As the public stays home and businesses nationwide shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, animal shelters are having a rough go of it as well. The Humane Society and rescue organizations across the country have closed their doors to the public and canceled adoption events, moves that have seriously hindered their efforts to find homes for their four-legged friends.

That’s why now, more than ever, shelters are sounding the call for people to foster or adopt a pet.

“If shelters close completely to the public, it can be detrimental” to the health of the animals, says Lindsay Layendecker, assistant director of development for Jacksonville Humane Society. “By fostering, families can save a life with a temporary commitment. And pets provide comfort, stability, and routine.”

(The Centers for Disease Control has stated that it has not received any reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19, and it has no evidence that pets spread COVID-19.)

One of those gracious new fosters is Gerri Cantor, an animal control officer in Salt Lake City. She chose to foster a dog to help ease the strain on shelter employees due to the closures during the pandemic. Cantor, who has a dog of her own, recently picked up her new foster dog, a 6-month-old Doberman mix.

“We are committed to helping for as long as we are needed,” says Cantor.

Gerri Cantor (right) with her dog, Chicken, and new foster dog, Bella (front).

Callista Pearson/Salt Lake County Animal Services

At Best Friends, the nation’s largest sanctuary for homeless animals, fostering has also taken off.

“Amazing fosters have stepped up to help shelters in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, New York City, and Kanab, UT—placing nearly 300 dogs and cats in temporary homes in just the last week,” says Temma Martin, public relations manager for Best Friends Animal Society in Salt Lake City.

How the adoption and foster process currently works

The new measures being taken because of COVID-19 have forced shelters to get creative and use different forms of technology to find homes for their animals.

“We’re all trying to keep up with this rapidly evolving situation, so the systems we had established for meeting pets, adopting, and fostering have all changed in the last week,” says Martin. “Meet-and-greets may now take place virtually by webcam and online meeting programs, and pickup of pets may take place by drive-through or drop off.”

Other shelters have formulated their own ways to ease the process of fostering or adopting animals.

The Friends of Detroit Animal Care and Control in Michigan has the Cuddle Shuttle, which offers transportation from shelter to home. The SPCA in Wake County in North Carolina had the Home Adoption Network, where it livestreamed adoptable animals. And Curbside Pickup at Kern County Animal Services in California had lines of cars to pick up 100 pets in two days, Martin says.

“We have been doing adoptions by appointment, but our foster program has seen a 75% increase in people wanting to foster pets,” says Callista Pearson, marketing and development manager at Salt Lake County Animal Services. “The pets’ personalities come out in a foster home unlike a shelter. All of the attributes that make them a wonderful family member truly shine in these homes, helping them find a new home sooner.”

If you’re interested in fostering or adopting, Layendecker says a good place to gather information is your local shelter’s Facebook page and/or website.

Martin says individuals can also reduce the impact on local shelters by reaching out to donate to support the animals in their community. She says those interested in fostering or adopting can use this interactive tool to find a shelter nearby.

Is a pet adoption or fostering right for you?

Bringing home a new fluffy friend might sound enticing, especially if you’re social distancing at home all alone, but it might not be the right long-term decision for everyone.

“Adopting is a lifetime commitment to the pet, so it’s important to make a good decision for your lifestyle, even after this crisis ends and you go back to working outside the home,” says Martin.

For adoptions, Martin says, people should choose a canine companion whose personality, exercise needs, size, and behavior match their stage in life, and those of their family members. She says the needs of cats vary less, but people should still consider how a cat fits with the family and other pets.

Not ready to commit to a pet for good? Martin says fostering a pet is also helpful and can help keep you company during this lonely and uncertain time.

“The beauty of fostering is that it can be temporary,” she says. “As long as everyone gets along for the weeks the pet will be in the home, there is less pressure to find the perfect fit.”

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