Kent County sees more fosters, few ‘pandemic pet’ returns

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Two years into the pandemic, the rush to adopt a pet has slowed and there hasn’t been much rush to return “pandemic pets” — at least in Kent County.

“We saw a lot of residents working from home (at the start of the pandemic), so we had an increase in adoptions. It was really nice,” Angela Hollinshead, Kent County Animal Shelter division director, said.

The increase in adoptions and the uncertainty of the pandemic’s length led the shelter to prepare for what the adoptions looked like a year or two later, Hollinshead said. Would the animals be returned?

“So we braced ourselves just because it was really an event that we had never experienced before,” she said.

To the shelter’s surprise, the return rate for adopted animals has been low. In the past year, Hollinshead said the shelter saw a return rate of about 4% to 8% and it is continuing to stay low as the intensity of the pandemic eases.

It’s a bit of an anomaly: Many shelters across the country are seeing a high return rate. Hollinshead said Kent County’s animal-focused nature has limited the problem here.

“There are people who adopt, which is fantastic, and even people who purchase pets. I think that the type of community we live in really values ​​that companionship with their pets. Looking at that, it gives that opportunity for people to really want to work through changes in their life and try to create an environment where they can keep their pet versus having to really push a good shelter, find a new home,” she said.


During the pandemic, many people who were either unable to adopt or didn’t want to take on a pet long-term stepped up to foster animals from the shelter, Hollinshead said.

“Prior to the pandemic, we largely had no foster ability. Our foster program was purely a product of the pandemic,” she said.

The pandemic pushed the shelter to get as many animals out of the facility as possible and put them in foster homes due of staff restrictions and virus concerns. With more fosters stepping up, most animals were able to be placed in homes rather than living at the shelter.

With foster families, the animals get more one-on-one care and an environment that allows them to relax more. This also provides a “wealth of information about their behavior (and) their temperament,” Hollinshead said.

“It also really helps any animals that are sick or injured or recovering from surgery,” she added. “That foster program allows us to take really good care of those pets because they’re not in the shelter setting, they’re in a home setting. They’re less anxious, more relaxed and they can receive around-the-clock care from their foster families.”

Moving out of the pandemic and into more normal circumstances, the shelter hopes to continue its foster program.

“Ideally, we’d like to have a big group of fosters who have no other pets because we do get animals in who would be good fits for foster but don’t necessarily do really well with cats or dogs, sometimes they can have some resource guarding issues,” Hollinshead said. “Those aren’t things that would not allow us to find them a forever home, but they are things that are a little more specific, need-wise, when it comes to the environment they are going to be staying in.”

Anyone who is interested in becoming a foster or adopting a pet from the Kent County Animal Shelter can visit the shelter’s website.

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