More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder

Family Day and Half-full Shelters​

by Bruce Roney, President & CEO, Ottawa Humane Society
Feb 12, 2021

COVID-19 has impacted the OHS and most shelters in North America. For a variety of pandemic-related reasons, most of us are admitting fewer animals than we did pre-pandemic. But this was becoming a trend in most shelters years before any of us had heard of COVID-19. The question is why. I believe most animal welfare professionals would agree there are multiple reasons, but that the biggest factor is a shift in our relationship with our pets.


Dogs are believed to have been domesticated around 15,000 years ago; cats around 7,500 years. For millennia, the majority of dogs and cats were working animals, kept as an early warning to danger, to tend and protect livestock or to control rodent populations. Pets, as we might understand them today, were largely the province of the wealthy.

Over time, and as our society became more urbanized, dogs and cats role morphed from workers into pets for the masses. Still, even as pets, dogs and cats were often seen as an occasional amusement, rather than a constant companion. “Man’s Best Friend” was often kept chained in the backyard. Cats were allowed to roam. They might be seen as occasional visitors, rather than a lifelong companion.

Fast forward to today. A recent poll conducted by the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association found that a full 78% of owners considered their pet to be a member of their family. Another 8% consider Fluffy or Rover their best friend. Terms virtually unheard of 20 years ago, such as “pet parent” and “fur baby” have entered the everyday lexicon. Clearly there has been a profound change in how we view our pets.

Society’s evolving view of pets has played a direct role in falling shelter populations.

People are far more likely to provide better care for a pet they consider a member of the family. They aren’t going to let their cat outdoors alone any more than they would a young child. They are going to take their dog to the veterinarian. And if something happens to their pets, they are sure not going to surrender them to an animal shelter unless they absolutely have to.

The difference is the family bond. The bond between a person and an animal creates a commitment to the animal’s safety and her well-being. The commitment is lifelong and long may it continue.

Daniel E.

We see animals, even grown up animals, as largely helpless fur babies. So, our love and care of animals is just our coding to care for infants misfiring. Or maybe it’s just that we know to care for babies and see animals as similarly in need of help.

One thing’s for certain, the world would be a better place if we looked at each other like that. Because in my experience, all of us – including grown up humans – are pretty helpless sometimes.
On the weekend I was looking at available cats and dogs on the pet adoption website. Unproductive because I won't get either animal without having a car.

Daniel E.
If you get a cat, s/he would be glad you don't have a car :)

And now they even have mobile vet care and pet grooming.

Cats tend to require/receive less vet care. The animal hospital I go to has a waiting area just for cats -- and there is usually no one there. It is actually very rare. But there is always at least a couple dogs waiting. (At least in my experience, dogs tend to have more issues than cats with limping, diarrhea, skin allergies, separation anxiety, and even bad breath.)

Adult cats and dogs usually go the vet at most once a year. And most pet owners don't even do that unless their pet is sick or older. My senior dog goes to the vet about every two months now (to help prevent flareups of her bronchitis and to listen to her heart). But only in the last few years have I ensured that all the pets get yearly checkups.
Last edited:

Daniel E.
Incidentally, the first cat I got as an adult was when I was in my early 20s. I wanted to get a cat but was afraid it would just make my anxiety worse. Well, one day a stray just walked inside my townhouse and the rest was history. Then, at 35, I met my husband and became a dog person too since I fell in love with his dogs.

Daniel E.

"This is the first study to show that horses cross-modally recognized the emotional states of their caretakers and strangers."
Last edited:
Replying is not possible. This forum is only available as an archive.