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Why Adoption Rates Are So Low Right Now
& What You Can Do To Help

By Sean-Patrick M. Hillman

We have all heard the stories of amazing acts of kindness by humans during the pandemic to help their fellow citizens get through a very difficult time in our history. I mean, who wanted to be locked in their homes for days, sometimes weeks, at a time? No one. Okay, maybe a shut-in or someone who is agoraphobic, but for the most part, society did not want to be locked in their homes. One of those amazing things that we all bore witness to was the lifelong dream that shelters and rescues have…completely empty cages at their facilities.

Yes, that actually happened. The only bright spot during the COVID-19 shutdowns for many of us in the animal rescue and advocacy communities was that so many animals who would have sat at a shelter or rescue went to loving and what we thought were responsible homes. And for about two, almost three, years all we heard about was how amazing it was that so many shelters were virtually empty.

From 2020 until 2023, the news was consistently reporting on how wonderful it was to see so many animals leaving these facilities and going into human homes. In other words, animals were not being euthanized to make space for more animals. Even foster programs grew during the pandemic wherein people who had never had a dog or a cat were willing to open their home to a furrever one in need. Instagram, Facebook, X and even TikTok saw significant upticks in posts about animals entering into new homes, experiencing new adventures and the like. It was a rescuer’s dream come true.

Then the human condition reared its ugly head. The pandemic ended with the promise that so-called “work from home” programs would now be the norm. For most of us who know how businesses work, and how corporations change their minds like a dog parent goes through poop bags, we knew this was never going to replace the behaviors we all exhibited prior to COVID-19’s debut.  

Eventually we started seeing more and more people returning to their desks at the office. Granted, at first it was only for a day or two, here and there. For the most part, these folks were actually still working from home. Then productivity reports started coming in on public companies as they reported their quarterly earnings. We all know how well that worked out for them. When corporations started realizing that the costs associated with their expensive office leases were being called into question by investors, and, in some cases, regulators, they decided that “work from home” wasn’t working for their bottom line. So, the demands from companies for their staff to return for more days at the office began. And it has picked up steam ever since with new demands and missives coming on a virtual daily basis from the Fortune 500 for their workers to return to the office full time, or at least four days a week.  

This is when things really started to unravel.  

Those folks who adopted at the top of the pandemic began sending their pets back to wherever they were adopted from. Most cited that they felt guilty that their dog was alone several days a week because they returned to work. Others cited that they had gotten in over their heads and didn’t realize how much work a dog is. Look, I have had a very successful marketing and journalism career that has dragged me all over the planet, sometimes for weeks at a time. Yet I have always had a dog, or two. In my early career, I was still responsible for dogs and a couple of cats at my family home as well. The citation by these people who returned these pets smacks of everything that is wrong with humanity. And I find it disgusting on every single level imaginable.

I must have seen a different, and more horrifying, report every single day on intakes and return rates at shelters and rescues increasing exponentially with each passing day. And with those days, the news got more and more grim. The anger and frustration that I went through during this time was not for the faint of heart. And I can tell you it certainly didn’t help my health. How could my fellow human beings be so callous and disgraceful? These folks brought an animal into their homes. They fed them. They nurtured them. They allowed that dog or cat to sleep in their beds, coddled them when they were sick or sad, and, in many cases, even saved their human parents from depression due to loneliness during the shutdowns. What was their thank you gift? Returning to the prison they had been adopted from with no hope of seeing them again.

You have to remember, a pet is not a clutch. They aren’t a pair of shoes you no longer find fashionable. They are a life. A sentient being that has feelings just like you or me. The simple fact that tens of thousands of animals were returned to shelters and rescues over the last two years makes me so angry I cannot even begin to explain. Therefore my disdain for humanity has become significant in the last 18 months. These poor animals have no idea why they’ve been abandoned by the people or families that they thought were part of their pack.

And while these new shelter and rescue population levels are outrageous and disconcerting to say the least, my biggest fear is that we have lost years of productivity in the advocacy space. Rather than continuing the fight for animal rights, we are now back to fighting to get the most basic populations back into loving homes; a hurdle we had crossed almost a decade ago but now have to jump over again.  

However, there is one bright spot on the horizon that you are going to think I am crazy (if you don’t already) for being so focused on; Best Friends Animal Society’s goal of a no-kill nation by 2025. That means we have about a year to a year and a half to make their dream become a reality. And I don’t think we can do it. I KNOW WE CAN. 

Yes, when it comes to Best Friends I am incredibly biased. That is why this story is in not in another part of this issue. That is why it is in my “The Final Word” opinion-column format that has become so popular at New York Lifestyles Magazine. It is MY opinion. MY final word on matters that mean so much to me...and those I serve; our readers. And Best Friends means the world to this journalist for so many reasons. The most important being that they have always done what they said they were going to do with respect to our furrever friends. They are dedicated. They are relentless in their pursuit of that no-kill nation goal. Best Friends Animal Society, to me, is the perfect example of what humanity should be known for; compassion, love, concern and integrity.

Best Friends’ CEO, Julie Castle, was kind enough to be on the cover of our first cover of Pet Lifestyles Magazine when we re-launched last year. Yes, I have known Julie for a long time. Since then, folks from their PR department like Alina Hauptman and Erinn O’Connor have become daily email pals with a mission…to help Best Friends Animal Society reach that goal. And now you are going to join us on this journey to help Best Friends achieve their goal by volunteering, donating, adopting, fostering or just spreading the word about the need for more adoption. You can do this either through or visit your local shelter or rescue and lend a paw. Or, you can also go back to the issue with Julie on the cover and look at the rescue and shelter database that we have there. Why? Because I know our readers are some of the most loving and responsible people on Earth. And I think you’re all pawesome for it!