Leander animal shelters see record pet adoptions, adjust practices for COVID-19

Cats make up 40% of Texas Humane Heroes’ adoptions. (Courtesy Texas Humane Heroes)
Cats make up 40% of Texas Humane Heroes’ adoptions. (Courtesy Texas Humane Heroes)

Cats make up 40% of Texas Humane Heroes’ adoptions. (Courtesy Texas Humane Heroes)

Dogs and cats in animal shelters still need homes in a pandemic, and two Leander shelters have adjusted their practices not only for coronavirus but also for record-setting adoptions.

Central Texas SPCA, based in Leander, has continued finding suitable homes for its rescued animals. Shelter Manager Stacy Nemec said the shelter is staying on par with its regular adoption numbers. The shelter has found homes for 75 dogs and 31 cats from Jan. 1-June 30.

"It was really scary that first month. Those first couple weekends we just closed because we didn't know what to do," Nemec said.

For Texas Humane Heroes, the nonprofit animal shelter is on track to break its 2019 adoption record with 2,017 adoptions through the first six months of 2020. In 2019, the shelter saw 3,113 total adoptions.

Teryl McFerrin, THH's director of development, said 2020 has been a busy year for the shelter.

"In this world of animal rescue, it changes every single day," she said. "We have new animals every single day."

After coronavirus restrictions, Central Texas SPCA placed cats into foster homes and began making appointments for dogs to meet potential adopters. Nemec said the shelter wanted to steer away from "lookers" and focus on serious adopters to limit the people interacting with staff and animals.

"They're going to come because they really want to know this dog," she said.

Animal returns are always a risk with pet adoptions, as some animals do not always mesh with their adopted family. But with heightened adoptions in a pandemic and owners spending more time at home, Nemec is suggesting that pet owners train the dog to be home alone. She said owners should leave the house for several hours a day to let the pet acclimate to an empty home or crate, Nemec said.

"It would be just very shocking if all of a sudden you were at home with them 24 hours a day, and then they're gone for eight hours."

Central Texas SPCA currently has more animals than usual. Interested adopters can request an appointment on the shelter's website.

Some of the increased adoptions at THH are due to remain open while others have closed or limited adoptions. McFerrin said lines have formed outside the shelter with people looking to add a new pet to their family.

Similarly, the shelter's low-cost clinic services have gotten busier as people seek affordable pet care in the coronavirus-affected economy.

"We've seen—since COVID[-19]—a huge increase in demand for those services," she said.

THH considered canceling clinic days at the start of the pandemic. But after holding one of their largest vaccination clinics, they saw the community's need for spay, neuter and vaccine services.

The shelter building has adapted to keep staff, visitors and volunteers safe with limited visitors, plexiglass additions and updated patio furniture for outdoor adoptions.

"That's been a big adjustment in just figuring out our processes and procedures," McFerrin said. "But I think we've kinda got it. We're in a happy place right now. We're grooving."

After seeing a photo of a puppy on THH's social media, Candice Roy knew she found her new furry family member.

"I scrolled past his picture, and I was like 'Holey moley, my dog is here again,'" she said. "Basically once I saw that picture, I told my husband

'Hey, I'm going to go to the shelter. I'll let you know how it goes.'"

Roy, a Leander resident, adopted Hank in early May after one of her three dogs passed away in February.

Before seeing Hank, Roy said she had looked at dogs through breed rescues, but many were closed and not offering adoptions during the pandemic. So they turned to local shelters like THH.

Adopting during a pandemic brought benefits and challenges to the adoption. Roy is able to spend more time with Hank at home with a flexible schedule, but Hank is not able to meet dog friends at "puppy play dates" because of social distancing.

"As far as getting to meet other puppies, that was very challenging," she said. "He's not able to socialize."
By Taylor Girtman

Reporter, Cedar Park and Leander

Taylor Girtman became the reporter for the Cedar Park-Leander edition in February 2020. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida.