Animal rescue organizations across Maryland are seeing a sharp uptick in the number of people wanting to adopt a new pet or serve as a foster family.
The surge began in mid-March, around the time that the state Board of Education ordered Maryland schools to close.
“People are bored and at home and want to have puppies and kittens to play with,” said April Pierman, adoption coordinator at Saving Grace Animal Rescue of Maryland.
She said many of the organization’s new foster parents are teachers who expect to be home through the summer. “So they have an extended period of time. A lot of families with kids are asking to foster, to get the kids involved.”
Saving Grace, which has a statewide network of foster families, has had nearly 200 adoption applications since March 12, the day students were ordered kept home. A normal month would bring between 120 and 150.
In addition, the number of foster applications has skyrocketed. Fifty families volunteered to foster in the last three weeks, a sharp rise from the 16 applications that came in between Jan. 1 and March 12.
“People have some time on their hands and they’re feeling pangs of loneliness, perhaps,” said Tamela Terry, president of the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George’s County.
“Maybe a need to have a project that is a little bit altruistic and helps somebody else. [A new pet] gets their mind off of things, helps them focus on making the world a better place.”
The Cicatelli family of Rockville originally planned to get settled in their new home before adopting, but then had a change of heart.
“We were going to wait until we got into our new place,” said dad Chris Cicatelli. “But then we figured this is the best time to train a puppy. We are all home for who knows how long.”
Leah Hudson, who just moved to Prince George’s from Washington, D.C., with her husband, recently became a foster family through the Prince George’s SPCA.
“My husband and I were hoping to connect with a dog that could use our help,” she said in an email. “We absolutely love our foster dog. It feels great being able to help him, and he has also brought so much joy to us.”
The COVID-19 crisis has also forced some painful decisions for people who have lost their jobs and worry they can no longer afford to feed and care for their pet.
The Maryland SPCA, based in Baltimore, has recently expanded its Kibble Connection program, which helps families who find themselves stretched thin.
“We want to prevent pets from coming into our shelters,” said Andy Beres, the organization’s director of marketing and communications. “They are people that love their dogs and cats but they just can’t afford pet food right now. They’re struggling to feed themselves and their children.”
The Maryland SPCA works with Meals on Wheels volunteers to distribute free pet food to families in financial distress.
Supplies are limited, Beres said, “but we’re going to help them the best we can.”
“We see that as a critical need in the community right now,” he added.
Animal rescue organizations welcome the increased interest in adoption and fostering, but they worry about what happens when the crisis passes. Even in normal times, they see a surge in “returns” after Christmas and when the school year starts.
“We had a really strong uptick in foster offers and that’s good. We can use all the help we can get,” said Terry.
“What’s a concern for us is people who are trying to find their way through this crisis and they take on something that doesn’t fit into their long-term situation very well. We have to have an eye toward the future and be thinking about what you can sustain.”