which will only increase after the quarantine. It is known that one in 10 adopted pets are no longer in their adoptive homes six months later, and there is no telling how much that number will rise because of pandemic adoptions.
It takes an immense amount of work to win the trust of a shelter dog due to their traumatic pasts and abandonment issues, and many new owners do not recognize the exceptional time commitment it takes to overcome their pets’ trauma. While the past experiences of shelter animals are largely unknown because annually six to eight million cats and dogs enter humane shelters as strays, many dogs in shelters have been previously subjected to abuse, neglect, and malnourishment, causing them to be innately distrustful of humans. According to a survey from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 70 percent of adopted dogs display one or more behavioral problems because of their stressful pasts. Because many shelter dogs are traumatized before being adopted, they are more difficult to train than a dog from a breeder. This quarantine will be shorter than it takes to train and win the trust of a traumatized dog; when new owners realize that, they may be forced to return their new pet back to the shelter.
Adopting shelter dogs is not a bad thing. In fact, this spike in adoptions has likely helped many dogs find their forever homes with loving families. However, people need to understand the commitment and time it takes to raise a shelter dog rather than diving in with no information. Raising a shelter dog is a lot of time, love, and hard work, and that will be the same, pandemic or no pandemic.
Last July, my family adopted a dog, Trixie, from an animal shelter. Before we adopted Trixie, she had been sent back to the shelter twice by previous owners. Trixie came to us with scars on her body and intense anxiety. After months of training and trust building, Trixie is finally comfortable at our house, around our family, and with other dogs. To this day, however, my family worries about leaving her alone because of her severe abandonment issues. My family’s experiences with Trixie are similar to those of shelter dog owners everywhere: Even after owning these dogs for a long time, they continue to require a lot of work, time, and sacrifice.
Right now, people are at home with their pets, but if those people are not willing to make sacrifices to support their new shelter dogs after quarantine, they will fail as pet owners. I highly recommend willing and able people adopt a shelter dog because, when given serious consideration beforehand, adopting a shelter dog can be a highly rewarding experience for both pet and owner. These dogs deserve love, time, and commitment, even after this quarantine ends.
Artwork by Anthony Tran of the UCSD Guardian Art Department.