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Enlighten Me: Pet adoption during the pandemic

Mark Fowser
Delaware Public Media
The Brandywine Valley SPCA and other s work to adopt dogs they receive from shelters around the country

The year-old COVID-19 pandemic turned more Delawareans into pet owners, or in some cases repeat pet owners.

Pet adoptions are increasing as more people spend time at home.

And in this week’s Enlighten Me, Delaware Public Media contributor Mark Fowser reports the interest in adopting a shelter pet is growing at a good time.

Delaware Public Media contributor Mark Fowser reports on pet adoptions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On a somewhat regular basis, plans have been carrying precious cargo to New Castle Airport or Delaware Coastal Airport in Georgetown. Dozens of dogs recently arrived from a troubled shelter in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

The shelter was left a wreck after a recent winter storm.

Caring for pets from other states is nothing new for the Brandywine Valley SPCA however. According to Lauren Cook, Operations Manager at its New Castle shelter, some states have more relaxed rules regarding spay and neuter, and shelters can easily get overwhelmed.

“Some places don’t have the resources available to do spay and neuter for all of their shelter animals that they’re adopting out,” Cook said. “A lot of times in those areas people don’t have the resources themselves to spay and neuter their own pets.”

BVSPCA has been working with Wings of Rescue to accept, evaluate, treat and place animals from several distant states for adoption. Cool also said the organization has a team working with a shelter in Louisiana on educating the local community about the importance of spay and neuter and shelter pet adoption.

“All of the pets that come in get a medical exam within eight hours. We evaluate them and if they’re ready for adoption they usually go up for adoption the next day,” Cook said.

Credit Mark Fowser / Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media
The Delaware Humane Association's Wilmington location can handle up to 50 dogs and 100 cats.

At the Delaware Humane Association, Executive Director Patrick Carroll said it’s also been taking in rescue pets from other states that arrive on flights that land in New Jersey. DHA has already been working with shelters in North Carolina and West Virginia. The Wilmington location has space for about 50 dogs and 100 cats, but Carroll said they tend to be adopted quickly.

“It’s like a supply and demand issue. There are a lot of dogs and cats in the south who are homeless or they’ve been stray and got out. Up here, there are not as many strays and the reality is there are a lot of homes, people looking to adopt,” Carroll said.

They include people like Linda Ciancaglini of Newark. She was hoping to adopt even during even during a very difficult year in which she lost her mother and two good friends – one due to COVID-19.  Ciancaglini recently had to put down one of her dogs.

Days after a friend died in February, Faithful Friends called Ciancaglini about an application she had on file.

"To just give them a new life, and to give them and show them love... it's such a wonderful, rewarding feeling."
Pet owner Linda Ciancaglini

“She told me she had this little dog and if I was interested – and that they’d be closing at seven o’clock. It was six o’clock when she called me. She sent me a little photo of the dog,” Ciancaglini said. “Without knowing her story, I just looked at her and said ‘I have to have her. Wait there, I’ll be right there.’”

Ciancaglini made it before closing time and came home with Skylar, who had also arrived from Arkansas.

“To just give them a new life, and to give them and show them love…it’s such a wonderful, rewarding feeling,” Ciancaglini said.

Faithful Friends also recently accepted ten dogs from a storm-damaged shelter in Texas.

Other, more local dogs and cats also tend to get adopted quickly – thanks to people like David Kolonauski and his wife Lynn. They had dogs in the past, but with children grown and a pandemic developing, they got to thinking.

“We were kind of like, okay we can’t really travel, we can’t go anywhere, but it’s kind of just… empty, here at our house because we don’t have a dog,” David Kolonauski said.

They earned about Doc McDoggins, who was in the care of the SPCA after apparently being struck by a vehicle. The Kolonauskis started off as fosters but ended up adopting Doc, who is now called Gracie.

“I can only imagine what it was like for her on the street, having to fight for all of her food and not trusting people because, who knows, maybe they were abusing her,” David Kolonauski added. “To see those walls come down, we’re just caring for her and loving her and taking her for walks… doing everything we’d do with the dogs we’ve had in the past.”

Credit Mark Fowser / Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media
Cats, like this one at the Brandywine Valley SPCA New Castle location, are also looking for homes

Gary DeVito of Bear ended up adopting two cats from the SPCA about two months ago. He has fostered cats in the past. But, he’s learned a lot from these two:

“Patience… these two cats have really taught me to just take it slow and be patient,” DeVito said. “These two, it’s really taken an extra amount of time, and an extra amount of love, basically.”

Carroll, with Delaware Humane, believes the pandemic encouraged many individuals and families who were suddenly spending more time at home to consider adopting a dog or cat. But he also believes with many people, it goes deeper.

“People are really looking at life and what’s important. There are certain things that people are saying ‘I’m never going back to that; my life has changed now,’” Carroll said. “I think that’s affected pets in a good way because people have said ‘I’ve reflected, I’ve always wanted a cat, and I’m getting one.’”

DHA has also been there to assist pet owners with events such as drive-through pet food pantries, and guidance on pet retention – helping people work through issues that have them considering giving up a pet.

Credit Mark Fowser / Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media
The Brandywine Valley SPCA has seen pet adoptions rise 20% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Cook, adoptions at the SPCA were up about 20% since before the pandemic. Cook reminded potential owners that it’s fine to be smitten with a dog or cat, just make sure to think it through.

“You’re talking 15 to 20 years with this animal. It’s a financial investment as well. We try to counsel all of our adopters on those things when they’re taking the pets home,” Cook said. “Ultimately you need to make sure you’re ready to bring this pet into your life and have time to train it and socialize it.”

Ciancaglini said if you are comfortable opening your home to a new pet, maybe – just maybe – consider more than one.

“I never wanted to only have one dog. I usually have three little dogs at a time. This is my first time having two dogs.,” said Ciancaglini. “I’m still looking for another, maybe.”

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