There haven’t been very many silver linings to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the increase in animal adoptions is definitely one of them. With more people working from home, and perhaps spurred by the isolation of quarantine, people have been adopting pets out of shelters with such intensity that demand is actually outstripping supply, which, if you know anything about the breeding cycles of domestic dogs and cats, you know is an impressive feat.

But with the spike in adoptions, there may also come a spike in returns and surrenders. It’s going to lead to a lot of clickbait-y internet articles and mean comments and Supreme Court levels of judgment. And I want to talk about that. For a lot of pet owners, like myself, our pets are family members. If you have adopted from a shelter before, you may have spent a lot of time and effort (and money) helping your pet recover from its previous traumatic life experiences. Giving up a pet may be almost unimaginable.

As I am writing this, my dog Janey is sitting at my feet. She’s trembling and panting in fear because a spring thunderstorm is rolling through. Like a lot of dogs, she is deathly afraid of thunderstorms. But being with me seems to make her feel a little safer. During our first thunderstorm together, she spent the entire time underneath a chair in the kitchen, shaking uncontrollably. She’s not in a cave of her own making right now, which marks emotional progress for her.

I was Janey’s second adoption attempt. Janey was adopted pretty quickly when she arrived at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland (the Sheraton of animal shelters), on account of she is absolutely adorable. However, it quickly became apparent to the wonderful retired gentleman who adopted her that she had a very high energy level. (When she is nervous, Janey freezes up and avoids moving; I suspect that is how she scammed the shelter staff into thinking she was a calm dog.)

Also, she jumped out of a car window immediately after adoption and was on the run for two days, which made her a flight risk. So he reluctantly brought her back to the shelter, where I found her shortly thereafter, and the rest is history. (Herstory?) His brave and loving decision gave me my best friend. I will always be grateful for that.

When I was growing up, my family got all our pets from shelters, with the exception of Jazzy. Jazzy was a sweet-tempered American Eskimo Dog, and she came from a friend of a friend who was moving and couldn’t have a dog in the new place.

Our beloved old dog Marvin, adopted from the Kennebec Valley Humane Society, was found wandering the streets of Augusta in the height of the 2009 financial crisis, well-fed, friendly and collarless. We suspect he was deliberately put on the street because shelters can refuse owner surrenders if they are at capacity, but they are required by law to take in strays. Marvin was a big boy and ate a lot of food. He also had Lyme disease, which was expensive to treat. Was he callously abandoned, or was someone trying to ensure that he found his way to a safe shelter?

Are there people who don’t realize how much work a dog is before they get one? Sure. (Protip: if you’re worried about not being home all day, get an adult cat. They love nothing more than being left alone to nap.)

Do some folks see animals as property instead of sentient beings? Yes, apparently. But sometimes life happens; sad things can be nobody’s fault. Finances can change. Sometimes you have to move and the new landlord won’t allow dogs. Maybe you have a child who develops allergies. If it’s a choice that you made carefully, and if you aren’t sending your pet to a kill shelter (none of which exist in Maine), you deserve grace and understanding. And fortunately, there will always be people like me to adopt the weirdos who maybe need a couple of shots before finding their forever home.

Pets are members of our family, it’s true. But families change. Spouses divorce; children move out. In my experience, most people try to do the right things, and we should extend grace to people making difficult choices. Maybe it’s not the choice you or I would have made; but maybe we were just lucky enough never to be faced with that particular set of choices in the first place.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: mainemillennial


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