One of the few bright spots of the COVID crisis? A surge of shelter animals are finding their forever homes.

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tiny brown puppy sleeping
Photo Courtesy Alyssa Hull
| Credit: Photo Courtesy Alyssa Hull

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