Pet Adoptions in Los Angeles Still Surging Amid Pandemic

Patrick Stewart and his wife, singer Sunny Ozell, are supporters of dog rescue group Wags & Walks.
Courtesy of Charlie Nunn

Patrick Stewart and his wife, singer Sunny Ozell, are supporters of dog rescue group Wags & Walks.

Early on in the pandemic, many adoption shelters nationwide were emptied out, as people with more time on their hands thanks to lockdowns rushed to get rescue dogs and cats. Now, months later — as the White House has welcomed its first shelter dog, President Biden's Major — adoption rates remain strong across the U.S., according to Barb Williamson of the national advocacy group Best Friends Animal Society.

Agrees, Lesley Brog, founder of L.A.-based dog rescue Wags & Walks (whose celebrity supporters include Patrick Stewart, Judy Greer and Catherine Keener): "We are still receiving thousands of adoption applications per week. Dogs provide us with companionship, support and unconditional love, and we all desperately need this right now.” Aleks Schiffer, the founder and president of I Stand With My Pack, tells THR that the foster-based nonprofit found homes for "140 more animals" in 2020 than the year before.

In addition to providing companionship during this time of great isolation, pets provide other benefits, so it's no surprise the yearning is strong. "Pets help reduce stress and anxiety, and help us cope with loss," says Dr. Jeff Werber, co-founder of telehealth veterinary company Airvet, founded in 2018 whose clients include CAA's Richard Lovett and Tiffany Hadish. "Get the poodle instead of the Prozac."

As a result of the high demand, the mix of dogs being rescued has changed. "Puppies, poodle mixes and small dogs are always highly desirable, but we're seeing so many seniors and pets with significant medical issues being adopted, which is a beautiful thing," says Brog. Many more pit bulls, sometimes challenging to place due to misconceptions about the breed, are being adopted as well. Last year, Kate Hudson opened her home to foster two pitbull puppies, and Billie Eilish fostered three puppies and adopted one from Angel City Pit Bulls. "We receive hundreds of applications and struggle to meet demand," says Cathleen Kisich, director of outreach for Angel City. "There is such an uptick in adopting from rescues that many more people are going straight to the shelters.”

Rescue organizations work closely with shelters, and they are also trying to keep up amid challenging circumstances. Many L.A. city shelters have had to close their doors to volunteers due to COVID, and appointments are necessary to visit. “The number of animals I’m seeing in the shelters looks to be close to 50 percent lower than what I saw pre-COVID,” says Rita Earl Blackwell, a dedicated shelter volunteer and animal advocate. Blackwell, who is also a photographer, frequently visits shelters across the county to shoot images and heartfelt video of available animals and then posts them to her Instagram to get them seen and quickly adopted. “Photos give an idea of the animal, but a 15-second video captures something else entirely and creates a meaningful connection,” says Blackwell. “Videos help interested adopters find their soulmate.”

These connections are vital and animals are providing an essential bond for people. “We are all suffering in our own ways and I hope people remember how much these pets have done,” says Brog. Schiffer couldn’t agree more. “The animals we save end up saving us.”

Adds Kaley Cuoco, an animal advocate who works with many rescues: "It has warmed my heart to see so many pet adoptions during this last year's stay-at-home order. People are realizing that the best company is a dog or cat right by your side."

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.