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Pets are pandemic winners

I will hang on for a long time to a scattering of specific memories, some good and some bad, of the pandemic.

One image that that will continue to make me smile was a scene I saw one evening on one of my long pandemic walks: a group of neighborhood children chasing one another around the trunk of a big old maple tree in someone's backyard.

They were clearly having lots of fun, not thinking about the rising pandemic death toll or the country's unfolding political turmoil, and they screamed and squealed at one another through tight-fitting face masks.

Isn't the innocence of youth great? Masks are not a political statement or an attack on your liberty, just something to get you through an evening romp with your friends.

Of course, I realize the pandemic has in many ways challenged kids as much or more than adults, and I hope the effects of this unprecedented disruption to their development is not too deep or long-lasting.

Pets, on the other hand, seem to be faring pretty well. And I would daresay quite a few of them, if they had a say in the matter, would put off vaccines and their owners' return to normal routines as long as possible.

What dog would want to go back to those long days home alone on the sofa, waiting for the family to return from school and work?

Indeed, one silver lining in the dark cloud of the pandemic is that animal shelters have emptied out. Pets for adoption are in demand and there are fewer of them, shelter officials say, because people working from home came to realize they have more opportunity to care for an animal.

Many people have also turned to pets for pandemic companionship.

"With the challenges going on with navigating a pandemic, pets can be an emotional life preserver," said James Bias, executive director of the Connecticut Humane Society, which operates four facilities in the state, including one in Waterford.

Bias says Connecticut has followed a national trend in which intake and outtake numbers at shelters are way down.

Shelter Animals Count, a national database that tracks shelter and rescue activity, documents this pandemic trend.

In New London County, for instance, the number of dogs placed through adoption declined by almost half in 2020, compared to the previous two years.

"This has been a national story," Bias said.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the adoption process is different, and the days of strolling through kennels to peruse the available pets are gone. Adoptions are done through appointment, and prospective families are asked to make an appointment if they see an animal on the website they are interested in.

The pickings are indeed slim, and on Friday there were only three dogs, three cats and some gerbils and rabbits up for adoption by the society.

Bias urges people interested in adopting to call, and society staff can suggest when more animals may become available. Maybe there is a pending litter of kittens, for instance.

While acknowledging the good news of fewer animals in need of homes, Bias said he worries there could be backsliding when the pandemic ends, with people returning to normal work and travel routines and less time to devote to a pet.

After chatting with Bias about the work of the society, I would urge animal lovers to continue to heartily support the organization, even as it processes fewer adoptions.

Its work in the future will focus more on strategies to intervene more early in the process, to help people who need it with pet care, food and medical bills for instance, before impossible expenses might lead to abandonment.

"We want to be less reactive and more proactive and keep pets in homes," Bias said.

I'm glad he worries about what the end of the pandemic may hold in store for animals and the issue of animal homelessness.

I have a feeling, though, that all the people who took comfort in animal companionship during these dark times are not going to give it up lightly, even once we are all vaccinated and back to our routines.

It's been one of the pandemic bright spots, like seeing mask-compliant children playing happily in a backyard, seemingly without a care in the world.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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