Shelters have emptied their kennels, so now what?

By Kristen Hassen-Auerbach

Kristen Hassen-Auerbach | March 31st, 2020

Around the nation, shelter after shelter has drastically reduced or even emptied their kennels. These photos are from shelters around the U.S. who can’t are in awe. They’ve never seen so many empty kennels. Some shelters literally have ZERO animals left, while others have only stray animals and those with more serious medical and behavioral issues. Every day, we receive dozens of photos like these - empty kennels that prove, without a doubt, the community IS the solution. In reality, the answer was always there.

In 1909, at the White House Conference on Children and Youth, Teddy Roosevelt asserted that living in a home with a family was a 'birthright' of all children, and that kids without parents should be housed in foster homes, not in orphanages. This shift, made more than 100 years ago, is why we don't have thousands of orphanages all over the country and instead use foster as the primary solution for kids.

Today, this same shift is happening for animals. For far too long, we've insisted on maintaining the 'old' system, without realizing the potential of foster care to create a more safe, humane, sustainable way of housing homeless and lost pets. Tragically, it took a worldwide pandemic to show us the potential of foster, but now, beyond a shadow of doubt, we know foster care can change everything.

We're just getting started. Over the next few months, we need to change our assumptions, beliefs and old ways of doing business as usual. As shelter professionals, volunteers and advocates, we have to listen to the message our communities are shouting to us. They're saying "We want to take a collective responsibility for pets who need us so please let us help!" Now we have to listen.

As shelter professionals, here is what we need to be doing now to maintain what seemed impossible just weeks ago.

1. Thank the community and keep saying 'yes' to all the help they offer. 

As we hit the busy spring and summer season, we will need to find new, creative ways to keep placing pets during the even tougher days ahead. Some shelters are even doing telephone counseling and utilizing staff and volunteers to deliver pets and supplies!

For more on saying 'yes': Open Fostering: Removing Barriers to Fostering During the COVID-19 Pandemic

2. Make this the new normal. 

The only way to ensure shelter pets stay safe and alive during COVID-19 is to keep them in homes. A minimum of 50% of your population should be housed in homes, not the shelter and lots of organizations are placing 85% or more in foster. Most shelters are operating on bare bones staffing levels and many are struggling to get cleaning and other supplies. If staff fall sick, the animals left in shelter could be at risk of euthanasia if there aren't enough people to care for them. Pets need to be in homes right now, not in the shelter.

3. Communicate with your community (and your staff and volunteers) every day. 

Tell them you need their sustained help. Ask them to help you get their foster pets adopted. Explain why you need them to hold health, friendly stray pets instead of bringing them in. Talk with them about why cats and kittens should stay in the community, not come into the shelter. They want to support you and they need to know WHY you need their help.

For more on community and fostering: Engage Fosters in COVID-19: Easy Steps to Share with Your Community to Save Lives

4. Figure out how to run your organization when the entire community IS your shelter. 

It's time to be brave, try new things, and restructure your staffing and volunteer functions to support most pets in foster. We've reallocated numerous staff to telephone adoption and foster counseling and we're about to launch a program to have essential staff and volunteers provide supplies and support to pets IN the community.

5. Think about your shelter as a crisis response center and emergency room, not as a place to house animals indefinitely. 

How can you use your space to focus on sick and injured animals and pets with other emergency needs while doing routine business through foster and pet owner support? Can your shelter be used as a distribution center for disaster relief - to provide food and supplies to your community? Think about this now, because the need is not far off.

Your American Pets Alive! COVID-19 Animal Shelter Preparedness Guide will tell you how, step-by-step, to do all of the above.

Join the American Pets Alive! Shelter and Rescue Support group on Facebook to talk daily with 3,000 of your colleagues and to be part of important weekly Zoom meetings.


Back to All Blog Posts
Related blog Posts

Facebook Groups Where You Can Connect with Other Animal Welfare Professionals Read More
20 Ideas to Thank Your Fosters Read More
Keeping Families Together During the Eviction Crisis: Three Things Animal Shelters Should Do Now Read More
How to Help Your Dog with Separation Anxiety Read More