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COVID-19: Pet Rescues and Animal Shelters Stay Positive and Innovate

Best Friends Animal Society puppies
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The world has come to a grinding halt to slow the spread of COVID-19. Our country’s shelters and rescue groups are now facing an unprecedented situation. As businesses remain closed and people self-isolate, animal welfare organizations across the country are seeing drastic changes. 

Supply-chain disruptions, worries about veterinary care, and cancelled fundraisers are among a few of the challenges facing shelters and animal rescue groups. 

But there is also positive news too—shelters are seeing an increase in interest for fostering and adoption. Now more than ever, we could all use a furry companion to help us get through these uncertain times.  

Here’s a deeper look at some of the ways the coronavirus outbreak is impacting animal shelters and rescue groups—and some simple ways you can help. 

Closed to the Public, But Open for Adoptions and Fostering 

Woman holds cat for adoption

Courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society

The COVID-19 self-isolation and social distancing mandates in place throughout the country, have led shelters to close for the time being. But shelter and rescue groups are still figuring out ways to get animals adopted. 

Thankfully, some of these shelters and pet rescues have seen a spike in fostering applications. Fostering is a great opportunity to bond with a new pet while you work from home, freeing up space in shelters to take in more dogs and cats in need. 

“Many shelters are closing to the public while operating an appointment-based foster and adoption system,” says Temma Martin from Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS) “The goal is to respect social distancing recommendations while helping pets get out of the shelters and into homes.”  

Best Friends is one of the country’s leading animal welfare organizations, running lifesaving programs for nearly 3,000 animal welfare groups. They also operate the largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals in the country, located in Kanab, Utah. 

BFAS centers in major cities have closed their doors and have gone to appointment-only services. Animals in the BFAS New York and Atlanta shelters are now in foster care, while both the Los Angeles and Salt Lake City centers are seeing a substantial increase in foster applications. 

“We are getting hundreds of requests to foster every day, which we are working to fulfill or referring interested parties to foster at shelters in the area,” says Martin about the Los Angeles location.  

Meagan Hanley, founder and director of a foster-based rescue group named A Place for Ace in Massachusetts, says they’ve also experienced an increase in pet adoptions. 

“Adoptions have increased dramatically. We have more people wanting to adopt right now than ever before,” she says. The group currently has 26 animals rescued from kill shelters, and they’ve been receiving at least 50 applications a day. 

“We can’t get the dogs here quick enough from the South,” says Hanley. 

Hanley thinks there are several reasons behind people’s desire to adopt now. Everyone is working from home, they are bored, or they want to get dogs to keep their kids busy and get outside for walks. 

Hanley, however, worries that once things go back to normal, some of these dogs may be returned to the shelter or no longer wanted. She stresses that potential adopters should make sure they are ready for the time and financial commitment of caring for a pet. 

Virtual Vetting and Careful Consideration 

Foster dog in home

Courtesy Best Friends Animal Society

Shelters and rescue groups have adapted to the new circumstances by implementing virtual home checks in the times of social distancing. 

Hanley says herself and another director are conducting virtual home visits. The rest of the processes for foster and adoption applications—interviews, reference checks, social media checks—remain the same, and can be done via phone and online. 

Jackie Cigliano, president of For Our Friends, a foster-based group for senior dogs on Long Island, says that although it’s not their typical policy, they are trying to rescue shelter dogs in need and directly connect them with fosters. 

“It will likely mean we meet at the back door of the shelter and the foster takes the dog directly,” she says.

More importantly, she explains, if they do take a new dog into their care, the pet would have to go home with a seasoned foster who has already been on their team.

Limiting Animal Intake 

While the growth in adoption and foster applications at shelters and rescue groups is a positive sign, some shelters are hitting the pause button when it comes to taking in animals. They are doing this to avoid overcrowding and manage the animals they already have under their care. 

Kristen Hassen-Auerbach, director of animal services at Pima Animal Care Center (PACC) in Arizona, says that they’ve suspended all non-essential intake of cats and dogs in accordance with the recommendations from the National Animal Care and Control Association

“We’re asking people to leave healthy [stray] cats and kittens in the community and to hold onto stray dogs if they’re able to,” she says. “We are attempting to create a cushion of space, so we can accommodate all the animals that will be coming in the next two weeks. Kitten and puppy season is knocking on our door and intake will rise dramatically.” 

Last April, PACC took in 1,600 pets. Without adopters and fosters, Hassen-Auerbach fears that they could be in a bad position in a couple of weeks.

Keeping Staff and Volunteers Safe 

Volunteer at animal shelter

Courtesy of PACC

Even though shelters are closed to the public, they still need staff and volunteers to continue taking care of the animals. 

Around 700 families are currently fostering animals from PAAC in Arizona, and volunteers are still helping out with duties for the pets that are still waiting for a home. Hassen-Auerbach shares that the support from the Pima county community has been incredible.    

“Our volunteers are being treated as a crucial part of the lifesaving equation. They are walking dogs, assisting visitors, and helping us regularly clean and sanitize the public areas while ensuring we don’t have people gathering in large groups,” she says. “We are asking volunteers who may be at higher risk of catching COVID-19 to participate only in low risk activities like walking dogs and volunteering in our non-public areas.”

Madeline Bernstein, president of spcaLA, says that caring for the 175 animals at the shelter is keeping everyone in good spirits. “The staff has been creating fun videos and tips for social media by using the shelter animals to show people at home fun activities they can do with their animals,” she says. 

Smaller rescue groups, where most of the staff and volunteers already work from home, are also turning to fun pictures and videos of cats and dogs to stay motivated. After all, there’s no shortage of adorable pictures and videos of rescue animals to brighten our days at home.  

Access to Supplies and Veterinary Help 

With many businesses closed and Amazon deliveries slowing down, those running shelters and rescues are worried about being able to provide food and proper healthcare for their animals. 

“We are experiencing the same needs as everyone—[rubbing] alcohol, masks, gloves, and slow delivery of supplies,” shares Bernstein.

Cigliano, from For Our Friends, says that it has already become a problem to find food for animals on a special diet. She’s had to visit local pet stores to pick up supplies. 

Shelters like PACC are taking steps to conserve medical supplies and are only performing surgeries if they are essential. Both PACC and spcaLA have onsite veterinarians continuing to provide care for their pets, but smaller groups are worried about finding healthcare as more animal clinics are staying closed except for emergency services.  

Lack of resources and overcrowding may mean shelters will be faced with difficult decisions by early April. But for the time being, with innovative programs and increased interest in fostering, shelters are able to get pets into foster homes and ease the burden a bit.

“Euthanasia for space just isn’t an option we’re considering,” says Hassen-Auerbach of PACC. “We’re doing a lot of other things to make sure we don’t get there.”   

What You Can Do To Help  

Dog in shelter raising paw

Courtesy of PACC

If you are looking for ways to help animals in need and sustain rescue groups and shelters during the COVID-19 outbreak, here are a few options to consider.

Foster if possible. Those who are blessed with pets at home are finding companionship and unconditional love during these uncertain times. Health officials and veterinarians say that COVID-19 cannot be transmitted to humans from pets. Consider adding a furry family member from your local shelter. This will not only help you and the animal, but also the shelter community. 

Make a donation. Another critical need your local shelter may be experiencing is lack of funding. While municipal shelters are government funded, non-profit shelters and rescue groups rely on donations. Having to cancel or postpone fundraisers due to the coronavirus outbreak has caused some rescue workers to worry. If you’re able to make a monetary donation to your favorite rescue group or shelter, it will help keep their life-saving work afloat. 

Reach out to your local shelter. Martin from Best Friends Animal Society recommends people reach out to their local shelters and rescue groups to inquire about their current needs, or watch their social media pages for requests and announcements. 

“Many shelters are looking at shortages of food and supplies, as individuals have stocked up on items from local stores,” she says. “Supply chains may have been disrupted. Donations are always welcome, but each animal group will have its own specific needs, which may change daily or hourly.”  

Send needed items. Use Amazon or another delivery service to send food, litter, treats, and toys to local shelters and animal rescue organizations. 

Help while you shop. Use AmazonSmile to purchase items as you normally do, and choose a shelter or rescue of your choice to receive a percentage from each sale. 

*Featured image courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society.

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