Well, it’s pretty safe to say that we’re knee-deep into 2020 Retrospective Season.
Pretty much every publication, news show, podcast and every other media outlet will be doing a “best of” or “most memorable” and (this being 2020) “weirdest” things of the year. But when the New York Times — winner of more Pulitzer Prizes than any other newspaper — put out its list of “things that came out on top” in 2020, it made sense to take a look. And what was the first thing on the list? Yep, “rescue animals.”
According to the Times, “… the hottest commodity during lockdown after toilet paper and sourdough starters turned out to be rescue puppies and other critters.” But this isn’t December news. This was a trend we started to see as soon as the pandemic hit, and not just in our internal and industry data. As early as last April, Wired magazine reported, “Thanks to sheltering in place, animal shelters are empty.”
Fortunately, this looks like more of a trend than a phase. According to the December American Pet Products Association Pulse Check, 83% of respondents report no change in the status of their pet ownership and, of those reporting a change, the overwhelming majority reported a positive change, like fostering or adopting a new pet.
But really, should this come as a surprise to any of us as we all look around the room and see our dogs, dog toys, dog beds, cats, cat trees, bird perches and so on? Overwhelming anecdotal evidence aside, the physical and psychological benefits of living with pets, in good times and in bad, have been documented in study after study, including a recent study from the University of South Australia that specifically looked at how pets provide much-needed physical contact during periods of isolation.
We all know this: Emotionally and intellectually, pets make us feel better. Fostering or adopting a pet from a rescue group or shelter saves a life. And that reciprocity, that bond, that thing that inspired countless “Who Rescued Who?” bumper stickers — that’s just the best feeling.
As the Times put it, pandemic pets gave us structure, affection and an excuse to get out of the house. But those have always been great things and will continue to be in 2021, 2022 and beyond. So, even though a lot of media attention was focused on rescued animals through the lens of 2020, it was less of a revelation than a validation of things that pet owners and people in animal welfare already know: Having a pet is great. Fostering or adopting is better. And emptying shelters is the best.