More than a year into the bubble and without a clear timeline on when the pandemic will end, the Animal Kingdom Foundation (AKF) can say that the major impacts on animal shelters in the country are higher numbers of animals with compromised health, fewer adoptions, and less rescue options. Staff shortages are also likely because of illness or self-isolation. Shelters must balance the health of their community and of their staff with the goal of saving animals’ lives.
Achieving this balance is tricky as shelters are limiting or suspending non-essential functions, including the pick-up, transport, and sheltering of dogs or cats that are not in imminent danger.
AKF urges rescue groups that have appealed for help to consider fostering given the immense strain on shelters during the current COVID 19 outbreak.
Fostering can be a viable mechanism to enable sheltering organizations to protect the most vulnerable community populations and their pets. Fostering helps reduce the burden on shelters, particularly in light of a potential increase in the intake of pets from those who are sick or hospitalized. In most instances, shelters already maintain a network of supporters or trained volunteers that can be temporary foster care providers.
The Covid 19 outbreak caused many people financial challenges which have limited their ability to care for their pets, and this could place an additional strain on shelters. AKF has been flooded with requests to take in pets in the early days of the lockdown. This was heartbreaking.
Keeping pets out of shelters through fostering and other lifesaving mechanisms will enable them to use their kennels for other animals in need and to operate with fewer staff. Most importantly, it will enable them to continue saving lives.
Another way to minimize the risk of shelters being overburdened with returned foster dogs and cats once quarantine has ended is a ‘foster-to-adopt’ model. In this model, the shelters can work with the foster care providers to market for adoption the pets they are fostering so that the animals are adopted directly from the foster home and never return to the shelter.
Another option is to stagger the return of animals in foster homes to the shelters. This will allow the shelter more time to plan and structure the return of fostered pets. While there is still a risk of shelters facing a large number of animals returning from foster homes following the end of quarantine, the benefit to the shelters, animals and communities far outweighs the risk.
Speaking from our own experience, AKF has a hard time minimizing its activities to a minimum during this period as events we hold publicly is a vital source of aid but, we advise other shelters, that their adoption programs do not have to be suspended during the pandemic and can still be carried out in a safe manner if precautions are taken. AKF has utilized the internet’s live stream capabilities to market our adoptable dogs and it has been a successful practice.
Removing other obstacles to adoptions should also be considered such as: reducing adoption fees, providing adoption interviews by phone, delivering the adopted animals to their new homes, and encouraging foster-to-adopt when possible.
Shelters can also market adoption with vouchers to return for surgery when the pandemic has ended while manually checking up with adopters as soon the pandemic is over to ensure the animals will be neutered.
Blaming The Animals
AKF is aware that animals, especially the strays, are suffering ten-folds during this pandemic and our feeding program can only alleviate a good number of them as long as we can reach them, we know that moving forward, priorities for animal welfare programs may shift after this crisis has been resolved.
There may be increased disease transmission caused by free-roaming animals. Some of these animals may travel farther outside their territories to seek food when their usual sources of food are disrupted, causing secondary disease outbreaks to spread to other animals or humans (e.g. rabies).
In some cases, animals have been blamed for the crisis and viewed negatively. This results in a breakdown of the human-animal bond and can lead to retaliatory mass culling of animals and the unnecessary suffering this causes. Reported cases of stray poisoning and “pest” control activities are all over the internet during this pandemic.
Shelters can only do so much to protect these pitiful animals, especially the suffering pets and hapless strays. Please, if you can foster or adopt an animal during this lockdown, do so.
AKF also urge the shelters to consider these options we have implemented ourselves. This is a very difficult time and we need to find ways to protect and save the animals in our care. They need us more than ever.