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Why this bad pandemic might be good for Tampa Bay dogs

We're home for more walks, treats and belly rubs. And months in, we're lining up to adopt homeless pets from local shelters like never before.

The only ones benefiting from this coronavirus pandemic might be the dogs.

Think about it: A lot of dog owners who used to leave for work all day are now home, meaning extra walks, treats and belly rubs.

More importantly, abandoned dogs (and cats, too) who once waited desperately at local shelters for someone to want them now have people standing in line to take them home.

And that’s no exaggeration.

At the Humane Society of Tampa Bay in West Tampa, people have been arriving before dawn to stand in line alongside the construction-dusty parking lot for the 10 a.m. opening.

Some have even camped out overnight, calling Uber Eats for food, to get the best chance at scoring a canine companion.

“I never thought I’d see people spending the night in our parking lot,” said Humane Society chief executive officer Sherry Silk. “It’s crazy good that people care that much.”

And these days, adoptable dogs go fast.

“We can’t keep animals on the floor,” she said. “We’ve been very blessed.”

Visitors hoping to adopt pets line up outside the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. Adoptions are way up during the coronavirus pandemic.
Visitors hoping to adopt pets line up outside the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. Adoptions are way up during the coronavirus pandemic. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Among the human hopefuls there recently, the consensus seemed to be that the time was right.

“We’ve been wanting to,” said Rich Clark, who’s in banking. “And now that we’re working from home, we’ll be around to raise him.”

Jessica Shaw, who works in home health care coding and billing, and Gabriel Macklin, a barber, were particularly taken with a dog called Olaf, a name their 2-year-old daughter Jahzara, a big Frozen fan, could get behind.

Shaw said that working from home means she has time for a dog, and as a bonus, a dog would get the family out walking.

“I was just ready to get one, and one for her to grow up with,” she said of Jahzara, who sat in her stroller watching the shelter kittens play.

“This is the bright spot with COVID, these people here waiting everyday,” said Susan Lowry Marlow, cuddling a kitten she pronounced “super precious.”

“I”m working at home, so we’ll be able to do this,” she said.

What a difference a pandemic makes.

Normally this time of the year, the Pinellas County Animal Services shelter in Largo would have a full cat adoption room and between 65 and 85 dogs needing homes. A dog could wait in the shelter for a year.

“Since this whole pandemic started, we have actually run out of adoptable animals several times,” director Doug Brightwell said on Thursday. “We ran out of adoptable cats yesterday, and we only have two adoptable dogs.” Some find homes within hours, and no animal is staying more than 30 days, he said.

At the Pasco County Animal Services Adoption Center in Land O’ Lakes, adoptions have been steady, with animals staying at the shelter an average of four to seven days.

Scott Trebatoski, director of the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center in Tampa, said he would not have imagined dogs might benefit in the coronavirus crisis.

“I thought it would just be a lot of bad news, a lot of people not being able to keep their pets, a lot of sad stories,” he said. “But we’ve seen more positive stories than sad stories.”

Also good news: The number of adopted pets returned — in Pinellas, usually about 5 percent — hasn’t increased. And shelter officials say the high adoption rates are giving them time for attention to animals that need extra care and for maintenance that’s difficult when shelters are crowded. It’s also a boost for morale.

And cats are seeing an uptick in finding homes, too.

Susan Lowry Marlow adopts a kitten at the  Humane Society of Tampa Bay.
Susan Lowry Marlow adopts a kitten at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

People are “making an emotional connection, and they’re making (animals) part of their family, because of the availability of time now they didn’t have when the world was so busy,Brightwell said.

At the Humane Society, Sarah Logar, who’s working at home for University of South Florida Athletics, filled out paperwork for a doe-eyed brown retriever mix called Omar, soon to be Nike, splayed across her lap.

She recently had to put down her dog, she said, and misses “having someone in the house.” Soon-to-be Nike is an active pup, and she’s looking forward to the runs they’ll take together.

“I was planning on getting a Lab,” she said. “But then I saw him. He’s adorable.”

“However long it lasts,” Brightwell said, “we’re going to relish in it.””

Interested in adopting or fostering an animal? Contact your local shelter, as hours, services and appointment requirements vary.

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

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