Jenny O'Rouke, right, walks Fred, her second foster dog, along with her daughter, Nora Tiffen, 17, and their dog, Oreo, on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, on their block on Lombard Avenue in Oak Park, Ill. Fred was recently adopted and will go to his forever home on Saturday, March 13, 2021. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

During the past year, everyone has found themselves spending more time at home than normal. A lot more time. When stay-at-home orders were enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some people used the extra time at home to perfect new recipes. Others cleaned out their closets, kitchen cabinets and basements. 

As the pandemic went on and health advisories continued to urge people to stay at home, quite a few people looked at their lives and realized they had the time for something else they’d always wanted to do and brought a pet into their homes.

Kira Robson, executive director of Oak Park’s Animal Care League, states that a typical pre-pandemic day saw about two to three adoption applications. During the pandemic, that number has risen to five to 10. Robson says that large numbers of people have been adopting pets this year for a few reasons.

One reason? Suddenly wide-open schedules. She said the pandemic opened up the floodgates for busy people. People who used to be busy all day with commutes, work and family life suddenly had a lot more time on their hands as all extracurricular activities were cancelled, and everything that had to be done was done from home. Robson notes that interest in pets skyrocketed when people realized they weren’t going back to the office anytime soon.

On top of more time, people also found something was lacking in their at-home lifestyles. 

“We saw a combination of life slowing down and people realizing they couldn’t be around people anymore,” Robson said.

The pandemic highlighted a need for companionship, and pets happened to be a safe way to have that experience. 

“We all have a need for bonding,” she said. “We’ve been forced to disconnect from each other as humans, but we need companionship. The human-animal bond is getting its moment in the sun.”

New practices

On top of a lot of new interest in adoptions, Robson says that the Animal Care League, like most businesses, had to rethink its practices to keep staff and volunteers safe. The organization relies on dedicated staff and volunteers to man its clinic and take care of the animals. Now, they had to take of the pets and the people, making sure that there weren’t too many people in the clinic at one time.

Noting that the clinic is in a small, older building, Robson said they had to assign volunteers into A and B teams and reduce the number in the building since the care of animals is not work that can be done remotely.

The Animal Care League also had to close their doors to the general public, which put a damper on their in-person adoption process. The services of the Animal Care League are considered essential, so the agency pivoted quickly to Zoom and Facetime pet adoptions. 

“Initially, I thought this wouldn’t work,” Robson said. “I thought no one was going to connect to an animal over a computer. But we found doing the initial meet and greets via Zoom or FaceTime was much less stressful for our animals.”

The animals were in their natural habitats without the intrusion of an unknown visitor, which Robson says allowed the adopting families to get a better sense of the animals’ real personalities. She also said it was a better process for pets who are shy and might not immediately warm up to an in-person meeting.

Another change is where the animals are coming from. Robson says that the Animal Care Leagues is a local organization that usually takes in strays from seven nearby communities. They have been able to expand that with the heightened demand for animals.

Fostering

Oak Parker Jenny O’Rourke and her family decided during the pandemic that the time was finally right to foster a dog. Already the owners of a dog, they weren’t certain about bringing a new pet into their family permanently. The family turned to fostering because, O’Rourke says, “We’ve been in a bit of a funk because of COVID.”

The family typically travels over the holidays to see O’Rourke’s parents, and since they couldn’t this year, they needed something to cheer up the kids. She saw a social media post about Mobile Mutts Rescue, a foster organization that matches families with fosters and then facilitates the adoption of those fosters.

She and her daughter Nora picked up their first foster, an 8-week-old puppy, right before the holidays and kept him for a month. When it came time to send him on to his forever home, O’Rourke got to participate in interviewing potential families, who had already been vetted by Mobile Mutts. She says it was so rewarding to see him with his new family.

After the exhaustion of teaching a new puppy manners and getting up with him during the night, they planned to take a break from fostering. Then, they saw a photo of Fred, an adult dog who had never lived in a home before but was fed scraps by people in the small Kentucky town where he was found. Fred is now happily ensconced in their home for a while.


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Mobile Mutts provides medical care, including spaying and neutering the animals, and also provides training guidelines. It is up to foster families to offer the love and gentle guidance the rescued pets need.

While O’Rourke says there are many “foster fails” or animals who end up being adopted by their foster families. That has not been the case with her family. She notes that before deciding to foster she discussed with her three children that they were not doing this to find a second pet, and she says setting expectations before deciding to foster is key.

At the Animal Care League, applications to foster are up 79 percent and Robson says that the need for foster families is still great. 

How You Can Help

The Animal Care League has many ways you can help. Foster needs range anywhere from temporary housing to long term/hospice needs. The Animal Care Leagues needs fosters who have dog experience and may be willing to help with dogs needing a bit of extra training or attention as well as fosters who may be willing to help with medical cases or neonatal kittens. 

People interested in becoming a foster can email foster@animalcareleague.org or fill out an application by visiting animalcareleague.org and clicking the “Foster Program” link on the home page. 

Robson says that the pandemic has also made it difficult for some pet owners to support their pets, and the Animal Care League can offer support through their Pets & People Support Program. 

A link to request pet food through the Animal Care League’s Pets & People Support Program can be found at animalcareleague.org/ppsp-info.html.

People who would like to help by donating to the Pets & People Support Program can email support@animalcareleague.org or visit the program’s Wishlist at https://a.co/3TjS1xo

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