Shelter pet adoption numbers down in 2020, but high rate

The latest data from animal shelter data management agency PetPoint suggests October pet adoption numbers remained lower year-over-year.

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(Andrea Gantz)
(Andrea Gantz)

Animal shelter adoption numbers may have remained lower throughout 2020 compared to 2019. The latest data from animal shelter data management agency PetPoint suggests October 2020 pet adoption numbers remained lower year-over-year. Shelters reported a decrease in adoptions of 11% for cats and 19% for dogs in October, Steve Zeidman, senior vice president for Pethealth, wrote in an email.

Much of the decline in overall pet adoption numbers resulted from fewer pets being available for adoption during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Between March 13 and September 18, 2020, the number of dogs and cats entering shelters decreased. Dog numbers fell by 34% and cats by 28%. Overall during that period, 951,667 dogs and cats entered shelters.

Animal shelter populations growing slowly

However, the number of dogs and cats available for adoption may be very slowly returning to normal, Zeidman said, although the impact of recurrent pandemic waves was unknown. Cat populations seem to be returning faster than dog numbers, and Zeidman said he expects the intake of cats to return to pre-pandemic patterns soon. On the other hand, dog intake levels may never return to how they were in 2019.

In the most recently available report using March 2020 to September 2020 data, PetPoint compiled statistics from 1,200 animal welfare organizations in the United States. Dog and cat adoptions declined by 25% compared to the same period in 2019. In 2020, dog and cat adoptions reached 519,406 during that date range, down 30% for dogs and 21% for cats.

However, this decline in adoptions may have been masked by increases in foster care. Dogs entering foster care increased by 13%, while cats grew by 6%, for a total of 58,487 foster care animals. The pet fostering population grew 8%, which may have partly accounted for feel-good stories about new pandemic pets, as did high rates of adoption.

Other factors in pet adoption

Fostering of others pets may partly account for why, in the third “Pets in a Pandemic” report, Mars Petcare analysts reported that 30% of consumers surveyed welcomed a new pet in 2020, despite lower numbers of pets from shelters. For example, people may be caring for animals from friends who lost their jobs and subsequently their pet-friendly apartments. However, official adoption figures don't necessarily reflect these off-the-grid pet parents.

In September 2020, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) report “COVID-19 Pulse Study: Pet Ownership During the Pandemic,” found very few changes in U.S. pet ownership since late spring/early summer. Only 2% of respondents gave up a pet (compared to 1% in June 2020). However, 10% of the pet owners surveyed by APPA did say they may have to give up their pets.

The pandemic caused a decline in overall numbers of pets adopted from shelters, while other dogs and cats found themselves shifting homes. Yet, the rate of pet adoptions seems to have actually grown. In a blog, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) presented data from 24PetWatch and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary showing that the percentage of pets in shelters being adopted increased in 2020 to 58.36%, up from 51.49% in 2019. Another bright spot for pets in 2020, euthanasia of shelters animals fell by 46% as of October, Zeidman said.

While the pandemic caused unprecedented suffering worldwide in 2020, the disruptions to dogs, cats and other pets adoption numbers may normalize in 2021…assuming nothing worse happens.

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