By Katherine Shenar and Kristen Hassen-Auerbach
With severe travel restrictions in place and social distancing strongly advised, shelters can no longer rely on pet transport to drive lifesaving efforts. Now, shelters that typically receive pets from other areas are prioritizing emergency preparedness for their own communities and employing intake diversion methods to keep shelter populations at safe capacity, especially if adoption rates decline. The reality of this moment is that most pets must be served in their own communities.
In order to preserve lifesaving within communities, shelters and rescue groups will need to work together, each doing their own work to prepare for the coming weeks, while working collaboratively to assist one another as the impacts of COVID-19 are increasingly felt.
The National Animal Care & Control Association and the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement offer these key collaboration recommendations for shelters to further enhance their relationships with rescue groups to support continued lifesaving.
1. Communicate and share your COOP (continuity of operations plan) with area rescue groups. Invite rescue groups to play a role in the plan and identify ways to collaborate including sharing resources like food, medical supplies, flea and heartworm preventative. Consistent cross communication during this pandemic is essential. We recommend animal welfare organizations within a community establish daily, written communications and weekly phone or online meetings if not already doing so. (Read and download NACA’s complete statement on Continuity of Animal Control & Sheltering Services.)
2. Drastically reduce or stop all non-emergency intake of pets coming into shelters and rescue groups from the community. Ask the public for help. Engage stray pet finders to become foster volunteers in lieu of the shelter intaking the lost pet. By completing a found report and posting photos on the shelter website, owners can still search for their lost pet. If a finder is unable to foster the pet, have your foster network ready to intake an animal that same day. Grow your foster network with the goal of housing most every pet in your care in foster homes. Rescue groups can consider fostering animals that are outside their usually preferred breed or species to help alleviate the burden on shelter populations.
3. Leave healthy cats alone in their neighborhoods. Suspend all community cat TVNR/SVNR efforts as well as intake of healthy cats and kittens and focus only on providing emergency intake for cats in immediate danger (Read and download NACA’s complete State on Cat Intake Protocol Recommendations.
4. Ask animal control officers and rescue group volunteers to assist with pandemic relief efforts. Officers can safely deliver food and supplies and provide support to vulnerable pet owners without putting themselves at risk. Rescue group volunteers can do the same. Work together on a route for the community to maximize time and travel. Share information about neighborhoods that are in critical need of support. Communicate with your local law enforcement partners and the public to ensure they understand your strategy and plan and can support your efforts.
5. Determine a protocol for handling animals who may have been exposed to COVID-19. Scroll down this information sheet from the Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine for a sample protocol. You should consider identifying off site housing for owned pets. Most boarding kennels are at low capacity at this time due to travel restrictions and may offer reduced-fee or even donated boarding services to owned pets who need housing.
About the Authors
Katherine M. Shenar brings 25 years of experience to her role as the executive vice president for The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement. She often speaks on leadership development, organization culture, coalition building, marketing communications, fundraising, and emerging trends in animal welfare.
Kristen Hassen- Auerbach is the Director of Pima Animal Care Center, Pima County’s open-admissions animal shelter which takes in 19,000 homeless, lost and abandoned pets annually and serves 15,000 animals through animal protection and outreach services. Under her direction, PACC is saving more than 90 percent of the cats and dogs who come to the shelter including orphaned puppies and kittens, pets recovering from illness and injuries, and animals who have been victims of cruelty or neglect. PACC has the largest municipal shelter foster program in the nation, sending more than 5,000 pets to foster homes annually. Kristen writes and speaks frequently on topics including low barrier foster and adoption; shelter pet marketing; animal control and outreach of the future; and social justice and animal welfare. Kristen formerly served as the Deputy Director at Austin Animal Center in Austin, Texas as well as the Assistant Director at the Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Fairfax, Virginia.