Want to be a new pet owner during COVID-19? You’re not alone. LA shelters see spike in fosters

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Roxy Peykamian’s 3-year-old domestic short-haired cat Ghillie, who she fostered from the Stray Cat Alliance. Photo courtesy of Peykamian.

The last thing Roxy Peykamian expected to find during the COVID-19 pandemic was love. 

At least until Ghillie walked into her life. 

“It just seemed like almost a sign. … I'll be able to build a relationship with her while still working from home,” she says. “[It’d] be good to have a little friend wandering around the apartment during this time of extreme uncertainty.” 

Before COVID-19, Peykamian’s biggest priority was adjusting to life in Southern California. The 23-year-old moved from North Carolina to Los Angeles less than a year ago.

She had always yearned for a specific type of emotional connection — one she could never exactly put her finger on. But when she met Ghillie, everything fell into place. 

“I expected to have at least a little bit of a learning curve with having a cat for the first time, but we were immediately best friends. She was licking my face within 10 minutes of meeting me, and I just completely fell in love.”

Ghillie is a 3-year-old domestic short-haired cat she decided to foster from the Stray Cat Alliance, an LA-based cat rescue organization. 

Within 48 hours of meeting her dark-haired beauty, Peykamian was smitten. She decided to adopt Ghillie. 

She says her new roommate not only helps structure her time, but helps keep her company while socially isolating.

“When you're spending a lot of time alone not interacting with anyone, having a creature that is breathing, that depends on you to take care of it is one, an honor — the fact that I get to take care of a beautiful little kitty — but two, it gives me purpose to my day.”

In the second week of March, as businesses and schools shut down, people all over America, like Peykamian, rushed to take in new pets. According to PetPoint, a data system for animal wellness agencies, pet fostering nearly doubled that week. The week after saw an additional 80% increase.

It’s a surge staff at the Pasadena Humane Society and SPCA has seen firsthand, according to foster program manager Chris Ramon.

As COVID-19 started to make its way through Southern California, he worried Angelenos wouldn’t be thinking about pet fostering and adoptions. Plus, shelter staff needed to reduce their numbers to safely social distance. 

So he turned to social media, posting cute pictures of unhoused cats and dogs at the shelter. 

The result of their effort left Ramon awestruck. 

By the end of March, its foster program received more than 1500 emails, all asking how to foster an animal, according to Ramon.

“It was amazing to see that first wave of emails that came in that said, ‘I'm being asked to stay home for the next two or three weeks because of COVID-19. ... Let me go ahead and foster an animal.’ They knew that we needed the help. It was really as simple as just really putting out a plea for help, and then responding to people as they reached out to us.”

Chris Ramon is the foster manager at the Pasadena Humane Society and SPCA. 

But what is it about animals that’s caused the spike in fosters? According to USC Clinical Professor Karen North, as we’re taking care of them, they might also be taking care of us. 

“Bringing in an animal is one way of meeting some emotional needs and providing emotional support for those of us who are in distress, which is pretty much everybody these days,” she says.

North wants to make sure, though, that pet adopters are not taking on more than they can handle. Sometimes overwhelmed people are not the best pet parents.

“In times of distress, people are more drawn to try to take on a pet, because they think that they need it. And they forget that although their needs are being met, they also have to give back and actually care for a living thing.”

A dog at the Pasadena Humane Society. 

Caring for an animal can also help those who work with animals professionally. 

Mara Rodriguez is a zookeeper at the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College. She works daily with animals such as tigers, hyenas and monkeys.

Alongside staff members and student volunteers, she’s been taking care of more than 100 animals since COVID-19 all but shut down campus. 

“I feel so blessed that I’m around this group of animals that has no idea what’s going on in the world. ... Their reality is … what’s happening here and their day-to-day life here.”

The pandemic has returned Rodriguez to a back-to-basics approach, working hands-on with animals on a daily basis. She recently took a pair of goats for a walk that helped change her perspective on the global situation. 

“I haven’t felt that much joy in my heart in so long because of the unfortunate events that surround all of us right now,” she says. “I just forgot about them for a good 20 minutes, as I ran around the zoo with these goats who were funny, and eating their yams and carrots like it was the greatest tasting thing they ever had.”

Going into work is a reminder that there’s more to life than just COVID-19. 

“There are so many good things around us in this world. ... I am grateful to interact with all these animals and just look in their eyes and see hope and see that everything is going to be okay.”

For Rodriguez, it’s comforting to know that in our time of need, our four-legged friends have got our backs — whether that’s a cat, dog, or even goat.