Covid-19 not only stopped work and events necessary for saving animals, but halted all work in general. Everyone is aware of the economic hardship that the pandemic brought upon people and families, but financial insecurity affects the lives of pets, as well. As pet owners struggled, the number of animal surrenders increased. In 2020, Manatee County Animal Services (MCAS) took in an average of seven animals a day. While quarantine seemed like a time to bring home a pet, some owners struggled to keep them.
MCAS says it's seen a 38 percent increase in its intake of homeless animals from April to May of this year. Hans Wohlgefahrt, the shelter's outreach and events specialist, explains that the specific reason for this increase is hard to pin down because most of the animals are strays who come in with no information. Plus, he adds, it's kitten season—and he theorizes that the increase in kittens available for adoption right now may have a direct tie to Covid-19.
Just like spring, summer, fall and winter, kitten season comes once a year. "Kitten season is the time of year when there is a dramatic increase in the birth of kittens," explains Wohlgefahrt. "We speculate that this year is particularly impacted by the pandemic, when spay and neuter services were put on hold. There are more unsterilized cats mating and now having kittens."
An overflow of kittens sounds like a wonderful problem, but not in this situation. With an increase in its cat population, the shelter faces the risk of overcrowding, which can increase the spread of disease. This can be especially worrisome for young cats, since their immune systems aren't yet fully developed.
During the pandemic, MCAS fostered out 446 animals, and Wohlgefahrt explains that number would have been higher if the pandemic hadn't forced the shelter to pause adoptions for a time. Additionally, Covid-19 caused the cancellation of Adoptapalooza, the shelter's largest adoption event of the year. This wasn't just the case for Manatee County Animal Services—shelters across the area felt the strain.
To help struggling pet owners, MCAS operates a Pet Pantry program which offers free food and supplies to pet owners in need, but donations are always a way to help. For kitten season in particular, shelters need items such as kitten food, blankets, kitten heating pads and bottles. Shelters are always in need of more foster homes for animals—but if you can adopt, chances are there's a pet out there waiting for you.