The Nation's Dog Supply Chain Has Broken During The Pandemic

May 6, 2020
Originally published on May 6, 2020 2:44 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Animal shelters around the country have reported an uptick in people fostering animals during the pandemic. Some have even reported emptying their kennels. As Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi of our Planet Money team reports, those empty cages may also be a sign of a supply chain disruption.

ALEXI HOROWITZ-GHAZI, BYLINE: A few months ago, Lindsay Greene was super busy finishing up her last semester of law school in D.C., so she sent her short-haired dachshund, George - named after George Costanza - to go stay with her parents in Florida. But as the lockdown put her busy lifestyle on hold, Greene found herself with extra time on her hands. And when she heard a callout from her local animal rescue in search of foster homes, it seemed like a no-brainer.

LINDSAY GREENE: I was thinking, OK, well, I have, like, dog toys, dog beds, dog food and no dog.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: A few weeks later, Greene had a frisky new roommate named Jack (ph), a 2-year-old black and white husky - a little bigger and more energetic than George the dachshund, but he quickly made himself at home.

GREENE: Luckily, I always buy George oversized beds because he likes to stretch out in them.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: It was like, a king-sized bed for a dachshund is just the right snug fit for a husky.

GREENE: Exactly.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: As you may have heard by now, Greene isn't the only one to have shacked up with a furry new quarantine companion. Starting in mid-March, shelters around the country put out similar pleas for fosters in order to scale back operations and limit the spread of the coronavirus. And, by and large, they were met with an unprecedented response - thousands of new fosters and an initial uptick in adoptions, so many that some shelters have even been posting feelgood videos of empty kennels for the first time ever.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And right now in our facility, we have no animals for adoption.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Woo-hoo.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: But in addition to the boom in foster homes, those empty kennels also reflect something else - a massive interruption to the national dog supply chain. Matthew Bershadker care of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals explains that, in ordinary times, Southern states like Texas, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida have way more dogs than they know what to do with. So shelters and humane societies have developed a network of animal transports - sending vans filled with dogs to high-demand areas in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest.

MATTHEW BERSHADKER: For example, we move about 45,000 animals from the South to the North every year. And those are being moved from shelters that have an oversupply of animals to shelters that have an undersupply.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: But when the pandemic hit, much of that transport network shut down along with the rest of the economy. And that backlog means there will likely be a surge of animals back into the system as the economy reopens. But Bershadker says there is an actual silver lining here. Those newly expanded foster networks have likely added enough capacity to address what's coming. And they've leaned into new technology that will help streamline adoptions.

KIMBERLY: Hello. Good morning.

GREENE: Good morning.

KIMBERLY: Lindsay (ph), right?

GREENE: Yes. And, Kimberly (ph)?

KIMBERLY: Yes.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Last month, for instance, Lindsay Greene began introducing her foster dog Jack to potential adopters over video chat.

GREENE: This is Jack.

KIMBERLY: (Unintelligible).

GREENE: Jack, you're killing me with the licking your butt.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: She says the whole thing feels not unlike online dating.

GREENE: It's almost like dog Hinge. You know, you're like, picture looks good. Our FaceTime went well. OK, Let's do it. Let's make a date.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Last week, Greene and a young couple from Arlington, Va., did make a date. And a few days later, Jack the husky found himself at the center of a no-contact handoff, on his way to what those in the biz call his new forever home.

GREENE: Hey. I'm just going to give him one more little goodbye.

KIMBERLY: Yeah, no, please.

GREENE: Jack, be a good boy, OK? Be a good boy for them.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Lindsay Greene, on the other hand, says she's already eagerly awaiting her next foster dog.

Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.