Homeless Pets Need Your Help as Coronavirus Closes Shelters

Practicing social distancing is nicer with a puppy. Mary Jo DiLonardo

There are so many obvious victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are plenty that aren't as apparent. Animal shelters and rescues are among those impacted by the coronavirus.

As more people across the United States are being told to stay home and practice social distancing, shelters and rescues are making the difficult decision to close their doors. Many are trying to place as many dogs into permanent homes and foster care as quickly as possible. Some have already shut down but are still trying to get pets into homes, utilizing video introductions and adoption appointments.

Just yesterday, there was a fluffy white puppy asleep in a pen in my home office. While the surreal headlines continued to unfurl in our new world, she was sprawled on her back, twitching in some exciting dream, surrounded by an array of colorful squeaky toys and soft blankets.

We fostered this happy little girl for a few days as an interim stop on her way to her new life. Although it seems hard to believe, you really can forget about all the bad things in the world for at least a few minutes when you see a goofy little dog chasing her tail and pouncing on pine cones in the grass. We were able to practice social distancing safely with her at the park (see above) and enjoy nature, sunshine and puppy cuddles.

Rescues and shelters are hoping that people working from home or families who are housebound with the kids similarly might find a way to share their lives with a homeless pet.

"While the COVID-19 crisis has left many feeling helpless, it also provides a unique opportunity for pet lovers who will be home for the next few weeks: fostering a shelter or rescue pet. Only a few weeks ago, many people may have felt they didn't have the time, or weren't home enough to foster or adopt a pet, but for so people who are now working remotely from home, it seems there's no better time to welcome a furry friend," Nichole Dandrea, Best Friends spokesperson, tells MNN.

Although Best Friends shelters are closed to people who want to walk in and adopt a pet, people can email or call to make an appointment to meet or foster a dog or cat.

Donations to rescue groups are always appreciated

rescued Aussie puppies in car
rescued more than a dozen puppies right before the pandemic hit the U.S. full force in mid-March. Speak St. Louis

Just a few days before the pandemic really hit the U.S., Speak St. Louis took in more than a dozen puppies.

"Because most of our pups are special needs, it is harder to find them homes," says Speak St. Louis director Judy Duhr. The rescue had to cancel events to raise awareness and put a hold on any out-of-state adoptions. "We recently took in 15 puppies, having no idea this pandemic was around the corner. We also are at an intake freeze as we can no longer get them spayed or neutered or even rabies, which is required by law for us to accept a dog into our care."

The puppies will likely stay with their fosters longer than normal. But some fosters are having a difficult time finding puppy supplies.

If you can't foster, but want to help in another way, consider donating to a shelter or rescue if you have the supplies or the funds.

"Reach out to a local shelter or rescue and see what they need," Duhr suggests. "We are having a hard time finding dog food, paper towels, etc. The dogs will be in our care much longer so donations of course are appreciated."

Fostering is the biggest need

Trooper at Walker County
Trooper is one of the dogs at Walker County Animal Shelter hoping to make his way to a rescue or new home during the pandemic. Rachel Barbee

At the Walker County Animal Shelter in rural Chickamauga, Georgia, intake is closed except for extreme cases like dog bites or animals that have been hit by cars, says shelter director Emily Sadler.

So far, she says, no one has tried to turn in their pets to the shelter for virus-related reasons. Some people worry that the economy will force people to give up their animals when they can no longer afford to keep them.

Staff members still come in to care for the dogs, maintaining as much distance as possible. Sadler is working with area rescues, trying to place the dogs that fill the shelter's 48 kennels. As usual, she has no plans to euthanize the dogs at the shelter, unless they are aggressive or a veterinarian suggests they are in extreme failing health.

The shelter doesn't have a foster program, but Sadler suggests that people reach out to rescues who desperately need fosters in order to pull dogs from shelters like hers.

"I think fostering is the biggest need right now. Of course, financial donations too, but times are scary now," she says. "Everybody's talking about how bored you are and you won't be bored when you're fostering animals."

No evidence that pets can pass on COVID-19

You might have heard worries that pets can spread the virus to people. However, experts believe it's very unlikely.

The World Health Organization currently advises that there is no evidence to suggest that dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus. The World Organisation for Animal Health says there's no evidence that dogs play a role in the spread of this disease or that they become sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees, stating "At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19."

Fears have been stoked because a dog in Hong Kong tested "weakly positive" for the virus. The dog was in close contact with someone who was sick, but the dog had no symptoms. It was put into quarantine and underwent more testing, according to a statement from Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD)..

Experts believe the Pomeranian might have tested positive due to "environmental contamination" of its mouth and nose. The germs could have been living on the dog's nose or mouth, just like they can live on other surfaces like a doorknob or a countertop. The dog died two days after being released, but the dog likely died from other causes because it never showed other symptoms of the disease, according to the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.

"At present, the AFCD does not have evidence that pet animals can be infected with COVID-19 virus or can be a source of infection to people," the department said in a statement.