The RSPCA has pivoted to allow continuation of its adoption services during COVID-19 restrictions. (Image source: Stephen Galvin)

By Stephen Galvin

With COVID-19 restrictions forcing the closure of many restaurants, bars, clubs, and other such places, the impact has been felt across Australia, with many people losing their jobs or having their hours cut down to a bare minimum.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was put in a difficult position as restrictions were introduced. To comply, the RSPCA’s Lonsdale adoption centre in Adelaide’s southern suburbs was forced to say goodbye to its amazing volunteers.

RSPCA volunteer Jordan, who has volunteered at the Lonsdale shelter for just over a year, was devastated when he learned he would no longer be able to care for the animals.

“It was heartbreaking… being forced to say goodbye to all these animals you’ve grown such an attachment to,” he said.

“I’m an animal lover – that’s why I volunteer here.”

Sandra, another Lonsdale shelter volunteer, has been volunteering for more than three years has a real passion for cats.

“I’ve got umm… quite a few of my own at home,” she said, laughing.

“Being away from the cats at the centre was absolutely horrible for me; they give me so much joy, and I hope I give them a lot of joy too,” she said.

“I was really feeling for the animals; they would have been so used to having people caring for them all the time, and giving them attention and everything, but then suddenly, with all the volunteers gone, they only had a skeleton crew caring for them.”

An RSPCA volunteer feeds an abandoned cat. (Image source: Stephen Galvin)

It wasn’t just the loss of volunteers that hurt the RSPCA. Media Relations Manager, Carolyn Jones, described just how big the impact of COVID-19 restrictions was on them.

“Like all charities, the RSPCA has been hit very hard financially by the COVID-19 pandemic; we had to close all of our op shops, we also had to stop our dog training classes, and of course we lost a lot of income from animals that normally board with us, because nobody was going away on holiday,” she said.

The RSPCA is a primarily volunteer-led organisation, and without the support from its thousands of volunteers, there is no way for the RSPCA to be able to care for all the animals, according to Carolyn.

The restrictions also impacted the animals being cared for at the Lonsdale shelter. With volunteers not being allowed on site to feed and support them, the RSPCA was worried about how to provide them with proper care, and adopt them out. With more than 850 animals in care, Carolyn described it as “hugely concerning”.

The RSPCA had the answers though; the organisation put out a call on all its social media platforms for people to come and adopt animals, just as the first round of COVID-19 restrictions were being put in place earlier this year.

“The response we had from the community was absolutely amazing, and I think we have a great community here in South Australia – we were able to adopt out 811 animals in March, compared to 333 in March last year – an increase of around 140 per cent,” Carolyn said.

This was helped in part by the setting up of an online adoption centre – where people can browse through animal profiles online, before going to Lonsdale and meeting the animal in person. This allowed people to attend in small groups, and comply with social distancing.

Graham Caddy, who used the online service to get his now beloved dog (a Staffy X), praised the service.

“It was really so simple – just browse through the animals in the shelter, see some pictures, read a bit about their personality and their background, like, if they get on with cats or whatever, and then just setting up an appointment to meet them in person; I found it really amazing,” he said.

Carolyn stressed that while some people might have adopted animals just to get through the loneliness and boredom of COVID lockdown, “adopting an animal is for life; not just keeping us company while stuck at home”.

She also shut down any claims that animals can pass on COVID to humans, saying “there is no scientific evidence that humans can contract COVID from animals, and it is extremely concerning that those kind of reports have circulated in the news, because it has potentially put animals at risk from people who think, mistakenly, that they can contract this deadly virus from their pets”.

When restrictions eased in South Australia the RSPCA bounced back, and was able to reopen its Lonsdale adoption centre, as well as its numerous charity and op shops in South Australia. The organisation didn’t, however, take things for granted – and it had steps in place in the event of another lockdown.

So, with a further six-day ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown period currently under way in the state, online adoptions have resumed.

Although COVID has brought with it many negatives, Carolyn sees a clear silver lining.

“I think one of the biggest positives from it… [is] people getting an animal into their homes and lives,” she said.

Originally published in The Junction.