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The adoption advocate's view: Cautiously optimistic


Demand for adoptable pets is very strong and we haven't yet seen mass relinquishment, so it's fair to say that COVID-19 hasn't been too bad for homeless pets.David MeyerDecember 2020
The adoption advocate's view: Cautiously optimistic

David Meyer
CEO, Adopt-a-Pet.com

David Meyer cofounded Adopt-a-Pet.com in 2000, and it has grown into North America's largest non-profit homeless pet adoption website. A world champion Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor and a martial arts teacher, David enables weaker individuals to become stronger. But as CEO of Adopt-A-Pet.com, he has become an advocate for the truly powerless: homeless animals.


Pet Foster Care

Spring 2020: From shelter to foster home

We help thousands of shelters and rescues find homes for the pets in their care, and the March stay-at-home orders led most shelters and rescues across the country to make a big push to place their pets in foster homes. They knew that they'd have to limit shelter operations and that people wouldn't be able to come in to adopt, so their goal was to get the pets into home situations. Overall, about three quarters of all pets in shelters were suddenly moved into foster homes, and we think a lot of them are going to stay there until they are adopted.

More pets living in foster homes is a great scenario. It's definitely better for the pet because it decreases risk of disease and behavioral issues, plus the foster home is able to provide more insightful information to potential adopters, such as whether a dog likes to ride in the car or whether a cat is good with children.

Fall 2020: From foster to forever home

The good news for pets during COVID-19 is how many communities across the country stepped up to foster. Many pets are being adopted by their fosters. What's more, this crisis is making people more aware of the need for pet fostering in general, so I think we're going to see a more community-oriented approach to animal homelessness. Fostering ties people to the shelter and gives them personal responsibility. So, rather than animal homelessness being a shelter's problem to solve, it becomes a community's responsibility. The trend toward more pets in homes – foster or forever – is positive.

STATS

Cats in foster care
2019: 30%
2020: 36%

Dogs in foster care
2019: 20%
2020: 28%

Source: Pethealth Inc. animal management software data

Adoption Interest

Spring 2020: Sky-rocketing demand

In April, a majority of adoptable pets are in foster homes. Shelters are limiting their operations, which means they aren't trying to bring in more pets. If you need to relinquish a pet, you have to make an appointment. If you want to adopt, you either can't or need an appointment. Basically, shelters went dark for many of their public-facing activities. At that exact moment, Adopt-a-Pet.com website traffic almost doubles.

What's the reason behind the spike? Is it bored people stuck at home searching the internet? Is it people who would've visited a shelter in person now searching for a pet online? Is it people who were planning to adopt a pet in a month or two who are now wanting to adopt sooner since they're working from home? Or is it people who weren't looking for pets at all now suddenly looking?

Our best guess is that the answer is a bit of "all of the above," but based on the actions people are taking on Adopt-a-Pet.com, there's a real increased interest in pet adoption. People are not only visiting our website more often, but they're also giving us their email, signing up for new pet alerts, favoriting a pet and inquiring with shelters. That's absolutely real adoption-related traffic.

STATS

April 2020:
Total Adopt-a-Pet.com users: more than 90% increase to almost 3.2 million users per week
Users signing up for New Pet Alert emails: more than 166% increase to almost 110,000 signups per week
Users sending New Pet Inquiry messages to shelters: more than 190% increase to about 47,0000 messages per week

Fall 2020: Up for good

Our website traffic has leveled off at about 50 percent higher than it was before the pandemic. Anecdotal evidence shows COVID-19 has driven offline behavior online. In other words, more people who would've walked into their local shelter are visiting our site first. I do believe there are also legitimately more people wanting pets than in the past; although, I have no reason to think that increased interest is in pet adoption specifically rather than in pet acquisition from any source.

Fundraising & Revenue

Spring 2020: Waiting for a fall

Adopt-a-Pet.com is a non-profit organization, and we have not seen a drop in donations. We posted a donation request for emergency funds we could distribute to shelters. After a couple of months, we started using donations to support our infrastructure, because our operating expenses went way up with the spike in use of our site. We're grateful that we also get significant funding from corporate sponsorship from Nestle Purina, Chewy.com and Elanco Animal Health. Pet food and animal health companies also support shelters, so it's my understanding that, overall, shelter funding is not taking a strong dip.

I do think shelters and rescues are worried about the future and the effects of a possible economic downturn. Lack of revenue is perhaps the biggest concern. With shelters limiting in-person visits, they're not collecting as many adoption fees and pet owners aren't making purchases in their brick-and-mortar retail shops.

Fall 2020: Social distancing downer

There has been a reduction in shelter revenue. We don't have any data to quantify the extent of the reduction, but shelter veterinary clinics and retail shops have taken a hit. Shelters tell us their fundraising is either decreasing or they're concerned it will be down overall by year's end. One of the main challenges with fundraising is the inability to host an in-person event. Many larger shelters organize annual 5K runs or auction events with dinner, and the current COVID-related regulations aren't allowing for those events to take place.

STATS

More than 50% of Adopt-a-Pet.com-member organizations surveyed report major limitations in fundraising

The Future

"Virtual" adoptions

Technology is always moving ahead, and COVID-19 has fast-forwarded the progress. In terms of pet adoption, we're considering whether it's possible to limit an adopter's time in a physical shelter by digitizing even more of the adoption process. We were looking into such a system before the pandemic, and now it's looking like more "virtual" adoptions could be even more useful.

As the pandemic has continued, shelters have noticed that the combination of fewer pets and people in the shelter has cut down on the incidence of disease. It's no surprise that fewer animals living together in kennels decreases the spread of diseases like parvovirus and distemper. What's interesting is that shelters have learned that fewer people walking through the shelter and petting multiple animals also reduces disease spread. The thought is that connecting adoptable pets with people outside the shelter could result in both short-term and long-term benefits.

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