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‘A natural stress-reducer’: Carroll animal shelters see increase in pet adoption services during pandemic

Stephanie Schaffer said she wanted to adopt an emotional support animal to help her navigate through the coronavirus pandemic that has forced people to stay indoors and limit in-person contact with the outside world as much as possible to avoid contracting, or spreading, the virus.

Schaffer, a Sykesville resident, was searching for an animal that was relatively inexpensive and easy to take care of while she worked from home. In May, she adopted Aravis, a short-haired tortoiseshell cat, from the Humane Society of Carroll County.

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“I’m just so happy,” Schaffer said. “She’s one of the best things that’s ever happened considering all the rough spots people have had in 2020, me included.”

Aravis is named after Aravis Tarkheena, a character in “The Chronicles of Narnia” book series, Schaffer said. Aravis was a female member of the ruling class of Calormen, an empire in the southern world of Narnia.

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Schaffer, a self-described “book nerd,” said she has named most of her feline friends after Narnia characters in the past.

Metro Ferals of Maryland in Sykesville found a pregnant Aravis and took her to the Humane Society, where it was discovered that she had a severe sinus infection, ear worms, ear mites and roundworm. She was placed with a foster volunteer to receive more in-depth care and was due to be transported to a PetSmart in Pennsylvania after the foster period was over.

Schaffer said she had 24 hours to decide if she wanted to follow through with the adoption after seeing a picture of Aravis on the foster volunteer’s community Facebook page. The process to bring Aravis home was different from a regular animal adoption because it was finalized with no contact.

“It’s been night and day with her,” Schaffer said. “When I first got her, she was very skittish with a little bit of biting and scratching. We’ve worked with that and she’s calmed down. Her hair was very, very short and she was so tiny … her fur is so much thicker, healthier and longer now.”

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Karen Baker, executive director of the Humane Society of Carroll County, said the society had to take additional precautions to ensure the safety of the staff and the sheltered animals when the pandemic first arrived in March.

Since then, employees have had limited exposure with one another and many of the animals were able to be fostered out into the community to get acclimated to homes. Baker said spaying and neutering services were shut down because they are considered elective surgeries and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan strongly advised against performing these specific surgeries in his statewide restrictions.

Mason Loughran, an animal care tech, chases after Pokey, a dog rescued by the Humane Society of Carroll County, while getting exercise in the organization's play yard on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.
Mason Loughran, an animal care tech, chases after Pokey, a dog rescued by the Humane Society of Carroll County, while getting exercise in the organization's play yard on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

Animals cannot be adopted unless they are spayed or neutered, Baker said, so foster care has helped put some of these animals into temporary homes to await those procedures.

“We’ve made adoptions contactless,” Baker said. “We do showings outside for dogs and everything is by appointment only. Whether you’re surrendering an animal or adopting an animal, everything is by appointment. That doesn’t mean we can’t get you in on the same day, but we are trying to make sure that we have a limited amount of people in the building at a time.”

Baker said people are given specific instructions upon arriving at the facility. Those interested in adopting a dog are required to fill out an application and the Humane Society schedules an appointment for a meet-and-greet with the dog in an outdoor setting.

Adoptions for cats are similar, but there is a specific room inside the facility for cat adoptions to take place.

Baltimore Humane Society, located just over the Carroll County line on Nicodemus Road, is operating under similar circumstances.

“You can’t just come in and browse the shelter looking for an animal that strikes your fancy or kind of pulls at your heartstrings,” said Kate Pika, marketing and public relations director for the Baltimore Humane Society. “That’s just not happening anywhere.”

Anyone interested in adopting an animal is encouraged to fill out an application online, and the Baltimore Humane Society will schedule an appointment to come in and meet the animal. A thorough cleaning process is done within the facility every time someone enters and leaves the building.

The Baltimore Humane Society receives animals through partner organizations and Animal Control facilities across multiple counties. These shelters, among others, host pet food banks for families in temporary financial stress who are unable to pay for pet food.

“Initially we thought there was going to be an influx of people surrendering their animals,” Pika said. “I’m happy to report that that did not occur on a widespread basis. Part of that is, I think, because of these pet food banks.”

BMore Kind, the Baltimore Humane Society’s pet food bank, has been active since 2012, and Pika said the facility has seen an immense increase for these services during the pandemic because they want to provide for their animals, not give them up.

Baker said the Carroll County Humane Society has seen an increase in the adoption of small animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs as well. The staff has been steadily advising that new pet owners create a schedule for their furry friends so they can learn to adjust when the pandemic subsides and life goes back to normal.

“I think people are trying different things during this time to manage stress. We know pets have been proven to reduce stress levels in humans, and so what better when the whole world is falling apart around you to have a cat on your lap who just wants to be pet?” Baker said.

“What a great time to adopt a dog that will encourage you to get out and take a walk in the fresh air every day? I think people are drawn to animals because they are a natural stress-reducer.”

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