And then came Dime: Pet shortages in the time of COVID-19

Sign Up For Our FREE Daily eNews!

Dime and Twila

The continuing adventures of Gabby the dog and her menagerie of four-legged siblings.


Last July, Twila, the mackerel tabby, trudged down the cellar every morning and stayed in the dark all by herself.

“I’m just misunderstood,” she hissed when her brother Asia tried to cheer her up.

“She has lost interest in life, Gabby,” Asia said. “There’s only one cure—a new kitten.” He went to his mum’s computer and dialed up the local shelter.

They were fresh out of kittens. In fact, they didn’t have any cats or dogs at all—just bunnies and birds.

“Where have all the cat gone?” Asia wanted to know. He tugged at Gabby’s collar. “Why don’t you write a column about the shortage?”

“I’m already on it,” Gabby said. “I checked with my old shelter, too,” she said. “Practically empty.”

Gabby pointed the mouse at the Providence Animal Rescue League’s website and found a message about COVID -19. She clicked on the adoptable button. The page showed three dogs and a line about the cats: “We currently don’t have any animals available.”

What’s going on? Is there really a shortage of pets in need of forever homes?

“Short answer: YES,” said April Guilmet, board member of Happy Tails, which operates shelters for kitties in New Hampshire and in Massachusetts. Although some people are giving up their animals due to hardship, far more people want to adopt. Most of her furry guests aren’t local. They hail from North Carolina.

“We were bringing cats up here long before COVID,” she said. “The difference is the extreme number of applicants we’re receiving lately.” We are bringing cats from North Carolina regularly but it’s still hard to keep up with adoptions.”

Ballpark number?

 “Our tiny little ‘rescue that could’ has sent home over 500 cats this year,” she said. ‘Unheard of before.”

Tito, unadoptable due to his medical condition, but happily fostering with Happy Tails. Photo/April Giulmet

But the shortage is mostly for kittens, she says.

“The harder to adopt animals —seniors and special needs —are still waiting for homes. But they’re benefitting, too, because often people don’t want to wait and they end up falling in love with a pet they wouldn’t consider before.”

Guilmet is making sure even the unadoptable pets land in foster homes for the time they have left.

Tito, for example, just came to her house for hospice.

“Tito is from the mean streets of New York,” she said. “He’s not adoptable” because he has lymphoma. “But he will be treated like family for whatever time he has left.”

Dime in the window seat.

MSPCA-Angell in Boston also has coped with shortages by moving pets from shelters in the South and placing them with families in the North. According to Rob Halpin, the organization in January took over a transport operation from Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, Mass. By joining forces, the hope is they can rescue more animals.

Dime, Twila’s new sister, traveled all the way from South Carolina, thanks to Last Chance Rescue. It took a team of veterinarians, volunteers, drivers and foster parents to complete the logistics and the paperwork before she came home.

“Our shelters down here are slam packed,” said Amy Pearson, sanctuary manager with Last Chance Animal Rescue’s cat program in rural South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina.

“Some shelters are intaking cats by the hundreds every week,” Pearson said. People let the animals roam outside and don’t spay and neuter them. And local laws complicate efforts to trap, neuter and release the cats.

“Each county has to have government funding to keep that program up and running—and most counties will not support it,” she said.

The result?

People call animal control to take the cats away.

“Owner surrenders to some shelters down here are typically euthanized immediately to make space for the ‘strays’ that come in,” she said. “Strays have to be held for five days before being adopted out or euthanized.”

Dime enjoying pasta.

Dime was a stray.

“She’s amazing,” said Asia. “Twila perked up right away the first time Dime jumped in the crisper. Oh my cat, I’ve never seen a cat walk into a refrigerator before. We have walk-in closets here, not walk-in refrigerators.”

“Tee-hee, sorry,” Dime said, but she didn’t look sorry at all. Then she curled her tail around the Worcestershire sauce bottle back deep on the second shelf and slapped the lids on the salads.

Twila laughed for the first time in weeks.

“Dime’s funny,” she said. “And I always wanted to jump in the crisper, too.”

Dime, at peace.

Update on Carol, the French bulldog puppy

Last everybody heard, doctors were wheeling Carol into surgery at the emergency hospital in Boston. The puppy needed an operation because she broke her left elbow.

“Double happy ending for Carol,” Gabby reported. “She’s on the mend and back with her family. At first, her people had thought they’d have to surrender her, but they found a way to stay together.”

“I’m glad, but I wanted to adopt her,” Charlie, the black cat, said.

“No need,” Gabby said. “She’s home for good. Besides, we just adopted Dime.”

Carol the French bulldog pup is back with her family. Photo/Rob Halpin, MSPCA-Angell

Have a pet-related tip or a story idea? E-mail Margo Ann Sullivan at TheGabbyDog@gmail.com. Follow @The_Gabby_Dog on Twitter.


Margo Ann Sullivan

Margo Ann Sullivan is a pet columnist who has written for ZooToo, and numerous publications in New York and in New England. She’s had pets all her life, starting with a rescue collie named Lollypop. The Gabby Dog column chases the news that helps pets and people. It also chronicles the adventures of Gabby, the peke-a-poo, and Asia, the tabby cat, and their many pals, hitting the high spots between Providence, RI, and Manchester, NH.