How animal shelters and rescues have been affected by COVID-19

In times like these, it’s important to take notice of the good happening in the world. As we continue to struggle with COVID-19, thousands of animals in rescues and shelters have found their forever homes. But the work isn’t done yet!

For animal lovers in the U.S., there is a silver lining in the fight against COVID-19 – thousands of dogs and cats are being fostered and adopted. Acts of kindness are reaching beyond family, friends and neighbors, and animals in shelters and rescues are finding homes.

Best Friends Animal Society, a national leader in animal welfare, has played a key role in monitoring all aspects of the changes affecting animal rescues and puppy mills during the pandemic. They have set an ambitious goal – “no-kill by 2025”. This goal, to make US animal shelters no-kill facilities within the next five years, looks more and more likely every day.

A long and winding road

Still, there are challenges to be faced.  The national transport system of adoptable dogs, commonly known as the “underdog railroad,” has been severely affected by the quarantine. Normally, animals are moved from counties that don’t have the shelter resources to properly support strays or surrendered dogs to parts of the US that have those capabilities. Right now, this pipeline of pups has slowed to a trickle or stopped altogether in many places. This is leaving some shelters empty as they await dogs from the shelters that are overwhelmed. COVID-19 is having an even more direct impact on the rescue process as some people incorrectly fear that they can catch the virus from their dogs.

Bev Mercer of Mercer Animal Rescue in Tennessee says, “A lot of the shelters are closed, so people are taking their dogs and abandoning them in the woods. There has been a huge surge in intakes at all the rescues. So many puppies as we are just at the beginning of puppy season.” Cat Suzuki of Hounds in Pounds animal rescue in New Jersey has found that people are finding dogs and giving them away on Facebook. Suzuki also noted, “When things settle down, we will be dealing with an influx of pregnant dogs, because they were left as strays.” As with so many COVID-19-related issues, there will be long-lasting impacts on the rescue world.

Barking Mad Animal Rescue (BMAR) in Texas is on the front lines of the surge in stray and abandoned animals. Virtually all of their adoptable dogs are placed out of state, and 90% of their donations come from out of the area – donations which have dropped precipitously with donors who are now out of work. BMAR faces a daily struggle to feed an enormous surge of stranded and needy animals, bombarded daily with pleas for help from the local population for animal food and medical supplies.

The puppy mill problem

At the other end of the animal welfare spectrum, puppy mill breeders are unconcerned about safe transport during the virus, with pet stores taking advantage of the pandemic to sell as many puppies as they can. Mindi Callison of Bailing Out Benji, an organization working to close down puppy mills, is tracking puppy sales from Midwest puppy mills to the “hot bed” COVID-19 states, where thousands of puppies were moved in March. She says, “This is extremely dangerous as the puppy mill transporters are passing through dozens of states, making countless stops all on the way and coming in contact with so many people.”

How you can help

So much of our society has come together to support one another in these challenging times, and our animals need some of that support too. To make a difference, don’t buy dogs from pet stores. Their inhumane practices produce costly, overbred, and sickly animals who are born and raised in neglectful settings. There are still thousands of adoptable pets located around the US on Petfinder.com if you don’t want to be on a waitlist to adopt.

You can also donate to your local animal shelter, or to one of the ethically-run national animal welfare organizations. You might be shocked to know that some of the biggest animal charities in the US spend virtually nothing on the animals themselves; their salaries, fundraising and overhead eat up most of the millions of dollars they raise.

There are plenty of challenges facing animal shelters across the country right now. But fortunately for our pets in the U.S., their companionship is needed now more than ever. More people are becoming pet owners every day, improving the life of an animal as well as their own. When you live with an animal, compassion begets affection and kindness becomes familiar – that has perhaps never been more important than it is right now.