The Gentile family planned to foster a puppy this spring, hoping to bring a little joy into their home after losing their beloved family dog last year.
What they didn’t expect was for their foster puppy to become a 24/7 companion, as their daughters spent more time home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lab cross has quickly become a beloved pet, playmate and therapist.
“I like to think of Cody as a furry stress ball reliever. It’s fantastic,” mom Julia Gentile said.
“It’s a distraction for the kids. It’s an opportunity to care for a ‘fur being’ that needs a lot of care.”
The Gentiles are among many Canadians seeking the comfort and company of a pet. They fostered Cody through Alberta’s Second Chance Animal Rescue Society (SCARS) at the end of April.
Since the pandemic ramped up in the province in mid-March, SCARS has seen its monthly fostering inquiries increase tenfold.
“We normally have four to five requests a month for fostering. Even in high numbers it’s eight to ten at the most,” said Terra MacLean, training coordinator for SCARS.
“After the quarantine kind of took effect and most people were working from home we had over 100 requests to temporarily foster during the quarantine period.”
SCARS reflects a trend happening nationwide.
As of April 30, the Edmonton Humane Society had 444 active foster parents, compared to 159 during the same time period in 2019. There have been so many foster applicants the agency has closed it’s application process for now.
The Toronto Humane Society is seeing a similar demands. In the first three weeks following the closure, its staff made an average of five or six foster placements each day compared to just two or three placements prior to the pandemic.
In an email, public relations specialist Hannah Sotropa described how the Toronto agency is adapting:
“People can still adopt during these trying times! It’s so exciting to see our ability to save lives, on a remote basis! Counselling sessions and meet and greets are being held online! Training lessons as well! Our food bank is still running to support those facing temporary hardships. Animals are still in need right now, and it is our vision to offer help to them, whether near or far.”
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Dogs and cats aren’t the only animals moving into temporary homes. Montreal’s SPCA has cleared out its turtle aquariums.
“In the past two months during the pandemic we put 14 turtles in foster families, so it’s quite good news because last year we could only put three,” Montreal SPCA executive director Élise Desaulniers said.
“A lot of people come to adopt. Most of them are looking for dogs or cats, but some leave with a turtle — which is amazing.”
MacLean from SCARS is hopeful the fostering trend will continue over the summer as more Albertans spend time close to home.
“I think the emotional support any animal can give you — cat or dog, even goldfish — it gives you something else to focus on.”
Gentile is encouraged Canadians are stepping up to help out animals, but she hopes the demand for so-called “pandemic puppies” won’t end with a large number of surrenders as Canadian provinces relaunch their economies and old routines resume.
“I just hope people are making an informed decision.”