Animal Shelters Call For People To Foster Pets Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

COVID-19 means shelters are closing to the public and operating with reduced staff. Here's how you can help a cat, dog, rabbit or other animal in need.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has you spending more time at home, feeling bored and craving company, there may be a purr-fect solution that will also help an animal in need: fostering a pet.

Fostering a pet typically means that an adoptable animal lives with you temporarily while awaiting a more permanent home. It helps prevent overcrowding in shelters, and can be especially helpful for animals that need special care, like very young kittens or puppies. And the spread of the novel coronavirus has created a situation where some shelters are especially in need of fosters.

“What we’re trying to do is prepare for the worst at this point,” Eric Rayvid, a spokesperson for Best Friends Animal Society, an animal welfare nonprofit, told HuffPost.

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Animal shelters in cities across the U.S. ― including New York City; Phoenix; St. Louis; Memphis, Tennessee; Norfolk, Virginia; and Austin, Texas ― have put out pleas for people to consider fostering.

Some shelters have already had to close to the public or cancel events, and many others may need to do so in the coming days ― meaning fewer pets are being adopted out, even as animals continue to come in. Shelters want to move as many animals as possible off the premises and into foster homes, in case they’re hit with staffing shortages as employees and volunteers get sick or need to self-quarantine.

“If it’s a large-scale shelter and you have a skeletal staff, that’s just going to be that much more of a burden for those folks to have,” Rayvid said. “The less animals that are there, the better work environment for [staff] and the better for the animals.”

And, he noted, fostering is a great opportunity for those practicing social distancing or being told to work from home.

“Having a pet around ... is good for your head,” he said. “It’s going to take you out of yourself a little bit. If you get a dog, it’s going force you to go outside. If you get a cat, it’s going to force you to spend some time cuddling.”

Best Friends has a searchable directory of partner shelters and rescue groups that may need fosters, or you can use Google to find an organization near you.

There’s no evidence as of now that cats and dogs can become sick from COVID-19, or that they’ve been a source of infection for humans. But there are also precautions that health experts recommend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people with COVID-19 avoid interacting with pets and have another household member care for them if possible, at least until “more information is known about the virus.” If you must care for pets while sick, the CDC urges you to wear a face mask and wash your hands before and after interacting with them.

If you’re not in a position to foster but still want to help animals in your community, Rayvid recommends donating to local shelters or rescues or to a pet food bank, especially since the pandemic is leaving some people out of work.

And while the global situation can be frightening, Rayvid said he’s been heartened by how many people have already stepped forward to help each other and help animals.

“We’re in really uncertain times right now, and one of the things that we’re seeing is that the animal welfare community is really pulling together,” he said. “It’s really nice to see everyone banding together to help.”

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