Heather Ha’s current foster cat, Luna. (Photo: Heather Ha)

When New York City went into lockdown mid-March, many people turned toward furry companions to keep them company during uncertain times.

The number of people who applied to foster pets has increased dramatically. According to a PetPoint report, the number of cats and dogs who have joined the foster network has increased by 6 percent and 13 percent respectively from the previous year. The ASPCA saw a 70 percent increase in the number of foster applicants for cats and dogs. 

Heather Ha had been thinking about adopting a pet for a while; when her work as a consultant moved remote, she thought it would be a good time to see if she could commit to looking after another animal.  

“We knew another friend who’s done fostering and kept fostering, so we thought that fostering would be a great way for us to test it out,” she said. 

Ha signed up for fostering for the first time in late July. She said that she had underestimated fostering when she got her first cat, A Russian Blue named Yani. 

“It was very, very hard, like heartbreaking when I had to let her go,” she said. “I only had her for a week before she got adopted. I didn’t know I could get attached to a pet in a few days; I was in tears when I dropped her off.”

Despite the increase in households willing to foster pets, adoption rates around the United States have dropped by almost 25 percent compared to around the same time last year.  

Although Ha is certain that she will eventually adopt a cat or dog, for now, she and her husband plan to continue fostering. “It’s the commitment that comes with taking care of another life, you’re signing up for the next 14, 15 years of your life,” she said. “A cat is like a child, you have to consider all the expenses. For us right now, at this point in time, we’re not ready to commit because we don’t know where we will be next year.”

Ha says that her foster cat has made her home cozier and happier during these uncertain times. “Having a cat helped bring joy and smiles during this difficult time. Cats are hilarious with their random behaviors and funny expressions,” she said. 

Soomai fell in love with Kedi almost instantly. (Photo by Ashley Soomai)

For Ashley Soomai, a yoga instructor who taught at the Brooklyn Cat Cafe, a cat adoption center and social space run by the Brooklyn Bridge Animal Welfare Coalition, getting a pet was not something she had considered until she met Kedi. Kedi and her sister Elmira were both special-needs cats. They were kept separately from other cats at the cafe, since their digestive issues and cat colds made it difficult for them to breathe through their noses.

The pandemic had hastened Soomai’s decision to adopt the kittens. “Me and my partner always knew we wanted to adopt them,” Soomai said. “Then when [the pandemic] happened it just really pushed us to do it because we were scared that they would just be in the basement and not have as much human contact.”

Elmira and her sister were adopted by Soomai and her partner in March. (Photo: Ashley Soomai)

Soomai adopted Kedi and Elmira around the end of March. As a first-time pet owner, Soomai says that she and her partner spent a lot of time preparing their apartment for the arrival of the two kittens. “It was kind of like preparing for a baby, to be honest,” Soomai said. “We got everything before they came. We had 10 bags of cat food ready to go and we had got them their own little food bowl and water, we had everything you could imagine for a cat.”

For many Americans, pets are an integral part of their families. From 2007 to 2017, it is estimated that sales of pet supplies and services almost doubled to a total of 5.8 billion dollars. The pandemic pet boom has led to an increase in demand for pet supplies. 

Soomai says that she had to put in extra effort to ensure that the special-needs kittens would be looked after. “We made an Excel spreadsheet about what time they go to bed, what time they get their medicine; we documented all their symptoms and if they had any weird behavior,” she said.

Although she thinks that the coronavirus is going to be here for a long time, one of Soomai’s main goals is to ensure that her kittens are in stable condition before the end of the pandemic. She says it has been rewarding to watch them grow during the past few months and believes they made quarantine much less lonely. “I feel like my time was really geared towards them, and I had a lot of free time and I spent it with them,” she said. “It was a nice escape from reality.”