The earliest months of the COVID-19 pandemic were stereotyped as time to catch up on Netflix, order takeout pizza, adjust to working from home, and shut off from the outside world.

One other trend quickly became apparent: a spike in pet adoptions that seemed to be as pronounced in New Jersey as anywhere else in the country.

Shelters of the Garden State say that pace has slowed in the two years since, but their own specific circumstances were impacted by the health crisis too, and in differing ways.

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At the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, executive director Ross Licitra said the animal population is lower across the board than in years past.

"We're at an all-time low when it comes to cats right now at the shelter," Licitra said. "Normally we have several hundred cats in the shelter, and at the moment we're down to about 20."

The same is not true for St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center, although director of communications Diane Ashton said some of that is attributable to COVID necessitating St. Hubert's consolidating its adoption services just to its main branch in Madison.

"Our shelters are full, they're at capacity, there's always a need for adopters," Ashton said. "So I think that would be the headline, is to always encourage people to either adopt or foster."

Licitra joined Ashton in telling New Jerseyans to keep adopting or fostering, and both also debunked reports and rumors of pandemic pets being returned in droves.

That does happen, Licitra said, but typically not on a whim.

"What we're seeing is a lot of behavioral surrenders, people coming back to the shelter looking for advice on behavioral issues, especially with their dogs," he said, adding that as human life has returned to normal, pets who came into homes in the last two years don't know what "normal" is.

Also a factor: financial hardships brought on by COVID employment instability, which may have caused residents to give up pet-friendly homes.

As a rule, Ashton said, puppies and kittens always get adopted, and always will. But it's those longer-stay animals — either with behavioral problems, or older, or larger — that occupy shelter space when they, and the facility, would be better off being fostered, if even for a short time.

"Your shelter is filled with animals, a lot of dogs that are longer-stay dogs, and therefore you can't bring in as many dogs as you used to," Ashton said.

Pre- or post-pandemic, Licitra said, pet ownership is a huge, though worthwhile, responsibility that could last 15 years or more, and should be carefully considered by the entire family.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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NJ county fairs make a comeback: Check out the schedule for 2022

UPDATED 4/10: A current list of county fairs happening across the Garden State for 2022. From rides, food, animals, and hot air balloons, each county fair has something unique to offer.

(Fairs are listed in geographical order from South NJ to North NJ)

These are the best hiking spots in New Jersey

A trip to New Jersey doesn't have to be all about the beach. Our state has some incredible trails, waterfalls, and lakes to enjoy.

From the Pine Barrens to the Appalachian Trail to the hidden gems of New Jersey, you have plenty of options for a great hike. Hiking is such a great way to spend time outdoors and enjoy nature, plus it's a great workout.

Before you go out on the trails and explore some of our listeners' suggestions, I have some tips on hiking etiquette from the American Hiking Society.

If you are going downhill and run into an uphill hiker, step to the side and give the uphill hiker space. A hiker going uphill has the right of way unless they stop to catch their breath.

Always stay on the trail, you may see side paths, unless they are marked as an official trail, steer clear of them. By going off-trail you may cause damage to the ecosystems around the trail, the plants, and wildlife that live there.

You also do not want to disturb the wildlife you encounter, just keep your distance from the wildlife and continue hiking.

Bicyclists should yield to hikers and horses. Hikers should also yield to horses, but I’m not sure how many horses you will encounter on the trails in New Jersey.
If you are thinking of bringing your dog on your hike, they should be leashed, and make sure to clean up all pet waste.

Lastly, be mindful of the weather, if the trail is too muddy, it's probably best to save your hike for another day.

I asked our listeners for their suggestions of the best hiking spots in New Jersey, check out their suggestions:

Every NJ city and town's municipal tax bill, ranked

A little less than 30 cents of every $1 in property taxes charged in New Jersey support municipal services provided by cities, towns, townships, boroughs and villages. Statewide, the average municipal-only tax bill in 2021 was $2,725, but that varied widely from more than $13,000 in Tavistock to nothing in three townships. In addition to $9.22 billion in municipal purpose taxes, special taxing districts that in some places provide municipal services such as fire protection, garbage collection or economic development levied $323.8 million in 2021.

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