Guinea Pig

Bethany Stockman and one of the few guinea pigs she has available at the Laconia Pet Center. The center has had trouble getting as many guinea pigs, hamsters, and rabbits as it would like. (Michael Mortensen photo/The Laconia Daily Sun) 

LACONIA — Dogs, cats, and other pets are not vulnerable to coronavirus, but the current public health crisis has created challenges for animal shelters here in central New Hampshire.

Since the pandemic hit six months ago the New Hampshire Humane Society has been forced to reduce its capacity as it operates with a smaller workforce which needs to follow social distancing restrictions and other protocols as staff members go about their daily routine that seems anything but routine.

“It requires significant adjustment and is often more time-consuming but we are doing everything we can to maintain a healthy environment for our staff, the public, and for the pets in need of our care,” the society’s executive director, Charles Stanton, said in an email Friday.

Caring for the approximately 60 pets at the shelter at this time requires staff to wear personal protective equipment and go through additional sanitation procedures, Stanton noted. Prior to COVID, there would be around 110 animals at the Meredith Road shelter at any one time.

But while shelters have had to scale back and modify their routines, the interest in adopting animals has remained strong.

“We have seen that the community is turning to their pets more than ever for the companionship that is now harder to find from friends and neighbors,” Stanton said.

Megan Williams, who heads the Lakes Region Humane Society in Ossipee, has seen the same trend.

“We have more demand than supply,” she said. “Animals fly out of here pretty quickly.”

The shelter currently has five dogs and 12 cats, whereas there would normally be almost three times that number.

Charlotte Rice, who manages the Franklin Animal Shelter, said she has a stack of 60 to 75 applications from people waiting to adopt pets.

There are currently just two dogs and 14 cats at the shelter.

“People are quarantined and bored and they want some companionship,” Rice said.

But while Rice said she sympathizes with those who desperately want a pet right now, she said she continues to be a “stickler” about making sure that the pet — especially if it is a dog — and the owner are a good fit.

“If they live in an apartment and don’t go out for walks, they won’t be a good dog owner,” Rice said by way of explanation.

Bethany Stockman, co-owner of the Laconia Pet Center, shares Rice’s concern about people who are itching to get a pet at this time in order to cope with boredom or loneliness.

“It’s important to make sure they know they are in it for the long haul,” she said. Having a pet “is a long-term commitment,”

Stanton said while the demand for animal adoptions has remained strong during COVID, the pandemic has dealt a significant blow to fundraising which the organization relies on.

“The primary challenge has been the loss of revenue due to the inability to hold events. We canceled all major activities but held small outdoor events that allowed for social distancing,” he said. “It was wonderful to share some time with our community (but) we also realized losses due to the larger cancellations.”

Williams said the Lakes Region shelter, which has historically taken in animals from southern states where animal protection laws are far less strict and spaying and neutering is much less common, was unable to get dogs from the South when COVID first hit.

Stockman said the Pet Center has had trouble getting as many guinea pigs, hamsters, and rabbits as it would like. In addition to the small, furry creature, the store also carries fish, but no dogs or cats.

For the New Hampshire and Lakes Region humane societies, COVID has meant changing how prospective owners get to see the animals that are up for adoption.

Because the Ossipee shelter is closed to the public, video “chats” are arranged for those interested in adopting a cat. For dogs, the shelter uses curbside adoption where a worker brings the dog out to the prospective owner.

Stanton said the Laconia shelter is open by appointment only and an adoption application is required before a visit.

“We also clean high touch areas more often and more rigorously and even more so when members of the public have been with us. It simply takes a lot more time,” he said.

While many people are spending more time at home either because they are out of work or are working remotely, people still need to remember that just being in the same room or house with an animal is not the same as companionship.

“It is so important that dogs (and their owners) have active time — go on a hike and try to have walks each day. At least bundle up and get out in your yard to have some time with your pup,” Stanton advised. “No doubt the cats of the world are thrilled to have more home time with mom or dad, but make sure you break away from that Zoom call to be with that fluffball in a meaningful way. It is easy to lose quality time when our schedules and lives are upside down.”

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