The pandemic has meant a shortage of dogs, especially small ones, available for adoption in Alberta. PHOTO BY SAM LION: on Pexels.com

The coronavirus pandemic has meant a new level of loneliness for many people, causing a spike of dog adoptions around the province.

The lockdowns and new rules restricting people from seeing friends and family has caused an increase in depression and anxiety for a lot of people. Many have turned towards pet adoption. Unfortunately, with the increased interest in adoption, the availability of dogs, especially small ones have become limited.

This is causing intense frustration, forcing people to search for pets from less reputable places, as the prices for the available  animals are heavily increased. 

The lockdowns and new rules restricting people from seeing friends and family has caused an increase in depression and anxiety for a lot of people.

According to a report by CAMH “several studies have linked the experience of quarantine to symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress, sometimes with long-term effects.”

In addition, Statistics Canada states, 52 per cent of participants in a survey conducted between April 24 to May 11, 2020, “indicated that their mental health was either ‘somewhat worse’ or ‘much worse’” due to social distancing.

Pets for comfort

In this environment, increased pet adoptions aren’t surprising.

A recent study by researchers at the University of York and the University of Lincoln, “found that having a pet was linked to maintaining better mental health and reducing loneliness.” 

The study also stated that 90 per cent of respondents felt their pets gave them a sense of comfort and 96 per cent felt that having a pet allowed them to get outdoors and stay active. 

A dog from the Calgary Humane Society looking for a forever home. PHOTO: JESSICA BOHRSON

Moreover, Gail Groeneveld — who runs Prairie Doodles and has been breeding Australian labradoodles since 2004 — says the pandemic has created excellent conditions to get a dog.

“For the puppy stage, this is a real win win, because as the dog gets older, they’re okay staying home while you go to work, ” said Groeneveld.

Jessica Bohrson, senior manager of communications at the Calgary Humane Society, says they’ve seen a wide array of animals being adopted.

“We’ve had all kinds of guys going home in the last month: Snakes and gerbils and mice and hamsters, cats, dogs, birds, fish,” said Bohrson. 

But, among all these animal adoptions, the rate of dogs being adopted has skyrocketed.

According to Debra Therrien, founder of BARCS Rescue, the number of dog adoptions almost doubled from 2019, with 220 adoptions in 2019 and a whopping 401 in 2020.

From January to March of 2021 there were already 93 adoptions.

While these numbers are high, there are still a ton of people requesting a pet and not being able to get one. 

“We get between 300-500 applications for little dogs. Out of that, 95 per cent of those applications are perfectly fine, there’s nothing wrong with them whatsoever, we just don’t have enough dogs for everybody,” said Therrien. 

‘Everybody wants a dog…’

Lately people have also been getting angry, asking why they aren’t being chosen for the adoption process. 

For her part, Groeneveld says they’ve had to close adoptions until 2022 because there is such a high demand for puppies and that it’s not uncommon for people to wait anywhere from four to eight months or up to a year to get their dog.

Therrien says not only is the demand higher than normal but the borders being closed has created a real challenge in getting dogs. 

Many of the dogs BARCS fosters are from places like Mexico, Texas and Los Angeles. Before the pandemic they could easily go down to these places and pick the dogs up, but now there are very few options for transporting the animals. 

It also used to be easy to find small dogs because breeders and shelters know how popular they are. But, if you look at different animal shelter sites you’ll probably notice the lack of such dogs up for adoption – something that’s impacted shelters all over Canada and the U.S.

“It’s almost impossible to find small dogs, because everybody wants a dog. The pandemic has made it almost unbearable mentally for a lot of people,” said Therrien. 

Therrien says she gets lots of calls from seniors looking for very specific dogs.

“They’re often under a size restriction because they live in a condo or an apartment. And they’re seniors so a lot of them physically can’t handle an 80-pound dog or a 60-pound dog,” she said. 

Not all dogs find homes

The saddest thing about the increased desire for small dogs is that large dogs are sitting alone in shelters and foster homes with no one wanting them.

BARCS gets most of their dogs from high kill shelters which means those unlucky dogs who don’t get picked usually don’t end up making it. 

“We find that there’s a real super shortage of little dogs and there’s still quite a few big dogs that are still being euthanized daily down in the States,” said Therrien. 

Along with her concern of the dogs being put down, Therrien worries the lack of availability of dogs at her shelter is “forcing people to turn to breeders and backyard breeders and paying a fortune for a dog when there’s lots of really adoptable dogs sitting in high kill shelters waiting to be adopted.”

She says she’s seen a lot of breeders, both certified and not, increasing the prices for dogs due to the demand. Some breeders are asking $2,000 to $10,000 per dog. 

Not only is the price tag extremely high, Therrien says there’s a danger of non-certified breeders becoming more prevalent. 

“A lot of them are breeding to kill the genetics out of the dogs and putting their own in and these dogs are not healthy because of the way they’re mixing two wrong breeds together,” said Therrien. 

Gail Groeneveld and Elmer, one of her Australian shepards PHOTO: GAIL GROENEVELD

Another big problem that’s surfaced are puppy scams. According to Calgary Police  in 2020 there were 33 reports of online puppy scams where buyers provided payment but did not receive their pet.  

It’s important to make sure the seller is reputable, not only for your sake but also the dogs. Police remind individuals to do research on the organization, avoid paying upfront and to always meet in person. 

While there are obstacles surrounding dog adoption, it’s important to remember that there will always be animals to adopt and it’s important to keep your options open and be patient.

Bohrson says the Humane Society is continuously bringing in surrendered pets from around Calgary that desperately need new homes. 

“We have seen consistent numbers with respect to animal surrenders this year compared to previous years,” said Bohrson.

This story appears in our March/April print issue. You can find the Calgary Journal at newsstands across the city or you can check out the digital version here.