AUSTIN — Cari Jessop isn't sure whether Zeke and Willy will keep those names or get new ones.

Jessop and her son, Vincent, took home a pair of 4-month-old kittens Tuesday from the Mower County Humane Society, joining the parade of people who did the same last year.

The animal care center had a banner year in 2020 finding homes for cats and dogs, placing 499 animals – 285 cats and 214 dogs – an increase of 63 cats and 46 dogs from 2019, which saw a total of 390 adoptions.

Adoptions In Rochester

It wasn't just Mower County that saw an increase in pet adoptions.

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Michele Quandt, director of Camp Companion in Rochester, said the rescue organization saw a jump in adoptions and an increase in the number of people who fostered pets in 2020. COVID-19 and people working from home played a big part in that.

ALSO READ: Despite pandemic challenges, Rochester students raise thousands for annual fundraiser

"A lot of people decided to foster because they were home," Quandt said. What concerns her is when the stay-at-home order is lifted. Rescue organizations do not want to see a backslide of people abandoning or returning pets they adopted during the pandemic.

Tanya Johnson, shelter director at Paws and Claws in Rochester, said her staff has worked hard to ensure they have chosen homes for their animals where the people won't decide to give them back once they go back to work outside the house.

Paws and Claws' dog adoptions in 2020 stayed steady, going from 654 to 653. But the shelter found homes for 781 cats in 2020 compared to 676 in 2019.

Johnson said COVID-19 has helped with that increase in pet adoptions. "People just being home and having more time to put in training and companionship while they are home is part of it."

Even through the pandemic, Johnson said she's grateful for the community's support. "Whether it’s donations of supplies or monetary donations, we’ve noticed that and really appreciate it," she said.

Cats And Dogs Aplenty

Kelly Rush, the cat manager at Mower County Humane Society, said COVID-19 forced some changes at the shelter. They stopped holding open houses for adoptions, instead adopting by appointment only.

"We have people go online and fill out a short application," Rush said, adding that the staff then does their due diligence on the prospective pet parents. "If they find a cat that fits their family, we fill out the paperwork and they get to leave all in one day."

But if 2020 came with more adoptions, it also came with a few more challenges, she said. For example, vets shut down for anything that wasn't an emergency surgery. That meant no animals were spayed or neutered. On top of that, the city animal shelter closed its door to cats for six months.

At one point, Mower County Humane Society had 83 kittens in the shelter. That, she said, is the normal equivalent of the total number of cats the shelter might have at any moment.

Jessop said when she was looking for kittens, she liked what she saw at the humane society.

"When I was looking for kittens, this place looked like it had the most need around this area," Jessop said. "It had more cats and kittens than other places."

Carey Sharp, Mower County Humane Society's dog manager, said the shelter had four litters of puppies born in 2020, an unprecedented number for them. While the shelter had been open for three days a week for people to come in, the shelter's new website means people can see the animals and learn about the rules for adopting the animal that catches their eye.

Carey Sharp greets a dog while working on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Carey Sharp greets a dog while working on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

The website has attracted adopters from all over Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.

As 2021 progresses, Sharp said she also believes the shelter has worked hard to ensure pets aren't returned when COVID-19 restrictions relax.

"We ask, can you come home during the day and let this dog out?" she said. "When their situation does change, will they be able to handle it?"

Vincent Jessop, 13, takes a look at kittens up for adoption on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. “I’ll take any cat,” Vincent said when his mom asked which they should adopt. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Vincent Jessop, 13, takes a look at kittens up for adoption on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. “I’ll take any cat,” Vincent said when his mom asked which they should adopt. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Volunteer Sheila Fretty pets a cat on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. “We give them as much love as we can,” Fretty said. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Volunteer Sheila Fretty pets a cat on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. “We give them as much love as we can,” Fretty said. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
A few of the center’s longer-term residents are pictured on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
A few of the center’s longer-term residents are pictured on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Volunteer Sheila Fretty hands Vincent Jessop, 13, his newly adopted kitten on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Volunteer Sheila Fretty hands Vincent Jessop, 13, his newly adopted kitten on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Vincent Jessop, 13, takes a look at kittens up for adoption on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. “I’ll take any cat,” Vincent said when his mom asked which they should adopt. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Vincent Jessop, 13, takes a look at kittens up for adoption on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. “I’ll take any cat,” Vincent said when his mom asked which they should adopt. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Cari Jessop and her son Vincent, 13, take a look at kittens up for adoption on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Cari Jessop and her son Vincent, 13, take a look at kittens up for adoption on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Volunteer Sheila Fretty pets a cat on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. “We give them as much love as we can,” Fretty said. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Volunteer Sheila Fretty pets a cat on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. “We give them as much love as we can,” Fretty said. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Cats are pictured on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Cats are pictured on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Volunteer Marilyn Flack prepares dinner for the dogs on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Volunteer Marilyn Flack prepares dinner for the dogs on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
The Mower County Humane Society is pictured on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
The Mower County Humane Society is pictured on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
A dog explores outside on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
A dog explores outside on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Trevor spends some time in the yard before dinner on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Trevor spends some time in the yard before dinner on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Volunteer Marilyn Flack prepares dinner for the dogs on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Volunteer Marilyn Flack prepares dinner for the dogs on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Cats are pictured on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Cats are pictured on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, at Mower County Humane Society in Austin. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)