COVID-19 pandemic sparks interest in pet adoptions: 'Rescue is the way to go'

JANESVILLE, Wis. — The clock started ticking back in March, when employees at the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin heard rumblings about the coronavirus and the impact it could have in Wisconsin.

The humane society had hoped to find homes for every one of its animals — whether they lived in the building or in foster care — before things got bad, executive director Michael McManus said.

“In the beginning of March, we heard there were some things happening in China, and we didn’t know what was going to happen as far as animals in Wisconsin. But we knew there could be issues,” McManus told The Janesville Gazette.

“We decided, ‘Let’s make a good effort to clear the shelter’ because it didn’t look good.”

Today, they’re down to 10 cats in the building.

The coronavirus has changed life at the shelter. Animals continue to receive care, but the humane society has shortened hours of operation and shifted animal visits to appointment-only. Employees work in split shifts to avoid having too many people in the building at one time. The facility is cleaned four times a day.

The building also has a separate kennel with protective equipment in case an animal is surrendered from a home with a case of COVID-19.

McManus said the society usually accepts animals from Southern states and adopts them out, but that program is on hold for now.

Locally, the shelter has found 42 foster homes for puppies and kittens. Thirteen dogs, 21 cats and two rabbits have been adopted in April, and 22 lost dogs and four lost cats were returned to their owners.

“Considering everything, we have been very successful in bringing animals to their forever homes,” McManus said.

Today, the dog areas are empty, and just 10 adoptable cats remain. McManus believes people spending more time at home during the pandemic played a role in the increase in adoptions.

“I truly believe some of the people who may have known that they were going to be working at home and knew they would have the extra time to pay to a kitten or dog, that could have something to do with us being so close to empty,” he said.

For people such as Janesville resident Meredith Eaton, it was the right time to adopt.

She adopted Peri, a male cat, a month ago during the stay-at-home order and said things have worked out better than she imagined.

“I’ve been thinking about getting a pet for quite some time,” Eaton said, “and since I knew I was going to be stuck at home for the foreseeable future, I figured it was the right time so I could give it the proper time with me here to get acclimated to its new home.

“Knowing that I had to be home definitely influenced the decision.”

People who want to adopt animals are advised to browse through the animals on the humane society’s website before making an appointment. The humane society is taking the temperature of anyone who enters the building.

The shelter has a limited supply of free pet food available for residents. McManus said people might have a harder time caring for their pets if they’re furloughed or working fewer hours, so they can call the shelter for some food.

With kitten season approaching, McManus said employees are expecting many new residents. Both he and Eaton said the timing could be right for others to adopt.

“The public has really stepped up, and it’s making a difference,” McManus said. “I would love to empty the shelter and get these animals homes.”

Eaton said she had reservations about adopting at first, but Peri is the perfect match for her.

“He has blossomed into this kitty just full of personality and energy and love,” she said. “He is a wonderful, wonderful cat. … I’ve never really been a pet person, and I am just in love with this cat. Rescue is the way to go. This has worked out so perfectly for me.”