Dog days are over?

Animal shelters in the Netherlands experience an increase in adoption requests since the outbreak of
COVID-19. But why do people turn towards animals in times of crisis?

Text by Annemarie Andre
Photos by Iben Schmidt

Lonesome and Bored – “He has already gained some weight since he’s been here, but he’s still very skinny”, says Nicolette Bloemendaal. She has been managing the animal shelter in Leiden for seven years now and has seen many pets come and go since she started as a volunteer in 1997.

Nicolette Bloemendaal, manager of the animal shelter in Leiden, explains the adoption process | (c) Iben Schmidt

Bloemendaal (56) is convinced that she will find the perfect match for her shelter dog, Diablo. The young pit bull was brought to the animal shelter because the owners could no longer take care of him anymore. In order to find the pit bull a forever home, the new potential owners will need to provide background information and answer a variety of questions. “We tend to ask personal questions because otherwise, we get the dog back in three or four years’ time”, Bloemendaal says and adds: “We were already very strict in our policy in adopting out, maybe a little bit more right now due to the crisis.

The outbreak of COVID-19 and the “intelligent lockdown” in the Netherlands has led to an increase in people wanting to give a shelter animal a second chance. “We do see a 20-30% increase in adoption requests because people have more time right now”, says Jeanine K. (53) from Dierenopvang Amsterdam. It’s the largest animal shelter in the Netherlands, which takes care of approximately 2000 dogs, cats, and smaller animals every year. The Dierentehuis Stevenshage in Leiden, where Nicolette Bloemendaal works, takes care of around 800 – 900 pets each year. Bloemendaal doesn’t notice an increased demand in requests right now, but there are other difficulties that have been imposed by Coronavirus.

People all over the world adopted pets during the Corona crisis leaving animal shelters behind with empty cages | (c) Iben Schmidt

When getting calls or emails, Bloemendaal’s team now has to find out whether somebody was already thinking of getting a pet before the virus outbreak, or if it’s just a spontaneous idea to brighten the mood in pandemic times. “Getting an animal is wonderful, but it’s a lot of work and it’s not something you do, because you’re bored during the Corona crisis”, says Bloemendaal. “You have to want it for the rest of their life.”

Therefore, it’s important that animal shelters ask potential pet owners how their life will look like in three to four months. The answer to that usually helps to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Now that walk-ins in shelters are on a halt which prevents the virus from spreading, shelters are able to do even more screening before people actually meeting the presumed pet of their dreams. The Dierenopvang Amsterdam even decided to keep this audit after the crisis and check on people first before they come to visit. Giving animals a second chance is a good thing, but for them it’s about dedication in the long term. If people are unable to imagine their circumstances in ten to fifteen years, the adoption won’t likely persist. “Even though we see an increase in adoption requests, we don’t have an increase in the adoption rate”, explains the PR-manager. This method is efficient when wanting to mitigate potential backfire after the crisis.

While animal shelters have their policy in place, there are a lot of dubious breeders or pet dealers, who profit from people’s boredom or loneliness. “We’re not the only place where people can get animals. They can go to a website and after a few clicks they have a puppy”, says Bloemendaal. It’s those people she’s worried most about. “There’s a lot of bad people, who want to take your money, but do not want to give you a good dog”, she says and gets even more serious: “And the dog is the victim.”

While there are people who decide to take on pets to serve as a companion that treats loneliness, this it’s not the case for everyone. Maarten Reesink (56) is convinced that it’s the opposite. He works at the Media Studies department of the Universiteit van Amsterdam and is specialized in the field of Human-Animal Studies, which focuses on the relationship between humans and animals. “People who have a broader range of social acquaintances, tend to have more pets as well”, he says.

However, the supposed idea of companionship and the gratification that people might be looking for in times of crisis, isn’t always perfect. “Obviously, an animal is something different than a human. Animals can fulfill the lack of contact with other humans to a certain extent, but to a huge extent they can’t,” Reesink says.

Cats don’t need to be taken for a walk, but need a lot of attention from their owners as well | (c) Iben Schmidt

Furthermore, animals in these shelters have different temperaments and needs, which can be challenging for shelters when trying to find the perfect match. Although Nicolette Bloemendaal is successful in adopting out, there is a small percentage of animals who come back. “Sometimes people say all the right things and it goes wrong anyway”, says Bloemendaal. Still, she hopes that people who regret their decision in adopting an animal, do the right thing: “Bring it back to the shelter and do not throw it out on the streets.”