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So far this year, the Rockingham-Harrisonburg SPCA has recorded 934 total adoptions.

As the Harrisonburg and JMU communities carry on throughout the pandemic, a number of changes in lifestyle have emerged — one is an increase in pet ownership.

Tiffany Corbin, JMU alumna and marketing and fundraising manager for the Rockingham-Harrisonburg Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), said the center saw an estimated 20% increase in adoptions and 400% increase in use of the foster program in 2020.

Corbin confirmed that these numbers have been consistent through this year ever since the vaccine has been introduced, and businesses, schools and other institutions have begun to open back up. She said the center recorded its highest number of monthly adoptions ever at about 200 animals. The center’s seen a “really steady flow of adoptions going into this year,” she said, recording 934 total adoptions so far.

Corbin said although the SPCA doesn’t keep track of the demographics of people adopting animals, the staff assumes that more of the adoptions are coming from older locals rather than JMU students. Whether this increase in pet ownership is reflective of the JMU community in particular is still unclear. 

For students living on campus, pets are prohibited. Even though owning a pet on campus goes against university rules, some students sneak pets into the dorms. Carolina Kirkpatrick, a sophomore media arts and design (SMAD) major who lived in the dorms last year, said she secretly bought a hamster for $10 from a friend who could no longer give the hamster the attention they thought he deserved. Her roommate last year, Tegan Lee, a sophomore elementary education major, co-owned the hamster with Kirkpatrick. 

Kirkpatrick said their hamster is “very loud and loves his wheel,” while Lee referred to the hamster as a “serotonin booster,” especially in the midst of living on campus during a pandemic.

With 30% of students residing in a variety of off-campus housing, some complex’s leases allow opportunities to have pets. Junior engineering major Zach Neal owns a dog in his off-campus apartment. Neal bought his dog from a local breeder in Roanoke, Virginia, in April during the pandemic. He said that balancing school work, extracurriculars and being a pet owner is difficult, but he has help from his girlfriend and friends. 

“It’s definitely hard,” Neal said, “but I’ve got a lot of friends that love to walk her.”

Corbin encouraged local individuals to adopt community cats — the “stray outdoor cats that don’t belong to anyone.” 

Corbin said the SPCA’s “highest intake of stray animals is outdoor cats,” adding up to 952 cats this year. 

Corbin encouraged adoptions, fostering and donations. To adopt, Corbin said people should go to the SPCA to meet the animals and take the necessary steps from there. 

“We definitely always need more fosters and adopters,” Corbin said. 

Contact Adaire Adams at adams5al@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.