What Large Shelters Would Have Done Differently, Had They Known

April 19th, 2020

Recently we asked several large U.S. shelters what they would have done differently had they known how COVID-19 would affect their communities and animal shelters.

Here are the top 10 responses we received.

1. Build foster programs, faster.

We used to say foster is the future. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic brought us this future sooner than we imagined. When asked the question about preparedness, every single shelter said they would work to increase foster care sooner, reached out to their communities prior to Shelter in Place orders being issued and asked for foster caregivers. We know that housing pets in foster homes is not only better for animals in our care, but during this pandemic, it’s also safer for people, minimizing gathering that could lead to spreading this illness. Foster care numbers have skyrocketed everywhere in the country. We see again how intensely our communities want to help pets. Previously full shelters are now empty, for the first time in the history of animal sheltering-- thanks to the public stepping up and offering foster homes for homeless and lost pets. We know that this foster-centric model can continue past the pandemic to become primary housing for animals and that shelter space will be reserved for the few emergent pets that will need to be housed in the shelter.

2. Be creative. Seek new solutions to new problems.

Every day we hear about a new creative idea to get pets home. From Dog n’ Dash programs to curbside delivery to front door delivery, these programs focus on human and animal safety, keeping pets and people safe during this unsure time is a top priority. Be creative, what can you do to minimize human to human contact, keep people safe, and positively engage those who have stepped up to help.

3. Help people make emergency plans for their pets.

Shelters are taking proactive responses to help people plan for what happens when owners become sick or hospitalized. Start educating your community now on what they can do to help prevent any pet emergencies. Help your community to make emergency plans for their animals, by having at least a 2 week supply of food and medications with care instructions. Securing a temporary caregiver, neighbors, friends, family, pet sitters, and boarding in case pet owners are hospitalized.

4. Break down barriers in your organization.

Now more than ever it is important to make community support as easy as possible. Let go of the old restrictions that held you back and make onboarding and supporting your shelters as simple as possible.

5. Make remote work feel like teamwork.

Allow staff members to work from home. Set up clear methods of communication, have daily and weekly meetings to stay connected. Create protocols for how calls from home with the public will work, identify the best technology to use for a large range of group sizes, and utilize working documents like Google Docs to allow for collaboration to continue.

6. Tell your community what you are doing.

Message to your community how they can help, but also let them know what services have halted, why spay-neuter has paused, or why you are only intaking ill or injured pets. Make references to national recommendations you are implementing and give your community the knowledge to understand the changes you are making.

7. Split your teams to keep them safe.

There are few different models for splitting your teams to ensure that if one person on a team gets sick, not everyone in your organization is exposed to the virus. You can reference our A/B team protocols to split your teams, now. See here for protocol.

8. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

There are countless COVID-19 resources available for animal shelters and rescues. Use them! Look at our COVID-19 Animal Shelter Preparedness Guide, working documents that you can use, revise, and easily implement.

9. Imagine what changes can stay after the pandemic is over.

Many of the changes in your organization were made because you have had to do things differently. Look at the changes you have made and imagine nothing needs to change back. What changes have had positive impacts on people and animals in your community?

10. Stay connected to the national conversation.

Join our Facebook group, American Pets Alive! Shelter and Rescue Support here. Join the Monday morning AmPA! Pulse check calls, subscribe to our newsletter and the AWA COVID newsletters, participate in surveys, and join our summits or advice hours (more dates and sign up links to come!).

Where do we go now, what will the future of animal sheltering look like when the pandemic ends? We are hopeful it includes more of our amazing animals being housed in foster homes, rather than in the shelter. Communities all over the country have stepped up to support us and the animals in our care. Let’s turn now to find ways to continue the positive changes we have seen, to support our communities, and find homes for all of the animals in our care.

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