British Columbia

Shelters struggle to keep up with skyrocketing demand for pet adoptions during COVID-19

The B.C. SPCA says demand for dogs is so high, they’re receiving 200 applications for a single puppy

Up to 200 applications for a single puppy, says B.C. SPCA

The B.C. SPCA adopted out more than 100 animals in two days after launching a campaign to make space at the shelter amid the COVID-19 crisis. (Viktoria Haack)

When Miranda Pearson set out to adopt a pet in June, she had no idea what a challenge it would be.

Pearson's sheltie Isaac died five years ago, and during the COVID lockdown, the Vancouver poet and psychiatric nurse felt it would be good time to bring a new pet home.

But it turns out many British Columbians are feeling exactly the same way. That means there are very few pets — in particular dogs — available for adoption.

"I've been trying to find a dog or a cat through several different rescue sites including the SPCA, but also some smaller [rescue organizations]. And I haven't even heard back from anyone," says Pearson.

"When I've pushed a little bit, they've said, 'Oh no, that one you applied for is gone.' So they just seem to go right away."

One of nine puppies that were recently in B.C. SPCA care after they were found abandoned with their mother in Fort St. John in the northeastern corner of the province. (BC SPCA)

Before the pandemic hit, rescue organizations like the B.C. SPCA feared they would face an influx of animals if the virus forced thousands of people into hospitals, as it had in other areas of the world.

That spike in hospitalizations never materialized in B.C., while at the same time, many people were either out of a job or working from home. The demand for cuddly companions skyrocketed.

'We've definitely seen an increase'

Lorie Chortyk of the B.C. SPCA says they still have animals coming in from their regular animal cruelty investigations, from people in need of emergency boarding, and from more remote regions where there are fewer prospective adopters, but dogs in particular get snapped up quickly.

"We've definitely seen an increase in adoptions throughout the whole COVID crisis," says Chortyk, who says they've seen 200 applications for a single puppy.

"Applications are coming in and I have no dogs to give them," says Carmela Manno, owner of the small dog rescue group called I Helped Save Rescue. (Carmela Manno)

"I think when people were home, they had a bit more time and they thought, 'Well, this is probably a good time to bring an animal into our family,'" she says.

"Also for many people it was a very lonely time. A lot of people were living alone and self-isolating. So the companionship of an animal became even more important."

Shaley Boese has also experienced the shortage first-hand. She fosters small dogs for the local rescue organization I Helped Save Rescue. When she went to help a retired friend with a beautiful home and a fenced yard find a dog, she came up empty-handed.

Normally I Helped Save Rescue would have dozens of pets looking for foster homes, but currently they only have two Chihuahuas that come as a pair. "It's like something we've never seen."

'I have no dogs to give them'

A big part of the problem, says I Helped Save Rescue owner Carmela Manno, is that the U.S. border is closed so it's impossible to bring animals up from the shelter system there which has an endless supply of dogs in need of homes.

Normally I Helped Save Rescue would have access to an endless supply of adoptable dogs from the U.S., but since the border closed, they can no longer be brought into Canada. Now senior Chihuahua duo Levi and Singer are the only dogs they have available for adoption. (I Helped Save Rescue)

Manno says many shelters in the U.S. are experiencing an influx of animals because of higher COVID-19 rates, job losses and funding cuts to shelters, as well as lower rates of spaying and neutering, but she can't get them across the border where the demand is so high.

"We haven't able to bring any across, so they're just kind of piling up in California," says Manno, who has shifted to trying to find the dogs homes within the U.S.

At the same time she has received dozens of applications from people in B.C. looking to foster or adopt.

"We have a website where you can apply to foster or adopt," she says, "and applications are coming in but I have no dogs to give them."

'The right animal is out there'

Despite the difficulties, some lucky owners do manage to land a pet. Just yesterday, Boese learned about a five-year-old dog being surrendered in Kelowna, and she's going to pick him up for her friend.

"She is super excited," says Boese. 

Chortyk also says that animals are still regularly coming into the SPCA — especially cats and kittens — and they're moving animals from other regions into the Lower Mainland to try to meet the demand.

She adds that because of the volume of interest it can be hard for staff to get back to everyone, but would-be adopters shouldn't give up. 

"I would encourage people to be persistent because we do have animals coming in every single day, and they desperately need homes. The right animal is out there for them," says Chortyk.