Matt's Blog: Animals Acquired During the Pandemic are Being Relished, Not Returned

May 27, 2021

By Matt Bershadker, ASPCA CEO

Last November, Mariena W., a digital publicist who lives in Brooklyn, New York, became one of the thousands of people who adopted a new pet—in her case, a three-month-old female cat named Bastet—during the pandemic. Mariena, who says the COVID-19 outbreak left her in a state of depression, told us that Bastet, “brought me back to life and gave me so much joy. At the same time, she needed me. I tell her all the time that we saved each other’s lives.” 

a woman cuddling a sleeping cat

Bastet, a young female cat, is one of thousands of animals adopted during the pandemic. Her adopter credits Bastet with “getting me back to a healthy routine and bringing me back to life."

In preparation for a return to her office in September, Mariena leaves her house for a while each day to help Bastet get used to her absence but has no plans or intention of rehoming her cat. Representing the majority of pet adoptions that took place during the pandemic, Mariena and Bastet’s lasting bond is not the exception; it is the norm.

Yet, some people are inexplicably advancing a different narrative. Influenced by anecdotes, false presumptions and unjustified alarm, some fear that the compassionate wave of animal adoption and fostering seen during the COVID-19 pandemic will turn in the opposite direction once restrictions are lifted and people head back to work, resulting in significant relinquishment and abandonment of these animals.

If you own a pet, you know that this doesn’t sound right from the start. A pet isn’t a product that outlasts its usefulness or value. Once pets come into our lives, they become vital members of our families, giving and receiving love, companionship and support. That bond only strengthens over time, as well as during challenges and stress. 

New statistical evidence confirms those assumptions. A May 2021 study involving a nationally representative poll of more than 5,000 people shows that the overwhelming majority of pets acquired during the pandemic are still in their homes (90 percent for dogs and 85 percent for cats), and that most of the 23 million American households that acquired a pet during the COVID-19 crisis are not considering rehoming their pets.

As COVID-19 restrictions continue to be lifted across the country, the majority of surveyed pet owners also report little concern about being able to spend enough time with their pets or feeling significantly restricted in their travel because of their pets. Despite some pet owners expressing general concerns, 87 percent of survey respondents shared that they are not considering rehoming their animals.

The far-from-alarming truth is that pets are still providing their families with joy and comfort—regardless of changes in circumstances—and loving owners are continuing to recognize and appreciate the essential role pets play in their lives. 

This revelation doesn’t mean that pets aren’t vulnerable, but the dynamics that most affect pet health and welfare are typically about economic stress, and we fight those legitimate challenges with programs and services that provide accessible and affordable veterinary care in communities where the need is most urgent and the veterinary resources most lacking.

If for any reason you feel unable to continue caring for your pet, please reach out to friends, neighbors and family for support, and know that your local shelter or rescue organization can often provide advice and assistance that can help you keep your pet.

There are also many resources available to help your pet avoid separation anxiety when home routines change dramatically, and I encourage you to consult with a certified applied animal behaviorist, veterinary behaviorist or certified professional dog trainer as needed. 

So, no—large numbers of people are not returning the pets they acquired. Instead, they are benefitting from the compassionate actions they took during the darkest moments of the pandemic, and joyfully doubling down on those commitments.