Where animal shelters are concerned, the news from cities hardest hit by COVID-19 was bleak: “More dogs in shelters will be euthanized during coronavirus outbreak,” The Independent wrote of New York; “People are handing over their dogs,” one shelter director told The Seattle Times. Shelters in Phoenix, St. Louis and Memphis also told local journalists they urgently needed more foster families.
But both chapters of the Humane Society in Boulder County say their lists for foster families are overflowing; what they need most right now are pet supplies and monetary donations.
“There’s been a panic or scare that people are surrendering their pets because of this,” says Elizabeth Smokowski, CEO of Longmont Humane Society. “We have seen some [surrenders], but not as high as normal. In the past week we’ve seen eight surrenders; normally we can see eight in a day.”
Smokowski says her staff is working from a long list of previously approved foster applicants. Over the weekend of March 21, in order to allow for quicker foster placements during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Agriculture waived a requirement for foster homes to undergo a physical inspection (all must still pass a background check), leading to even more foster applicants.
“We currently have a very long list,” Smokowski says, adding that the waitlist alone includes nearly 700 applicants. “The community has been wonderful.”
Amanda Boerman, marketing and community relations manager for Humane Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV), says the situation at HSBV is similar: There’s been no uptick in animal surrenders, and the need for monetary and supply donations is greater than the need for foster applicants at the moment. But Boerman says the organization is being vigilant about how things could change as more people lose income because of closures and stay-at-home orders.
“We’re trying to keep our eyes and ears open as far as employment and income loss and all of those pieces,” she says. “Our organization does have a Safety Net program, so if people need a little help with pet food or discounted veterinary support, we definitely support people [with those resources] to keep those [owner-pet] relationships intact.
“We also recognize people are going to have to make tough decisions based on the situation, so we are having conversations about that,” Boerman adds. “That’s part of our big push for donations right now: Let’s be here for our community and for these pets that are going to be impacted. Whether you lose your job or whatever that looks like, we want to keep those relationships together as best we can.”
Keeping those relationships intact can be particularly challenging for pet owners experiencing homelessness, as many emergency shelters won’t allow animals. So both Humane organizations work with government organizations to help those owners as they access shelter services, something that could become more urgent as COVID-19 spreads.
“We have a Safe Keep program,” Smokowski says. “So when there are clients [experiencing homelessness] that need temporary sheltering of their animals, we can work with them through that program.”
As with all current services through either Humane Society, those looking to use the Safe Keep program need to make an appointment first.
Boerman says that while HSBV’s foster needs are currently met, that may not be the case for other organizations.
“Boulder generally has really good volunteer engagement as a city and as a county. I suspect more rural communities might have a harder time,” she says, though relaxed state regulations on foster home inspections should provide organizations with “a lot more flexibility to recruit those individuals now.”
What’s most troubling is finances. In these early days of stay-at-home, the financial impact to nonprofit organizations like the Humane Society has been outsized. With many public-facing, income-generating services — like training classes, adoptions, intake and clinic services — severely reduced or completely halted, there’s simply less money to work with. (As of March 25, Boerman stated via email that HSBV has closed its adoption center.)
“The biggie for us has been the financial impact,” Boerman says. “When you move to reduce person-to-person interactions, not only are you losing out on revenue from services we provide at our open facility, we also had to cancel and postpone all of our fundraising events. We postponed our largest fundraiser, Puttin’ on the Leash, which typically raises about $450,000, indefinitely. We’re trying to see what other opportunities we can seize.”
Longmont Humane Society also had to cancel its annual fundraiser, Homeward Bound, which was scheduled for March 21. According to Smokowski, the event usually nets about $145,000. She says her team is also researching new avenues, like an online auction.
“We have to purchase the software and then learn to use the software, which is a challenge,” she says. “But it’s worth it. We’re just deliberating when the best timing to do that is.”
Creating space for social distancing has also meant both organizations have had to cancel all volunteer rolls for the time being. However, with reduced public-facing services, staff at both organizations have been able to focus on the enrichment work volunteers would normally do, like cleaning and caring for animals still in residence.
Both organizations are currently still facilitating lost-and-found intake services by appointment only to minimize unnecessary interpersonal contact. All other public services are closed. Boerman says BVHS has had to cancel its out-of-state transfer program, which helps shelters outside of Colorado find homes for animals when their facilities are full, but it is still providing support to in-state municipal organizations, including the Denver Animal Shelter, Adams County Animal Shelter and Aurora Animal Shelter.
“They still had animals in their building that are perfectly prepared for adoption or maybe need a different environment,” she says. “Our team is stepping in and helping those organizations.”
Other animal rescue organizations have been equally hard hit by social distancing protocols. Lovin’ Arms Animal Sanctuary currently cares for 94 animals — cows, pigs, sheep, horses, ducks and other non-domestic animals — that have been rescued from abusive or neglectful situations. Lovin’ Arms provides lifetime care — no fostering — but does rely on donations and significant volunteer work as a nonprofit organization. Executive Director Shartrina White says she and her team are currently training a small back-up team of volunteers who can care for animals in the event that someone on the four-person staff gets sick. The sanctuary has also had to cancel fundraising events that normally keep operations running through the year.
“One of the things I’m interested in is creating content online,” White says. “Animals really help teach children compassion and kindness. We’re looking to do a weekly or daily story time, looking for teachers to help create content online for story time. I know there’s a lot of people who have talents around teaching plant-based eating. We’d like to offer online classes for free and ask for donations; classes about more compassionate ways to eat, even about how to recycle, how to be more environmentally friendly. I think people are at home and if they want to donate their talents to us, if they can help, we’d be grateful.”
Both chapters of the Humane Society in Boulder County and Lovin’ Arms Animal Sanctuary have Amazon wishlists that can be found on their websites.
Lookin’ to help?
There are a number of animal welfare and rescue organizations in the area. The following list is not comprehensive. Even if there is no current need for foster families at a given organization, donations and supplies are typically welcome, but please check an organization’s website for specific information on its needs and how you can best be of service. Consider following organizations on social media to stay up-to-date.
• The Good Dog Rescue, Westminster
• Summit Dog Rescue, Boulder (not seeking new fosters at this time)
• RezDawg Rescue, Lafayette
• Colorado Canine Rescue, Brighton (a small rescue with limited availability)
• Soul Dog Rescue, Fort Lupton
• Rocky Mountain Pet Rescue, Winter Park
• MaxFund Animal Adoption Center, Denver
• Farfel’s Rescue, Boulder
• All Points West German Shorthaired Pointer Rescue, Elizabeth
• Breeder Release Adoption Service, Boncarbo
• Cat Care Society, Lakewood