How to Help Animal Shelters During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Photo: Camille Tokerud/Getty Images

The current global pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding it have created new sources of need and shined a light on those that have always existed. There are many people and organizations that suddenly have a new or increased need for whatever you can give: local food banks, small businesses, the ACLU, your own neighbors. Animal shelters are suffering, too. Though the situation is changing rapidly for everyone and everything, there are still things you can do, right now, to help the animals in your neighborhood and across the country.

1. See if your local shelter needs fosters.

On Sunday, Animal Care Centers of New York, a municipal shelter, put out a call on Instagram. “ACC needs 200 ‘on call’ emergency fosters who can take home a pet if ACC reaches critical capacity,” they wrote. They’re one of many, many shelters across the country in need of volunteers to temporarily take in animals; it’s a fulfilling way to help, particularly now that you have nowhere to go.

“We had a great response to our plea for fosters,” Katy Hansen, a spokesperson for ACC, told me over the phone. “We had over 500 people sign up, we had 300 take the orientation, and we’re in the process of getting almost 100 animals out to these emergency fosters, which is the best thing we can do for these pets.”

What used to be an in-person foster orientation has become an online orientation, including a post-orientation quiz. “We also talk with people when they come to pick up an animal, and set them up for success. We give them food and leashes. The orientation is really just so people understand what the commitment is.”

Because of reductions in staff, the ACC, which operates out of three shelters and two resource centers in the city, has had to shrink their hours of operation from 12 a day to 8, and will likely soon reduce to 6. And because we’re now staying in our homes unless it’s absolutely necessary to leave, few people are coming in to adopt, even during their opening hours. This has all led to a glut of animals that need somewhere to go, a problem shelters are experiencing across the country. “We want to free up as many kennels as possible,” Hansen said.

The ACC’s resource centers, which primarily serve as a place where people can go to surrender pets, have temporarily closed. “We’re asking people to hang on to their pet as long as they can, unless it’s really an emergency,” Hansen said. Taking care of your pet for as long as you can before surrendering it, if you have to do so, will help mitigate overcrowding at shelters. Luckily, Hansen told me, one of their main sources of owner surrender, especially for dogs, is eviction — pet owners suddenly without a place to go that will accept their pet. “And the good thing is the city has suspended eviction for now. It can seem random, when you see the connections between different things. But that is so helpful,” Hansen said.

2. Donate money.

Nonprofit rescues that rely on donations are seeing increased need after having to suspend all in-person fundraising efforts; things like corporate events, charity spin classes, and festivals. “I know times are hard for everyone. A lot of people are out of jobs,” Anna Lai, a spokesperson for Muddy Paws, a nonprofit dog rescue in New York City, said. “But as a nonprofit, we live on donations, so really the best thing that you can possibly do for a rescue is to make any type of contribution, because people are closing their wallets to take care of themselves, and rightly so. But it means we’re sort of left out there.”

The majority of Muddy Paws’ dogs come from the South; they’re transported to the city and homed by fosters until they’re adopted. Like many rescues that provide a similar service, they need money to transport them, give them care, buy them supplies. “[All of our fundraising events] have been canceled,” Lai said. “So we really need to think about how many dogs we can sustainably take in before we start bleeding money.”

Muddy Paws is also one of the many rescues without a brick-and-mortar location, meaning they can no longer hold pop-up adoption events. They have, instead, turned to in-home meetings for potential adopters, while they still can (the situation is, of course, in flux). They’re still taking in dogs now — a recent transport effort had to be decreased from 35 dogs to 20 — but they have to think strategically. “Eventually, if we’re not careful, it’s possible that we can take in more than we can handle; that would mean we wouldn’t be able to save more dogs in the future. So it’s a delicate balance,” Lai said.

3. Donate supplies.

“As we’re sending out so many animals home with fosters,” Katy Hansen, of the ACC, said, “we’re giving all of our foster parents items like food and leashes and crates. So we’re now running low on those things.” ACC set up an Amazon wishlist, like many rescues have, where people can purchase supplies for them, so going out into the world to help is not necessary.

Muddy Paws, and other organizations, are also in need of basic items necessary for handling dogs that have now become nearly impossible to procure: hand sanitizer, gloves. “I know it’s hard to give up,” Lai told me, “but if someone happens to have a couple hundred boxes for whatever reason, if they could donate one box … that would be helpful to many of the organizations out there.”

4. Follow local rescues on social media.

Animal Haven, a New York City animal rescue that is still, for the moment, facilitating adoptions at their location (by appointment only), says the thing they need most right now is monetary donations, but that people who can’t donate now can stay up to date with their needs via social media.

“Watch our website, Instagram, and Twitter for pretty much daily updates on what is going on,” Tiffany Lacey, Animal Haven’s executive director, told me. “Because we’re just trying, as everyone else is, to make sense of what is happening every day, and what might happen tomorrow. And what we need to do to make sure the animals are safe.”

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How to Help Animal Shelters During the Coronavirus Pandemic