Now that animal shelters are empty, can we ever go back to the way things were?

May 7th, 2020

Before COVID-19 turned our world upside down, you most likely did not know the rate of animals living and dying in your local shelter. You might not have even known about your local animal shelter. It’s possible you may not have known any of the needs about the shelter, unless your pet had been lost or you came into contact with the city service for one reason or another. It was probably new information that there were homeless pets in need of foster families in your very own backyard. Tax funded animal shelters in major cities like Dallas, Austin, Tucson, Los Angeles, NYC, Palm Beach and numerous others take in an average of 100 animals per day, or more, 365 days of the year, from people who find or surrender them.

The pandemic did a crazy thing for animal shelters. It made you aware of the one in your community. 

When news outlets like CNN, the New York Times and almost every other regional and national news outlets are talking about animal shelters begging for foster and adoptive homes for pets, it's hard to miss news like that. You might be surprised to know that before COVID-19, approximately 5,500 healthy pets of all ages were being killed in hundreds of animal shelters across the US every single day. That’s around 670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats per year–over a million pets–losing their lives. Post-COVID those otherwise ill-fated pets, from the tiniest of puppies and orphaned kittens to adult dogs and cats who simply ran out of time, have been offered a new fate. They've landed softly into foster homes.

We don’t think animal shelters are the problem. 

Animal services is frequently one of the most under funded departments in cities across the country, and because of that, it’s an innovation desert. We’re not here to argue what deserves more funding, people or animals, but modern technology has a price tag. If a city has a budget for innovation, it goes to services like education, hospitals and public safety. Unfortunately, being left out of the funding support chain has left many shelters unable to evolve, stuck in the thought-cycle that says money is the only thing that can create innovation and save lives. That’s simply not the case.

American Pets Alive! (AmPA!) teaches shelters to use their creativity and to be scrappy and with what this pandemic is doing to our economy, shelters will have to get scrappier than ever before. AmPA! works closely with shelters who, before coronavirus, never had a foster program, which is a free service provided by the community. Many of these same shelters had no volunteer programs which provide thousands of hours of service, and make a maximum impact with no additional funding. These same shelters were often still euthanizing 60% or more of their animals every day. That means every puppy or kitten under 8 weeks old, any animal sick or injured, any lost pet, after a minimum of three days, lost their life. With the additions of a foster program, more lives like theirs can be saved. During this pandemic, we’re seeing animal shelters try all kinds of new tactics to save lives like virtual adoptions and simplified foster applications, because they have no other options, and it’s working.

Let’s go back to March 18, 2020. 

You’re watching the daytime news, because you're home on a Wednesday, and you hear your local animal shelter has hundreds of animals in need of foster homes before the city shuts down. You get on their website and apply to be a foster. By the next day, you’ve filled out the application online and someone from the shelter reached out to you to let you know there is an 11 month old dog that needs a foster home. By that evening, you’re welcoming the pup into your home–no longer sitting on your couch in quarantine by yourself. You’ve got a new buddy to entertain and keep you company. That was the case for dogs and cats in shelters all over the country and now, animal shelters are reporting they can't keep up with the supply and demand. They have more foster and adopters than they have pets available. If more than half of all Americans own at least one pet already and those same people go to work and school five days a week, why would fostering be harder to do during a pandemic than any other time? It’s not! In many shelters, dogs are lucky to even get one potty break a day. Being in a home and loved by someone, even someone who works 8-10 hour days, is better than living in a shelter.

Now that we have an increase in foster and adoptive homes and more awareness of local animals in need than ever before, how can we ever go back? 

As cities begin to re-open and people return to work, we, as communities, should not accept that animal shelters will be flooded with the return of pets from foster homes. If you became a foster due to COVID-19, do you plan to return the pet to the shelter? Returning your foster to some shelters may mean that pet never leaves the shelter alive again. Fostering is lifesaving and continuing to foster your COVID-19 foster friend is one of the boosts animal sheltering needs to continue the catch-up to 2020.

If you’ve ever fostered or adopted a pet, no matter how nice the shelter is, it should not be the first and only option for a pet in need. That’s why American Pets Alive! is challenging all quarantine foster families to pledge that they will stay a foster for pets in need. Pledge that you will keep fostering to save lives. Commit to keeping shelter pets in foster homes post-pandemic. Be the reason animal shelters stay empty, helping to create space in shelter for those with illness, injuries or rehabilitation needs to get them ready to be in a home.

By making the promise to keep fostering, we can keep growing capacity in shelters across the country, opening up a world of possibility forever changing the way we treat homeless pets. This is lifesaving. You are lifesaving.

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