The Post-Pandemic World of Shelter Animals

by Danielle Cookish

The events that unfolded in 2020 forced us to make major adjustments to the way we deliver our programs and reconfigure our services to continue as a resource to people and pets. During that time, we learned that many of those adjustments, including operating by appointment only, have been beneficial to both animals and people.

While humans experienced significantly shorter wait times for services, a massive change was observed in the animals in our care. Our open-air cat colonies were once bustling with visitors looking to meet a new friend or just spend an afternoon with the animals. The pandemic brought an abrupt halt to this busy section of the shelter.

Seemingly overnight, adoptable animal areas became very quiet--the silence only disturbed by the occasional staff member or volunteer to clean, feed, and run enrichment sessions. The quiet classical music that has played in animal areas for years could now be heard in the absence of many overlapping conversations being had nearby.

At first glance, this fall to silence could be perceived as lonely and isolating. We quickly discovered that the animals who struggle with fear and complex behavioral challenges began to change. Staff noticed very fearful, shy animals began to move around and explore while more outgoing animals stretched out in the sun shining through the large windows for undisturbed naps. Today, approximately 60% of the animals in our care have medical and/or behavioral needs that do not make them the best candidates for high traffic public viewing or handling. The types of animals entering shelters and their unique needs have changed significantly.

Our veterinary teams have noted reductions in upper respiratory infections and stress-induced digestive upset in shelter cats since the closure as well as significantly fewer quarantines due to minor bites or scratches. Due to these decreases, animals are moving into homes faster.

While the work of animal care and training at Dakin has never paused, this post-pandemic environment has offered a new sense of sanctuary for the animals waiting for homes. Their days at the shelter are calm, more predictable, and familiar and we are happy to continue this new level of humane care.

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