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Fosters needed to help with a deluge of pet surrenders to the Calgary Humane Society

The Calgary Humane Society is at full capacity and they’re actively seeking foster homes for dogs.

The waitlist of dog surrenders is growing with the return of pups not accustomed to their owners being back at work.

With lockdowns and pandemic-related restrictions, more people were working from home.

According to a report released last summer by the Royal Veterinary College, 86 per cent of participants felt their decision to purchase a puppy was influenced by the pandemic. With more time on their hands, many people could care for a dog without the added stressors of pre-COVID life.

Sally Johnston, manager of animal operations at the Calgary Humane Society, said the lives of animals were significantly impacted by the pandemic. And now, the apparent endemic.

“The waitlist [of surrenders] is quite significantly long,” Johnston said.

“The one thing that seems to be pretty consistent amongst the animals on that waitlist are some behavioural challenges.”

Pandemic puppies and separation anxiety

Now, as more people return to work, a lot of “pandemic puppies” haven’t been conditioned to spend time alone. Many puppies adopted during the pandemic became accustomed to their owner being home nearly 24/7. 

This could negatively impact development and lead to separation anxiety, and a slew of behavioural issues, according to Concordia University.

Another survey by Science Direct found respondents in lockdown or quarantine were 1.8 times more likely to indicate a behavioural change in their dog. This is compared to those not facing pandemic-related restrictions. 

“It’s hard to say for sure what exactly has caused that increase [in surrenders], but the one thing that we can see consistently is these behavioural challenges,” Johnston said.

“It doesn’t sound like it’s just us. It’s not unique to Calgary. It sounds like this might be provincial, and even nationwide.”

In March 2021, the Humane Society took in 42 dogs. In March 2022, they took in 67. From Jan. 1 to April 5, 2021, they took in 145 dogs. This year, they’ve already taken in 205 in the same timeframe.

Increasing demands put strain on resources

Another factor impacting the Calgary Humane Society is its building renovations.

“Our building renovation put us down to half of our capacity. And then the flip side of that is that we’ve actually increased our intakes from this time last year,” she said.

The renovations will be beneficial for animals. The growing pains, however, are causing heartache, Johnston said.

Johnston said the increasing demands on the waitlist mean they must get animals adopted very quickly. They rely on adopters and foster parents to provide animals with good homes. The faster an animal is taken out of the shelter, the more free space, and the more animals that can be helped.

“With half our kennel space, but continuing to exceed expectations … we’re doing more than what we really can be, which is good,” Johnston said.

“While we continue to meet the emergent needs of the community, that [surrender] list is just growing longer and longer,” she said.

Fostering involves every emotion on the horizon: Stewart

Heather Stewart has been a foster for nearly 15 years. She said she has helped hundreds of animals.

“[Being a foster] is lovely. It’s brilliant. I’ve had wonderful moments. I’ve had sad moments … You think your heart’s gonna break and fall out, and you realize it’s always for the best. But you move on and you take care of the next little ones and away you go. It’s wonderful,” Stewart said.

She said fostering appealed to her because it can be done on her hours, in her house, on her own terms. With a lot going on in her life, it’s ideal to help animals while having it fit her schedule. 

“That’s the biggest benefit, is your ability to give what you can, when you can, in whatever situation you have. It comes down to what you want to do. Any person who’s interested in fostering, a foster can be found to fit their situation,” she said.

Stewart said fostering is a great way to get the benefits of taking care of an animal. Fosters come from all sorts of situations and backgrounds and range from teenagers to seniors. It provides people with the experience of owning a pet without the financial and time commitment. 

It’s also extremely beneficial for the animals, she said.

“The sheer number of animals that can be taken care of that are in a home situation and not in a cage is beneficial to everybody on every level,” Stewart said.

“Any animal that can be socialized in a home environment is so much more adoptable than the poor little guy who has been sitting in a cage for weeks.”

The best place for an animal is to be in a home: Johnston

The Calgary Humane Society offers a wide variety of owner supports. People can call at no charge about challenges they and their pet are facing. They also offer behavioural training.

Finding a solution as early as possible to mitigate behavioural challenges is important to keep animals in good homes, Johnston said.

“At the end of the day, the best place for an animal is to be in a home,” Johnston said.

Here at the shelter, the ratio of staff to animals is maybe about four animals to one staff member. In a foster home it’s one-to-one, so they get that much needed attention.”

Anyone can be a foster so long as they live in a pet-friendly home and have access to a vehicle.

Johnston said regardless of knowledge and experience, they welcome anybody who would like to foster. The Humane Society trains future fosters to have the appropriate skills and resources to care for animals.

“We provide every single supply that people need. They will work with our dedicated foster team so they’re not left wondering what they’re going to do with this pet. Or worried that if anything should happen that they’re stuck with this animal, we will always take them back immediately,” she said.

Johnston said fostering is a great way to help out the community and experience what it’s like owning an animal without the full-blown commitment.

“It really takes the stress and pressure off of us when we have this wonderful animal to come home to, so fostering really does that in a great, holistic way. Where you’re checking off every single front, you’re helping the community, you’re helping yourself and you’re helping that animal in need,” she said.

Anyone interested in fostering for the Calgary Humane Society can apply on their website. Johnston said there is always a need for additional help.