When Chicago’s stay-at-home order went into effect in March 2020, Alyssa Hull and her three roommates were looking for a safe way to help others in need. So they decided to take in a teenage mother: They brought home Mac, a two-year-old shelter dog who needed a foster home before she gave birth. Mac was one of the few animals at their local shelter who hadn’t been scooped up in the foster craze that coincided with COVID-19 lockdowns in the U.S.
Since March, animal shelters, usually desperate for volunteers, have found themselves with waiting lists of first-timers looking for something to take their minds off the new normal. Hull was one of them. She called One Tail at a Time, an adoption center in Chicago, where cofounder Heather Owen was seeing a remarkable number of requests for fosters. “Normally, 200 applications in one week would be a lot for us,” says Owen. “During the first two weeks of ‘shelter in place,’ we received over 2,000 applications to foster animals.” In June, they placed a record 174 animals.
This reflects an “enormous and unprecedented” national trend, says Christa Chadwick, vice president of Shelter Services at the ASPCA. In the first weeks of quarantine, the organization saw a 70-percent year-over-year increase in animals going into foster care through its NYC and Los Angeles programs. It also showed a 400-percent increase in online foster applications during the first two months of the pandemic.
While the spike is surprising, the reasons behind it aren’t: According to the CDC, walking and playing with pets decreases blood pressure, alleviates worry, and provides comfort. And, especially during crises, pets give us purpose. “Since March, I’ve noticed that people live with the feeling that something is wrong and there’s nothing they can do about it,” says Hull. “I needed to channel that energy. This was something I could do about my immediate circumstances.”
Three days after Mac arrived, she began panting and circling the blankets Hull had set out. After a few hours, the first of five puppies made its debut. “We were all trying to work from home with a living room full of puppies. It was an awesome, stressful chaos,” says Hull, laughing. “We had to designate a ‘Zoom room’ in order to focus! But whenever I needed comfort, I just had to decide which puppy to pick up.”
This article originally appeared in our Holiday 2020 issue. Get the magazine here