The Covid-19 pandemic has made it difficult for people to rescue or rehome a dog or cat. This applies to both the rescue centres and for those who would like to offer a new home to a deserving pet.
The Government has issued guidelines on social distancing which the rescue sector has to follow. During lockdown, all centres were required to close but many have set up new, temporary arrangements. These include ‘virtual’ viewing and making appointments for prospective owners to be linked up, to provide pets with new homes.
As centres begin to re-open, their ability to follow the Government guidelines will dictate the speed that they are able to do so. However, most rescue centres can now offer a different way of finding ‘forever homes’ for their cats and dogs.
Getting to know each other
Coronavirus forced all UK animal rehoming centres to close and the Government has issued guidelines to the sector to ensure that their staff, the public and the interests of the animals, are all protected as much as possible.
These rehoming guidelines were devised by the ‘Canine and Feline Sector Group’, which is made up from a number of organisations which advise the Government on welfare issues, and they have been approved by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
As potential adopters have been unable to come to the centres to meet and to take a close look at the cats and dogs, a number of centres have set up virtual viewing facilities with real-time webcam or recorded video footage, to allow potential owners to get to know the animals, and to be able to ask questions.
While this may be an unfamiliar approach, many rescue organisations have placed a large number of cats and dogs with temporary foster homes. This offers potential owners the added benefit of being able to see and understand how the cat or dog is behaving, in the more normal environment of a home setting rather than in the usual rescue centre arrangement.
Now we have all discovered more of our innate digital skills, rescue centres can ask us to take them on a video walk-through of the homes that we are offering. This ensures that they are matching animals to suitable homes – something that might not have been so easy just a few short months ago.
Keeping everyone safe
The major rehoming charities now all offer a broadly similar system for matching pets and new owners. This relies on virtual viewing of the pets, following the completion of a ‘matching-form’. A discussion by telephone or video-calling, is followed by a virtual home inspection and then a home delivery of the cat or dog to their ‘forever home’.
Of course, the first priority must be to keep everyone safe. To make this easier, this handover process must be conducted following social distancing rules. Cats are usually delivered in secure cat carriers, while dogs can be handed over in gardens or any secure, outdoor areas, whilst maintaining the regular social distancing rules. As the lockdown eases, and the social distancing regulations change, so will the requirements for a safe handover.
Rehoming fees are now routinely conducted by card payments over the phone.
After that, the important process of ongoing support will be conducted remotely.
Crisis driven situation
Not all pets that have been surrendered to rescue centres have ended up there because of neglect, and this pandemic has affected thousands of households in different ways. For many families, the need to seek new homes for their pets has been unavoidable and each separation is heart-breaking for all involved. Of course, the tragedy affects the cats and dogs too, in as many different ways. For some of them, the separation from their owners is just a temporary necessity due to health issues for their owners. Many rescue organisations have met this need by seeking foster homes to care for the pets, until their owners are restored to health. Sadly, ongoing health issues, financial difficulties and even bereavement, mean that it won’t always possible for the cat or dog to go home again.
Not everyone will want to take on the long-term commitment of rehoming a pet but many people have met the need to offer a temporary foster home. The ‘vetting’ process, to ensure that a foster home meets the animal’s welfare needs, remains the same as that for adoption.
These last few months have been immensely stressful for many of us, with possible long-term effects for our health and livelihoods. There have also been a number of changes in the ways we all behave and some of these may yet last for some time, even when the pandemic has become a distant memory.
The challenges of having all the family at home day and night, in a space that isn’t always conducive to a relaxed way of life, should not be underestimated. This applies both to people and their pets. In just the same way that stress-related behaviour in people has become more apparent, so have behavioural problems become more prevalent in some of our pets.
Changes in our own social behaviour have sometimes brought about a reduction in, or even the total absence of, normal exercise patterns. This, together with stressful situations like home- schooling or unemployment, has significantly increased behavioural problems in some of our pets.
Support with on-going problems
In some cases, these problems have contributed to a larger number of pets being surrendered for rehoming. In others, issues like ‘separation-anxiety’ and associated behaviours, can increase as people begin to return to a new-normal, with the stresses that the post-lockdown period may produce.
Rehoming centres have the greatest experience of seeing cats and dogs reacting to stressful situations, and are able to offer considerable advice, to help prevent more animals being surrendered. They also have the experience to help with those that are settling-in to new homes: whether they may be temporary foster homes or their new ‘forever homes’.