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Shelters nationwide say pandemic pets are being returned, area rescues not seeing same trend

MORGANTOWN—News outlets nationwide have reported pandemic pets are being returned in droves as restrictions loosen, remote jobs return to in-person and time spent at home becomes less frequent.

One rescue told USA TODAY it has experienced double the amount of returns they normally see in a year. BBC News reported a similar story, sharing an anecdote of a dog owner who surrendered her pandemic pet.

However, this doesn’t seem to be the case in Morgantown, as several rescues in the area have not experienced this trend.

Jenny Robbins, Homeward Bound Animal Rescue president, said she estimates the rescue saw a 20 percent increase in adoptions last year, yet the rescue’s intake rate this year looks similar to the rate observed in 2019.

“I think we’re back to our normal rate of requests from the general public to take in animals that they have found or have found them,” she said.

Katie Short, Animal Friends of North Central West Virginia shelter coordinator, said adoption rates stayed steady throughout the pandemic. As people return to work, Short said she hasn’t seen a boom in intake or return rates at the rescue.

“As far as returns, we haven’t had much of that at all,” Short said. “I honestly don’t know if we’ve had a return since adopting from the pandemic, which is a good thing.”

Animal Friends uses an application process to ensure owner and pet are the perfect match, which she said likely contributed to the low number of returns.  This is the case for many rescues in the area as well that are permitted to set their own rules for intake and adoption.

Chad Sartor’s dogs, Oscar (left) and Kilo, spend time outside together. Photo courtesy of Chad Sartor.

Alyssa Shade, vice president and board member of Appalachian Peace Paws Rescue, had a similar experience to share. However, she said she has noticed an increase in requests from shelters for the rescue to take pets from them, which may indicate some shelters are seeing an increased intake rate.

“Us, as a rescue, have not seen intake requests that are owner surrenders,” she said. “It’s mostly the shelters that have been begging us to take animals and they’ve seen a rapid increase.”

Chad Sartor, a Morgantown resident, saw the pandemic as the perfect opportunity to take on a pet and brought home two dogs.

“It turned out to be the best decision because the two brothers are just the best dogs, best buds,” Sartor said. “They jump on a trampoline together [and] they dig holes in my yard together.”

Training Time

As a barber in Morgantown, Sartor said COVID-19 left him out of work. He said this additional free time helped him to spend more time training his pets.

Socialization of pets is an important part in raising a pet. Carol Harvey, owner of Dog Tags Training School, said puppies go through an important socialization stage early in life, but because many owners were unable to leave home, some puppies missed this critical period.

Harvey said the lack of socialization could lead some pets to be more fearful of strangers, unknown places or other dogs. Pets may also experience separation anxiety as owners spend less time at home. 

“In my training school, I haven’t experienced it, but I think that it’s probably going to be an issue for many people,” Harvey said.

Anne Patterson, a resident of Morgantown, became a dog owner during the pandemic. Due to lack of socialization opportunities, her puppy has developed several behavioral issues. 

“I got a puppy during quarantine and spent every moment with him [because] I wasn’t working,” she said. “He has very bad separation anxiety and is aggressive toward strangers [because] he wasn’t able to be socialized.”

Patterson said her dog takes Prozac to help reduce anxiety. Despite the additional challenges, Patterson said her dog has become an important companion to her.

“I love him to death and he’s very good when I’m home,” she said. “I’ll never give him away. We are working through it.”

An important companion during and post pandemic

Brandon Trylch poses with his bengal cat, Luke Skywalker, at Coopers Rock. Photo courtesy of Trisha Trylch.

Sartor’s work schedule has returned to normal, but his dogs still play an important role in his life post-pandemic: helping him reprioritize his time. Something as small as taking a break from work midday to care for his dogs has become a normal part of his routine, helping to improve his mental health.

“The thing that came with this pandemic was just more of a realization of what’s most important,” he said.

Trisha Trylch and her son, Brandon, introduced two Bengal cats to their home during the pandemic. Brandon said because his family was home more often with the cats, it helped the pets adapt. 

Brandon also made sure the cats got fresh air, and would often bring them along with him to do COVID-19-friendly activities.

“I like to take them to Coopers Rock,” Brandon said. “We carried them, but then sometimes they wanted to be let down so we’d walk them on the harness and they would prance around.”

Rachel Daw, a Morgantown resident, adopted a second cat this past year. She said her two companions helped her navigate through a difficult year.

“I think the two definitely helped get me through the pandemic,” she said. “It was really nice to just have them and the kitten definitely entertained me for a while and he still does.”

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