The stories of Jeanne and Jim Box and Walter Valdez are just a few of the heartwarming tales of increased adoptions from the Williamson County and Georgetown animal shelters, as more residents turn to pets for comfort and stress relief during an uncertain time.
As essential workers facing not just a pandemic, but also the loss of their cat, Jeanne and Jim Bos were in desperate need of a new furry friend. Then they met Gabe, a senior cat with behavioral issues, who fell into the hard-to-adopt category, which is precisely why the Boses chose him. Their previous cats were challenging too; one a diabetic and the other blind.
“We figured if Gabe was going to find a home, it would have to be with someone like us. We thought, ‘If we don’t take him, who will?’” Jeanne says. “The thought of him staying in the shelter because no one could deal with him was sad.”
In February, the couple lost the cat they’d had for ten years and were cautious about adopting another, but they ultimately decided their house was empty without a pet, especially during a pandemic. While searching the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter’s website for their next companion, they were drawn to Gabe, a beautiful, angry, 8-year-old that had been surrendered by his owner.
Since being adopted at the end of May, the feisty feline has come a long way. At first, he walked around hissing at his new humans all the time. But, the Boses understood. “He needed someone that wouldn’t be afraid of him and would be patient with him,” Jeanne says. Gabe has grown more comfortable in their quiet home, and, in turn, given comfort to his owners, who have been working, in person, for UPS and the Goodwill Resource Center throughout the pandemic. “It’s very stressful, of course,” Jeanne says. “Coming home to Gabe when it was so stressful—it’s very calming. He and I talk all the time. He’s been good company.”
“We needed him and he needed us,” Jim says, and Jeanne adds, “It’s the best thing we did all year.”
Walter and Rocky
Gabe’s polar opposite, Rocky, can be described as the friendliest, most energetic dog on the planet, saying hello by nearly toppling over his new human friends with enthusiastic hugs. That friendliness is just what Walter Valdez was looking for after a divorce and a new empty house. “He was very clingy, but it makes you feel good. It’s a mutual caring of each other,” Walter says.
He adopted Rocky June 1 and describes him as a comforting presence in the middle of stay-at-home job isolation. “I feel like I’m not alone anymore,” he says.
The Georgetown Animal Shelter has experienced its lowest canine population in three years, particularly during the city’s stay-at-home order—one morning in April the shelter had only two adoptable dogs and five strays. The city’s animal services manager, April Haughey, says more folks may be adopting because they have more time on their hands and need comfort. Plus it’s great, she adds, to have time to bond with pets while they adjust to a new home.
The Williamson County shelter has also seen an adoption increase, thanks to a plea for the community to empty the shelter with adoptions and fosters. Staff didn’t know how the virus might impact them, and they wanted to make sure the animals would be taken care of if workers got sick. “The community stepped up in an amazing way,” says Animal Services Director Misty Valenta. “We had the lowest population of animals at our shelter ever. It was phenomenal.”
April says, “Having a pet does wonders for the soul.” Furry friends help reduce stress, blood pressure and loneliness; and because of them, folks are able to exercise, go outside, and socialize more. And they provide a sense of purpose. “In this difficult time, there could be a lot of self-reflection—what am I doing?” Misty says. “When you have those incredible eyes looking up at you, needing you to care for them, that is purpose.”
Pay Attention to your Pet
It’s also important to be mindful of pet stress. Misty says naughty or atypical behaviors may be a sign of stress. Try food puzzle toys, long-lasting chews, and extra exercise and training sessions throughout the day. Quiet time in a safe space is also a great way to help a pet deal with stress. With families staying at home more, or with loud kids, sometimes an animal just needs a quiet, calm space to rest.
While shelter adoptions have increased, more pets are currently in need of forever homes. It is kitten season and both facilities are experiencing a high number of cats. The County shelter has about 400 cats and kittens in the shelter or a foster home, and Georgetown took in 201 in May and June, compared with 158 during the same time last year.
As people travel less and stay home more, the Georgetown shelter has seen a decrease in surrenders. April says owners who have surrendered their pets sometimes say they travel too much, especially during the summer, don’t have time for pets and aren’t giving them the attention they deserve. April anticipates a rise in surrenders over the next few months as COVID-19 becomes more widespread, and she says other areas have already experienced more surrenders. COVID-19 hasn’t affected the Williamson County shelter’s number of owner surrenders because the facility has taken only emergency cases. During this time, staff are helping families resolve issues they are facing or encouraging them to use ReHome.com, which allows families to give their dog or cat directly to another family looking to adopt.
The Georgetown shelter has launched a food pantry to help owners with financial concerns. People can request pet food at pets.georgetown.org/how-to-help. “With so many people being furloughed and seeking unemployment, we all thought it was a great idea,” April says. “We are part of such a generous community and thought it would be great if we could give back to the city that gives so much to us.”
Lend a Hand
The Williamson County shelter is seeking volunteers to help care for animals in case the facility becomes short-staffed. To join the team, visit pets.wilco.org/Volunteer/Getting-Started. The Georgetown shelter has temporarily halted its volunteer support, but pet lovers can still support the facility through online donations and sharing adoptable pets on social media.