Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion 
Chief J.J. Hendrickson plays with Torch the cat Thursday at the Kenai Animal Shelter.

Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion Chief J.J. Hendrickson plays with Torch the cat Thursday at the Kenai Animal Shelter.

COVID changes shelter for the better

The Kenai Animal Shelter was quiet Thursday afternoon. It turns out, the animals like it that way.

J.J. Hendrickson, the chief animal control officer at the shelter, said restricting in-person visitation in the back of the shelter to comply with COVID-19 mitigation requirements has actually been a blessing in disguise for the critters.

The shelter, located at 510 North Willow St., is operated by the City of Kenai.

“Limiting people to the lobby area, we found that the stress levels in our animals have decreased significantly,” Hendrickson said.

She’s been interested in working with animals since she was a kid, she said. Hendrickson worked at an animal hospital and a zoo in Ohio before moving to Alaska. She’s been the chief of the center for six years now.

One of the differences between now and when she started six years ago, Hendrickson said, has been the animals’ attitudes.

Before the pandemic, she said the Kenai Animal Shelter, as well as many others locally and nationally, let folks in to interact with the animals themselves. The whole environment was a little more tense.

“When an animal comes to the shelter, no matter what you do, it is going to be a little bit stressful,” Hendrickson said. “But even more so when things are unpredictable.”

She said when the back was open to the public, animals didn’t have any idea when people would come to their kennels, try to touch them, or why kids would — often jovially — shout when they saw a cute animal.

“There’s so many things that people do that, for animals, it’s just not conducive,” Hendrickson said.

Symptoms of stress have seemed to decrease since the public has been restricted to the lobby area, she said. Animals aren’t shedding as much hair, vomiting, getting diarrhea or hiding as much, she said.

An increase in pet adoptions has been a byproduct of the pandemic nationwide.

According to a survey conducted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, from March 2020 to May 2021 about one in five respondents had adopted a cat or a dog during the pandemic. That accounted for 23 million households in the United States.

Many pet owners have also splurged on their critters during the pandemic. Through November 2021, The Washington Post reported Americans had put down $21.4 billion on nonmedical pet products. They also had spent $28.4 billion on dog food and $157.1 million on overnight pet sitting through September 2021.

Hendrickson said the Kenai Animal Shelter didn’t see the same spike in pet adoptions as many other shelters during the early months of the pandemic, but that she noticed less animals being admitted into the facility at all.

“I think, if anything, some animals aren’t coming in,” she said. “Some of it could just be because people are home.”

Of the animals already at the shelter, though, Hendrickson said they’re staying longer.

“Normally, we see an animal leave the shelter (in) 30 to 60 days,” she said. “We’re seeing the animals leave at 60 to 90 days, if not a little bit longer.”

Hendrickson said there was one cat recently adopted that had been at the shelter for an entire year.

Although the shelter is limiting access to the animals in the back, people interested in adopting a fur companion can read the animals’ biographies on Petfinder, the shelter’s Facebook page and the City of Kenai website. Once folks find a critter they think would be a good fit they are encouraged to make an appointment to meet the animal.

Hendrickson said this also helps make the adoption process more intentional.

“You can actually act as adoption counselors, and kind of really find a good fit for that individual home,” she said. “Versus that ‘I see it, it’s cute, I have to have it.’”

According to January’s monthly report from the animal shelter to the Kenai City Council, 16 dogs and 21 cats were admitted last month. Of those, three dogs and nine cats were adopted, and two dogs and one cat were claimed. The shelter also had to euthanize one dog in January. As of Thursday, Hendrickson said there were about 50 cats and three dogs available for adoption.

She said the new visitation protocols have been received well by most members of the community, but that she understands the appointment system can cause delays for folks looking to adopt a pet.

“I know it can be frustrating to have to wait a little bit of time, but it helps us find the right homes for the animals,” she said.

Appointments can be made at the Kenai Animal Shelter by calling 907-283-7353 or emailing animal@kenai.city.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

Chief J.J. Hendrickson works at the Kenai Animal Shelter on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Chief J.J. Hendrickson works at the Kenai Animal Shelter on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Animal Shelter is seen on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Animal Shelter is seen on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

More in News

Dale Chorman stands with his wife, Dianne. (Photo provided by Tom Kizzia)
Long-time Homer resident, photographer dead after Sunday moose encounter

Troopers on Monday identified the victim as 70-year-old Dale Chorman

A sign warning of a June 28, 2021, bear attack is placed at the head of the Kenai River Trail on Skilak Loop Road in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on June 30, 2021. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Federal wildlife officers seek information about early-May black bear poaching

Officials think the poaching happened near the east entrance of Skilak Loop roughly 2 miles from Jims’ Landing

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Ninilchik woman dead after Tuesday collision

The woman was attempting to cross the Sterling Highway from Oil Well Road when she was struck by a pickup truck

Graduates listen to Connections Homeschool Principal Doug Hayman speak during the school’s commencement ceremony on Thursday in Soldotna. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Graduates listen to Connections Homeschool Principal Doug Hayman speak during the school’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 16, 2024 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Expect a lot from yourself and from others’

Connections Homeschool students accept diplomas at commencement ceremony

Screenshot
Graduates of Seward High School leave the gym at the end of their graduation ceremony on Wednesday.
‘Give people something to talk about’

Seward High School graduates 30

Kenai Police Chief David Ross speaks to Kenai City Council members about an ordinance that would repeal sections of city code that prohibit public sleeping and loitering and the city’s curfew on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai OKs repeal of loitering laws, curfew for minors

The policies, first enacted in 1978, are difficult to enforce and potentially violate citizens’ rights, according to the Kenai Police Department

Nikiski Middle/High School graduates throw their caps into the air at the conclusion of a graduation ceremony in the school’s gym in Nikiski, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Nikiski graduates ‘will always be a part of each other’s stories’

The graduates celebrated their time together and took a moment to anticipate the bright futures that lie ahead

A seal pup rescued from near Kenai beach is treated by the Alaska SeaLife Center’s Wildlife Response Program on May 9, 2024. (Photo courtesy Kaiti Grant/Alaska SeaLife Center)
SeaLife Center admits abandoned harbor seal pups

Both seals were found abandoned and malnourished, and both were born prematurely

Most Read