February 11, 2022 2:10:36 pm
The pandemic has been life-altering for people across the globe, restricting them to the confines of their homes and inflicting endless suffering. There have also been four-legged silent sufferers who witnessed abandonment, loss and grief in the last two years.
The virus entered into our lives with a lot of uncertainty, confusion and fear. With limited awareness and increasing panic during the first wave of the pandemic, there was a sharp increase in people abandoning their pets, leaving them to fend for themselves. According to the first-ever survey of Pet Homelessness in nine countries by Mars Petcare India, 50 per cent of pet parents abandoned their pets from the start of the pandemic to now.
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Misinformation and fear
Misinformation about a possible infection of the virus through pets, alongside limited availability of food supplies for pets, led many parents to abandon their pets. “There was a steep increase in abandonment during the first wave of the pandemic when people were in utmost fear and were completely clueless about the Covid-19 virus. We were getting over 50 calls a week from people who were found scared, hungry, miserable pet dogs on the street,” Priya Hebbar, co-founder, YODA- Animal Rehab Centre, told indianexpress.com.
Agreed Alokparna Sengupta, managing director, HSI India. “It is not only from pet parents but also from breeders. We have heard from our partner organizations where breeders had abandoned their animals outside their shelter. During the first lockdown in 2020, it was due to misinformation that cats and dogs could spread COVID-19. We have had heartbreaking incidents of families leaving their pets, many old, in dump yards and driving away while these animals wait for their families to come back or get bullied by street dogs,” she said.
“These dogs had no clue how to fend for themselves on the street. They were starving, getting hit by vehicles, getting into fights with other dogs; they were frightened. Dogs including Pugs and Bernards were in misery due to the added heat. It was a mess — our shelter was overfull, and our vets were overworked,” Hebbar added.
After the first lockdown, however, the situation for pets got better, with stability and awareness settling in, experts working for animal welfare explained.
Impulse purchase and regret
As the virus shut people into their homes, depriving them of their routine social life, pets became their companions. Across countries, people rushed to adopt pets to keep them company and offer them love and warmth. In America alone, more than 23 million households, which is nearly 1 in 5 nationwide, adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
The number equals nearly 23 million newly adopted pets in less than two years. That must sound like a piece of good news, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t! “More and more people have purchased pets during the pandemic since they were working from home. However, when the situation got a bit better and offices opened up, we got requests for rehoming because they couldn’t manage pets anymore,” Aditi Nair, chairperson, Mypalclub Foundation said.
According to Nair, cases of sheltering requests were mainly from pet parents who had purchased the pets instead of adopting them. “When adoptions happen, NGOs take care of the fact that the animals are going to good homes. But, in the case of the purchase and selling of animals, there’s no regulation and nobody’s looking at what’s happening to animals. Those are the cases that are coming for adoption. It’s kind of an impulse purchase. I’m seeing a lot of sheltering happening for animals those were purchased.”
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The Mars India survey added that despite the increase in pet ownership amid the Covid-19 pandemic, realistic considerations including housing limitations, financial limitations, practical barriers and lack of behavioural awareness about stray pets led people to buy breed dogs and cats instead of adopting them from animal shelters.
While some sheltered their pets by contacting the NGOs, many abandoned them without a thought. “We found quite a few Persian cats on the roads. Some of these were sick, too. When animals fall sick, people generally don’t know what to do. They end up abandoning them. We found quite a few such animals during the pandemic,” Nair added.
Hebbar stressed the importance of commitment and dedication while bringing home a pet. “Until one is sure about dedicating themselves to look after the pet every step of the way, getting one home should be avoided.”
Loss and grief
The pandemic not only made many children orphans, but a number of pets, too. The virus, especially during the second wave, took the lives of approximately 5 lakh people since March 2020, who left behind their grieving families and four-legged companions.
“We had over 40 cases of dogs and cats at our centre last year who were there because their owners passed away due to the pandemic. It was heartbreaking. The good news is that they have all found loving families and are super happy in their new homes,” Hebbar informed.
HSI India’s managing director added, “One of our partner organisations were providing kennel space to animals whose families tested positive for COVID-19 and many had to be rehomed or be given to extended families when they lost their immediate families.”
Stray animals during the pandemic
While the pets were increasingly abandoned, strays went through immense suffering, too. “During the initial part of the pandemic, due to the restrictions, there were a lot of people who weren’t getting food to feed the strays and there was panic, so a lot of strays went hungry that time,” Nair said.
Agreed Hebbar, “The roads were empty, there was no access to food, 1000s of dogs were starving for days. Try to feed your stray dogs, get them sterilised vaccinated and health checked by your local NGO. Just that little care towards your community dogs can go a long way.”
The animal welfare workers asked pet parents to be responsible and committed towards their pets. Further, they emphasised the importance of taking them on regular walks, getting them checked when they fall sick and stocking food and other necessary supplies for them in case of restrictions.
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