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Local News

McHenry County shelters see uptick in pet adoptions amid COVID-19 stay-at-home order

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Stanley isn’t a bad dog, he just needed “a little bit of work,” Helping Paws Animal Shelter President Donna Matejka said.

Stanley had been at the Woodstock animal shelter for more than a year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Even when the prospect of adoption seemed hopeful for Stanley, the younger, more spry dogs in the kennels beside him always seemed to win over families’ hearts.

But an unprecedented spike in animal adoption during Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order means Stanley and almost every other cat and dog in the shelter have found their forever homes.

“Everyone in droves came in and adopted out pretty much our whole kennel,” Matejka said. “Even cats that have been here for literally years and years and years are being adopted.”

It isn’t only Helping Paws that’s noticed an uptick in animal adoption.

On Angels’ Wings in Crystal Lake has continued to schedule adoptions by appointment as the demand for rescued pets reaches an all-time high, Executive Director Jeannette Hager said.

“People have time right now,” she said. “They know it’s a good time, when you have a new pet, to spend time with it. They’re quarantined, and they’re thinking, ‘I’ve always wanted a puppy.’ ”

The shelter is home to about 40 cats and dogs, all of which have been placed in foster homes since the stay-at-home order was announced. Rescues such as Helping Paws and On Angels’ Wings usually receive animals from kill shelters downstate or throughout the southern part of the country, where interest in adoption also has piqued, Hager said.

Recently, the animals at those shelters are adopted before they ever reach the northwest suburbs, she said.

With fewer animals coming in from out of the state, shelters have partnered with McHenry County Animal Control while the county agency is closed to the public.

“We have less coming in, but as soon as they get in, they go real fast,” Matejka said.

When Crystal Lake police officer Brian Harvatt responded to a call reporting an abandoned puppy, he half-jokingly messaged his wife asking if she wanted a dog.

“We already have one dog and wanted another, so we decided to contact animal control about fostering her,” said Harvatt’s wife, Alyssa Harvatt. “We were able to foster her through the mandatory stray hold and then officially adopted her when the stray hold was up.”

From then on, the 5-month-old pitbull mix, Nellie, has become a permanent fixture in the Harvatt family.

“She’s so playful and snuggly,” Alyssa Harvatt said. “I’m a nursing student at [Northern Illinois University] and all my classes and clinicals got switched to online, so it’s been weird being stuck at home all the time. It’s nice to have her here to keep me busy.”

Rachel Hale of Huntley also was happy to have found the newest addition to her family – a 3-year-old golden retriever and Labrador mix named Clark. It was Clark’s “sweet, loyal eyes” that drew Hale to him at Animal House Shelter in Huntley, she said.

“He came right to us and even jumped right into my back seat,” Hale said.

When Clark isn’t playfully chasing the family’s three cats or playing with his favorite toy – a stuffed yeti – he enjoys playing outside and taking turns sleeping with each of Hale’s three children.

“I thought it would bring us all much joy in this very difficult time,” Hale said. “Better time than any.”

Although potential pet owners have more time on their hands now, shelters are doing their best to prevent a surge of relinquishments once life returns to relative normalcy.

“We try to make sure that it’s not just because of this COVID thing and they’re bored and want to adopt a puppy,” Matejka said.

Before adopting a pet, Matejka and Hager agreed that people should consider what their typical schedule looked like before the COVID-19 pandemic and whether they’ll be able to keep up with their pet’s care should the pandemic settle down.

“It’s really important that we look past this a little bit and see if their lifestyle is suitable for a dog or a puppy or even a cat,” Matejka said. “We want to make sure it’s not just boredom that they’re looking at and that everyone can be happy.”

As for pet care, Animal Hospital of McHenry veterinarian Tammy Schmitt said she’s seen an increase in stress-induced illness in her cat and dog patients.

“We deal with animals with anxiety all the time,” she said. “We will recommend websites, trainers, behaviorists and even nutraceuticals and medications. There are lots of methods that can help. Even exercise is a great mood stabilizer in animals.

“I also recommend toys that offer mental stimulation to help with stress. Some can even be made with items you have around the house.”

Based on the limited information available at the time, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although it appears COVID-19 can spread from people to animals in some situations, it is most likely that cats and dogs are “dead-end hosts” and only will display mild symptoms, Schmitt said.

“We do recommend to limit contact of pets with sick family members,” she said. “We recommend a healthy person in the household to take care of the pet. If that is not possible, limit contact with pets and wash your hands before and after contact.”

In an effort to help sick or hospitalized pet owners, a Caledonia boarding company, B&B Canine, is offering its services for free to ill customers. Since business has slowed while people statewide are homebound, owner Amy Kurth decided to put her kennels to good use and help pet owners as they recover.

“We sit on 12 acres,” Kurth said. “We have two kennel buildings and tons of yards for the dogs to be outside for the rest of the day so they’re not sitting in kennels.”

Animals who do require veterinary care still can receive it with curbside visits at some animal hospitals, including Schmitt’s. The Animal Hospital of McHenry is limiting surgery and dental procedures to conserve essentials such as masks, gloves and anesthesia medication that might be in short supply, Schmitt said.

But if there’s a bright side to any of the current situation, it might be that fewer animals are being left to fend for themselves.

“I will say that rescues and shelters are having record adoptions and volunteer fosters,” Schmitt said. “Some people are finding it hard to find a pet. This is a good problem to have.”

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