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This Is Why There Is A Record-Breaking Spike In Pet Adoptions in Palm Beach County

For the first time in its history, one of three kennels at Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control's shelter in West Palm Beach is completely empty.
Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Cabin fever. Anxiety after layoffs. Social Isolation. As people seek companionship under Florida’s stay-at-home order, it has led to a record-breaking uptick in pet fostering and adoption.

For the first time in its history, which stretches five decades, one of three kennels at Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control’s shelter in West Palm Beach is completely empty.

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Abandoned dogs and cats are finding human homes. Elizabeth Harfman, community project manager for the shelter, calls it “a monumental day.”

“And we know it’s a fleeting moment,” Harfman said. “So we’re still here for the community. We’re still here to take in stray animals that need us,” Harfman said.

The Palm Beach shelter is only taking in “emergency surrenders” of animals, but what’s behind the uptick in adoption? Harfman describes the increase in pet demand as a “magic combination” of two things: Intake of animals has decreased and adoption has increased.

“We are seeing a lot more people willing to open their homes up to either adopt pets or to foster pets, particularly during the pandemic,” Harfman said. “And then, also, I’ve noticed our intake numbers are much lower than last year. Comparing March of this year to March of last year, we saw 300 less animals coming into our shelter system, which is a great thing.”

Harfman said people in South Florida may see a health benefit from adopting a pet, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. “You have a lot of people that are home who typically aren’t home or busy at school or with jobs,” Harfman said. So you’re going to have time to take in a pet, and allow them to get acclimated to your family and lifestyle.”

“Pets have historically been proven to be a health benefit - they reduce stress, they’re gonna get people out the door to walk in the neighborhood, all kinds of benefits.”

A 90 percent save-rate in the animal welfare community is the benchmark for shelters that consider themselves no-kills. The Palm Beach shelter boasts a 96 percent save-rate for dogs and 76 percent for cats, respectively.

It’s also kitten season, though Harfman isn't seeing an influx of litters like she’s seen in years past. Kittens tend to be among the at-risk animals in the shelter. The PBC Animal Care and Control, who partners with local non profit animal rescues, state and out-of state, says their main need is trying to get the adult dogs and cats some companionship, too.

"In our community, our most at-need animals, most at-risk animals in shelters tend to be your adult cats, your large free dogs, - or, we prefer to call them your ‘square heads,’ but any of your dogs that tend to look like pit bulls or pit bull mixes,” Harfman said.

"They’re popular, but they tend to stay in shelter systems longer."

Cat-lovers and dog-lovers have come out in force equally. And for inexperienced pet-lovers seeking adoption amid this COVID-19 pandemic, Harfman says there is a network and support system for people new to the adoption world, and one option can get their paws into the door: fostering.

“Fostering is an awesome option for people if they’re on the fence or they haven’t adopted before or worried about jumping in to make a full-time commitment,” Harfman said.

“It’s temporary and we’re going to supply you with everything you need to take care of your new foster dog, foster cat.”

Adoption and fostering information 

View available pets for adoption here

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Wilkine Brutus is a multimedia journalist for WLRN, South Florida's NPR, and a member of Washington Post/Poynter Institute’ s 2019 Leadership Academy. A former Digital Reporter for The Palm Beach Post, Brutus produces enterprise stories on topics surrounding people, community innovation, entrepreneurship, art, culture, and current affairs.