TRENTON—As many have experienced over the last four months, a pandemic can bring out the best of circumstances and, more often, the worst of circumstances, even for animals.
Since the first state of emergency was declared in Maine in March, the Hancock County SPCA has experienced multiple extremes. At the beginning of the pandemic, adoptions were at a high point with people looking for companionship while stuck at home. As the virus changed the socio-economic and health landscape for many, the number of animals being put up for adoption increased and hasn’t gone down a whole lot. Fortunately, there are many allies for furry friends in the community.
“The fostering program has been the community’s answer to our pleas for help,” said Kaitlyn Mullen, the new director of operations at the Hancock County SPCA.
“The community has really stepped up. Fostering has allowed the shelter to be nearly full and again half that amount in foster care.”
It is especially popular among folks who have been forced to work from home during the pandemic, Mullen explains.
“Now we see an increase in the number of people working from home, looking for companionship,” she added. “They’re better for the animal. Most of them do better in a home environment.”
As more people go back to work, that resource is slowing down, but there are currently about 60 families in the shelter’s database for animal foster care.
Mullen doesn’t remember exactly what day she began in her new role at the shelter, but she can narrow it down to the week of March 10; the week prior to Governor Janet Mills’ first declared state of emergency. As she has been learning the ropes of the organization over the last few months, operations have been anything but consistent.
Shortly after the first state of emergency, when schools shifted to remote learning from home, the number of adoptions from the shelter skyrocketed.
“Starting on March 17, when the first stay at home order was issued, our phones really started ringing off the hook,” said Mullen.
“We were at a historic minimum shelter capacity,” she added, referring to the first three weeks of April. “We had a huge surge in animal adoptions.”
Many families who had been thinking about adopting finally decided it was time. One benefit to pet ownership during a pandemic is the lack of need to social distance from them, Mullen points out.
It wasn’t long before the tide changed at the shelter. For people experiencing economic hardship and/or those with family members either vulnerable to, or directly affected by, the coronavirus, pet ownership added more strain to the situation.
“Our animal surrenders have definitely increased over this time,” said Mullen. “A lot of our surrenderings are because of a change in home life or housing.”
“Those surrendering (their pets) are aware,” she added, about making a decision that some people may put off until it is too late. “If they could reach out to the humane societies in their region and just let us know, it would allow us, as an animal community, to better triage.”
Many of the pets brought to the animal shelter at the end of April were due to the melding of several generations of a family under one roof. There were several calls to the shelter regarding pets coming from the homes of elderly people.
“Some with as many as 45 animals,” Mullen said, but there were many situations that led to surrendering pets to the shelter. “It really cut across all demographics.”
Beyond sheltering and rehoming animals, the SPCA also serves as a pet food pantry for people who qualify for assistance.
“It’s been a huge resource during the pandemic,” said Mullen, noting the program served 40 households in April and May.
There is also a prevent–a–litter program under which designated veterinarians are willing to pay a third of the cost of a spay or neuter procedure, the SPCA will pay a third and the pet owner pays the remaining third. There is also a donation fund at the shelter that provides $100 to qualified pet owners toward medical expenses for their pet.
While there is room for up to 80 adult cats and 16 kennel spaces at the shelter, there is a waiting list for surrendering pets. Mullen says if the shelter is unable to house a pet, they can reach out to other shelters in the region to find a space or foster family. Working to care for the animals housed in Trenton has been tough on managing staff because of space restraints and the shelter being closed to the public at this time.
“It’s been a lot in a short amount of time,” said Mullen, who was hired on a temporary basis until at least next April. “We are operating fairly close to capacity right now.”
Donations are a huge part of the shelter’s survival. This year, the SPCA’s biggest fundraiser is going virtual because of COVID-19. For more information, visit hancockcountyspca.org.