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WAG sees slowdown in adoption applications, spike in surrender requests

Whistler's animal shelter is currently seeking foster homes, including for several critical care cases

If you're one of Whistler Animals Galore’s (WAG) thousands of faithful Instagram followers, you might have noticed a post earlier this month featuring a fuzzy, tan-coloured, floppy-eared pup staring through the screen.

“Paloma is STILL looking for her forever home,” WAG staff wrote in the caption, adding, “We cannot believe this big chonker is still here.”

The shelter had announced it would begin accepting applications for the 10-week-old mastiff-mix and her brother, Cream Puff, about a month prior. Historically, the shelter hasn’t needed to promote the puppies in its care, explained Mallory Jensen, WAG’s adoptions coordinator.

“There’s [been] a lot of times where we put up an ‘available for adoption’ post and then two days later, applications are closed because we get so swamped,” she said.

Though summers are usually a slower period for cat adoptions, “I’d say most puppies are gone two weeks after they’re posted,” Jensen added.

Both Cream Puff and Paloma have since been adopted into their perfect-fit families, but in both cases, those adopters were the only applicants to follow through with the process until the end. The number of pet adoptions surged across B.C. during the pandemic, but as restrictions ease and life for many returns to some semblance of normal, the pendulum has swung the other way.

“It’s definitely been a really slow summer for adoptions,” Jensen said. “We’ve noticed that people are being much more mindful about sending in applications. Even a lot of people are just on vacation right now—that’s a huge part of it, is a lot of travel.”

It’s a trend shelters across the province are experiencing. Since the beginning of the pandemic, “When a puppy came into our care, we would have multiple applications—sometimes up to 100—within 24 hours,” said Lorie Chortyk, general manager of communications for the BC SPCA, in an Aug. 11 news release. “People were very keen to adopt, and this interest in adoption has remained strong until now.”

That interest abruptly dried up earlier this summer, leaving more than 1,500 animals in the BC SPCA’s care—“about 700 in our shelters and the rest in volunteer foster homes,” Chortyk added.

In Whistler, WAG is currently caring for eight dogs and six cats, about half of which are critical care cases dealing with ongoing health issues or preparing for major surgeries. The independent not-for-profit is as much a shelter as it is a rehabilitation centre, placing a strong emphasis on critical and compassionate care for animals that some other organizations might not even accept.

Alongside the slowdown in applicants, WAG has also been struggling to find available foster homes, said Jensen, which limits the number of animals the shelter can welcome into its care.

That’s especially problematic when WAG has numerous critical care cases requiring more of staff’s attention. With a small team of seven—responsible for paperwork and adoptions as well as managing animal care—there’s only so much time in the day. Animals also tend to recover better in quiet, comfortable foster homes rather than in shelter settings.

WAG is currently seeking foster homes across the corridor willing to take in animals, preferably long-term, though the shelter is flexible with timeframes. WAG also provides all necessary supplies for its foster volunteers, from food to bandages, plus “we always are available to them for questions or support,” said Jensen.

The adoptions coordinator said WAG staff are “so grateful” for its current fosters, because “fostering a sick or recovering animal is not just basic care—it’s doing rechecks; it’s administrating medication; it’s doing passive range of motion; bandage changes,” she explained. “These people are doing amazing, we are just finding that they’re few and far between”

Having the space provided by fosters is all the more critical considering the number of requests WAG staff have received recently to accept animals into their care. While Chortyk said the BC SPCA has not seen a significant increase in the number of surrendered animals following the pandemic on a whole, the same can’t be said for WAG, Jensen explained.

“We have been getting surrender calls all summer,” she said. “I’ve gotten a surrender call from Alberta, I got one a couple of weeks ago from Prince George, so there’s a huge, huge waitlist, especially for animals with behavioural problems, who are reactive or maybe have separation anxiety or food aggression. All these dogs, unfortunately, are waiting because we just can’t take any more in.”

Priority for shelter space is given to animals from the Sea to Sky corridor, and to those currently in distress or being neglected.

In June, Pemberton Animal Wellbeing Society (PAWS) manager Anna Scott told Pique the shelter has similarly experienced a rise in surrender requests.

Mostly, for pets “around that one-and-a-half, two-year age group, that people adopted during the pandemic when they were at home with all the time in the world and now realizing that animals are a big commitment and not being able to provide them with the care anymore,” Scott said at the time. WAG has noticed a similar trend in the age of animals being surrendered, agreed Jensen.

One benefit of the eased restrictions for WAG? The ability to venture back out into the resort for fundraising events and other community initiatives, said Jensen, like the Aug. 16 Pups and Pints event at Coast Mountain Brewing and the dog dock jumping contest during Arts Whistler’s Art on the Lake event.

If you’re looking for a way to help out the animals currently in WAG’s care but aren’t in a position to foster or adopt at this time, consider donating to WAG’s critical care fund