Amid Pandemic, New Jerseyans Turn to Pet Adoption

Local shelters and rescues have reported record-low levels of animals awaiting homes.

Amelia and Jesse Slover with their new puppy, Mia. Stephanie Steinmetz Photography

One silver—or rather, furry—lining to Governor Phil Murphy’s stay-at-home order has been an increase in pet adoptions throughout the state.

As New Jersey residents adhere to social-distancing measures, many are turning to dogs and cats to fill their days and bring fresh sources of love and companionship into their lives. Area shelters and rescues have reported record-low levels of animals awaiting homes.

For Amelia and Jesse Slover, new residents of North Brunswick, the timing was right. Unemployed and unable to find a job due to the Covid-19 crisis, Amelia realized that she now had the time to train and raise a puppy with her husband, who has been working from home. They located their new pet at Animal Haven, a shelter in Manhattan.

“We adopted Mia, a 6-month-old mix, in mid-March,” Amelia says. “We knew it would make a difference for us, the shelter, and most importantly, our dog.

“Having a dog has helped reduce my anxiety dramatically,” she says. “An energetic big puppy gets us out of the house for exercise and socializing—from a safe distance—with neighbors in this new neighborhood. We’ve both lost weight, gained friendships and are spending more time outside thanks to Mia.”

Alexandra Hoffmann and Christopher Unis with their new puppy, Jameson.

Alexandra Hoffmann and Christopher Unis of West Orange always knew they wanted to add a second dog to their family—but first, they thought, would come a wedding and honeymoon. Covid-19, however, changed everything. On the same day they arranged to postpone their June 12 wedding, they received a call from a foster family that a Bernese Mountain puppy was available.

“We were so bummed that our wedding was postponed, but after we picked up Jameson, none of that mattered anymore,” Hoffmann says. “All that matters is that we have each other, our health—and now we have our little family to bring us joy and companionship during this time. If we can get through this, we can be stronger than ever!”

John Borbi and his new pup, Miller. Courtesy of Kailah Ginder

For others, finding a furry friend has not been easy—especially because current demand has been so high.

Kailah Ginder, an interior design student from Collingswood, and John Borbi, an attorney, submitted more than 12 applications to different rescues and shelters but kept coming up short. Finally they found Miller, a 5-month-old pointer/hound mix, on the Peace4Paws Instagram account. “We applied right then.” Five days later, Miller was theirs.

Katie Parrinello of Howell hasn’t been as lucky. The event planner and her fiancé, Steven Bernardo, a service manager, have been looking for more than two months. “I recently purchased my first home, and we are officially ready for a dog to start to grow our family,” Parrinello says. “We are having a rough time in this process because we fall in love with so many dogs, but it seems like they’re already taken by the second we apply.”

[RELATED: The Poignant Stories Behind 3 Local Animal Sanctuaries]

The Animal Welfare Association (AWA) in Voorhees is one of the many shelters that has been nearly emptied during the Covid-19 crisis, with most animals placed in foster care for the duration of the state lockdown. Its adoption, intake and veterinary services have been curtailed. A long-awaited construction project is on hold, staff has been furloughed and its largest fundraiser—a 5K walkathon—was moved online.

In response to community need to during the coronavirus crisis, the AWA has tripled the size of its pet-food pantry programs. “Our whole world has had to pivot and change,” says executive director Maya Richmond. “We’re looking for ways to take the pain out of people’s financial losses.”

Additionally, AWA partnered with two local churches and the Voorhees Police Department to deliver donated pet food and supplies to homebound individuals. The shelter continues to operate its Chow Stops program, delivering items to Camden pet owners in need.

Gabrielle Collinsworth and John Dunay set up a pet-food pantry outside their Pitman home. Courtesy of Gabrielle Collinsworth

Gabrielle Collinsworth, a medical dosimetrist, and John Dunay, a nurse, from Pitman, also recognized the need for a pet-food pantry amid growing unemployment numbers. “We knew animals needed help now more than ever,” says Collinsworth, a regular volunteer and foster for the Marlton-based Puppies and More Rescue.

The couple asked friends and family to donate their extra dog or cat food but instead received an abundance of monetary donations. “So we went out and got a variety of food—wet and dry, puppy, kitten and adult,” Collinsworth says. “We then set up some shelving outside with a tarp over it. We took a few pictures and posted it on Facebook, and that day [the post] had over 400 shares.”

As the week went on, up to 10 people a day were coming to grab food. Collinsworth and Dunay also received requests for dropoffs from pet owners who couldn’t drive. To augment their supplies, Collinsworth emailed the online pet-product retailer Chewy about the makeshift pantry. “They sent us two huge boxes of donations, no questions asked,” she says.

After almost two weeks, the pantry is still running and receiving donations. “We plan to keep this going as long as we can,” Collinsworth says. I couldn’t imagine having to choose between feeding a human child and my fur child, and eventually having to make the decision to drop the pet off at the shelter. We want to decrease the chances of that happening.”

Unfortunately, there is a fear that pets will be returned to shelters once lockdown restrictions lift. “My concern is that people are home and have a lot of time on their hands, which is a good thing if they’re fostering and adopting pets,” says Pat Buttitta, a dog behavior and rehabilitation specialist in Little Falls. “The problem is when they go back to work and either slack off on the training or don’t have time anymore and bring the pets back to the shelter.”

Additional reporting from Voorhees by Patricia Alex.

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