The COVID-19 pandemic, considered as the global health calamity of the century, has not only impacted human life, economically, socially and psychologically but has affected the lives of pets as well, many of whom were abandoned or left behind at home after their owners were tested positive for COVID-19.
As the contagious virus is moving at a blistering pace with a sharp spike in positive cases on a daily basis, the pandemic’s impact on human life has been well documented. But, its impact on dogs, cats and other pets have apparently got little attention.
Across the tri-city, the animal lovers and NGOs have received hundreds of calls during the past four months related to pets being abandoned over fears that the animals could spread COVID-19. Many calls were also received regarding furry friends being left behind home alone as the COVID-19 positive owners were admitted in hospital for treatment.
First such case was reported from Bapu Dham colony in Sector 26 here nearly two months back where a four years old dog was left alone at home when the owner and his entire family was tested COVID-19 positive and shifted to a hospital for treatment. The dog was bleeding from the mouth and had refused to eat anything offered by the neighbors.
“The dog was left in the verandah of the house for three days and we were contacted by the SHO concerned to rescue the dog as many others had refused to do so fearing that the pet may also be infected of COVID-19,” informs Vikas Luthra, founder of Chandigarh based Furever Friends Foundation while talking to The Pioneer.
Secured head-to-toe in personal protective equipment (PPE), a team of Furever Friends had then entered the premises to take custody of the dog and took care of the pet for about a month till the family members returned to the house after being cured of COVID-19. “This incident had left us shaken and we could foresee that such incidents would keep happening across the city as COVID-19 is fast spreading,” Vikas says, adding that subsequently, Furever Friends had launched a boarding service for pets of COVID-19 positive families from tricity and nearby areas. “We have so far tended to seven dogs and two cats, which belonged to families of COVID-19 patients. These pets were in the age group of 2-9 years,” he said.
Currently, there is no evidence that pets or other domestic animals are able to transmit the deadly virus to humans.
According to the World Health Organisation, there have been a small number of confirmed cases in pets in countries in Europe, North America and Asia. It appears that the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread from people to animals in some situations. However, based on the limited information available till date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low, the WHO has said.
As a precautionary measure, the pets being exposed to COVID-19 patients are firstly bathed and then taken to a new household by Furever Friends Foundation. They are also kept separate from other pets in the household as it remains unknown if the pets like dogs and cats can transmit the infection to other animals and humans. Vikas says, “The fear of COVID-19 has left many pet owners worried as even neighbors and relatives are not ready to take care of their pets these days. Given the current circumstances, we understand that it gets pretty taxing for a pet owner’s family. The Boarding service is free and owners are asked to pay for food for their pets, if they can.”
Sharing his experience with one of the COVID-19 positive families, he says, “Sub-divisional magistrate of Mohali, Jagdeep Sehgal and his family was tested positive and he had contacted us to take care of his dog. His three years old German Shephard was with us for around 15 days and we were happy to take care of the pet.”
While many pet owners have made sure to take care of their furry friends in difficult times, many disturbing reports had also come amidst the pandemic where people were abandoning their pets thinking they could be transmitting the COVID-19. The social media handles of NGOs and animal welfare groups are flooded with posts and pictures of abandoned pets during the pandemic. Troubled by the incidents, several prominent actors and animal activists had also come forth to make an appeal to the animal owners not to abandon their pets amid lockdown and misguided fears of contamination in the wake of COVID-19.
Gagan Bains, coordinator, Rehabilitation and Rehoming, Furever Friends tells, “We have rescued as many as 41 pets including one Pomeranian, eight Labradors, three Pitbulls, five mixed breeds, 21 Indie dogs and three cats, who were abandoned by their owners during the pandemic period.”
“Undoubtedly, the pandemic has proved to be cruel for both pets and stray dogs. Strays faced the brunt of starvation amid the lockdown while pets were abandoned. During the past four months, more people were abandoning their pets on the streets and even foster homes were not ready to keep them,” says Gagan. She shares, “We have around 100 foster homes in the tricity but it reduced to 30-40 percent as family members of our young volunteers had refused to keep rescued dogs at home.” The overriding factor, she says was the fear contracting the infection.
The pets’ abandonment remains a complex issue with many studies acknowledging that dogs form an emotional bond with their owners and they can experience health impacts besides emotional toll from abandonment. “The abandoned pets are usually scared and can’t be left alone. We have observed that abandonment puts dogs in a stressful situation and they keep waiting for their owners, and also attempt to escape from enclosed space to find their owners. It is not easy for adult dogs to cope up with the stress and settle in a new home after being abandoned,” says Gagan adding that in the past two years, we were able to rehome around 150 dogs.
She further shares, “An interesting trend has been witnessed since the month of April in the tricity. While people were abandoning their dogs, there was a huge demand to adopt cats. Cats are typically more low-maintenance than dogs in terms of food, space requirement, physical activity, healthcare cost among other factors. As many as 40 cats were adopted during the pandemic through our Foundation.”