Locking yourself inside isn’t the average person’s idea of fun. But it might feel just a little better with a dog or kitten cozying up in your lap.
If you’ve been thinking about adopting (or fostering), here’s some good news: The majority of rescue centers — listed as essential services — remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic. And most say they could use your help.
“Animals continue to flow into shelters, and we absolutely need to keep moving them into adoptive homes to make room for new rescues that’ll need us,” says PAWS executive director Melissa Levy. “With the uncertainty of this crisis, we don’t know what the next weeks are going to bring. We’re trying to stay ahead now.”
Across the last two weeks, the region’s animal rescues and shelters have seen an unprecedented number of people looking to foster. (No, you’re not the only one thinking about the happy-go-lucky company of a dog right now.) Yet, an uptick in surrenders is anticipated, too, as issues like illness and job insecurity weigh on owners. So new adoptees and fosterers will become as important as ever.
“Everyone’s home anyway, and a lot of people are grappling with boredom. We have pets in need and people with time and opportunity — it makes sense to put the two together,” says Aurora Velazquez, executive director of ACCT Philly, the city’s animal shelter.
While adopting is a commitment that deserves thorough consideration, Velazquez adds that a new pet can do a lot to ease feelings of not only boredom, but isolation and anxiety, too.
“Pets are a distraction, these magical creatures that shift your focus when you’re feeling stressed, that soothe you as you pet them,” says Velazquez. “And they bring back routine to a time like this, forcing you to get up every morning to feed or walk them.”
If you decide to take in a new furry friend during COVID-19, here’s what to expect.
How adoptions work right now
Some rescue centers, like Street Tails Animal Rescue and Morris Animal Refuge, have placed all animals into temporary or permanent homes and are closed as precaution for their staff. The Pennsylvania SPCA has halted adoptions, but is accepting foster applications.
Most shelters, however, remain open for both adopting and fostering. The biggest change: You won’t be able to show up and browse the kennels until a cutie catches your eye. Adoptions and fosters happen on an appointment-only basis.
At places like PAWS (Grays Ferry and Northeast locations only), ACCT, and Main Line Animal Rescue, you’ll first fill out an application online. Staff will then call you to discuss topics, like your past animal experience and the personality traits you’re seeking in a pet. From there, the matchmaking begins.
When staff identify a good fit, you’ll come by appointment to visit the shelter or the animal’s foster home. (Measures are being taken to minimize person-to-person contact.) ACCT is piloting a system to deliver animals to adopters’ homes and is temporarily waiving adoption fees.
What you should consider before getting a pet
Pets are a lifelong commitment
That commitment means thinking about the long term. Maybe right now you want a dog to go jogging with. But before you opt for an active pup, take time to reflect. Will you have time for that daily run when you return to the office? If not, there’s probably a better choice for you.
“Everyone has more time at home, which is great for bringing a pet into a family, giving lots of time to form a bond and train them,” says Levy. "But it’s important to think about how the daily routine will change once life gets back to normal.”
Keep in mind that pet separation-anxiety might occur post-COVID-19 as you return to your normal schedule. After given 24/7 attention in a new environment, and then suddenly left alone, pets might act out.
“Practice runs could be super helpful, where you leave the home for small amounts of time and then expand on that to help [the pet] acclimate over time,” says Velazquez.
Velazquez also suggests in investing in distractions, like long-lasting chew toys for dogs or interactive toys for cats.
Consider the costs
This is especially true if you’re experiencing job insecurity. Some rescue centers have adoption fees. PAWS', for example, range from $60 for an adult cat to $250 for a puppy. Expect to spend an average of $30 to $40 a month on food and litter. Happy pets also love toys, treats, and accessories, like scratching posts. You’ll need to plan for health care, too. Annual checkups can range from $100 to $400. For some, it’s worth considering pet insurance, which averages $25 per month.
Should you foster?
Want your four-legged coronavirus company to be temporary? Consider fostering.
“The initial response when everyone started to spend time at home has been tremendous. We have a waiting list for dog and kitten fosters,” says Levy. “But we’re prepared for a scenario where fosters are struggling with their health and have to surrender their pets. And we’re also heading into kitten season, so we’re building our army of fosters now.”
Getting your name on the wait-list is encouraged. At PAWS, what’s needed most are fosterers for sick adult cats, who require a little extra attention, like daily medicine.
After on-boarding an unprecedented 119 new foster families across the last week, the Pennsylvania SPCA says it’ll be making a push to find fosterers specifically for cats, which currently dominate the shelter.
As with adoption, future fosterers fill out an application online. The on-boarding process is carried out by phone or video. Animals will be retrieved by appointment, or if through ACCT, delivered to your home.
Supplies you’ll need
If you’re a new pet parent, you’ll need gear before welcoming your new family member. Try to fold pet shopping into your next supermarket run. Many grocery stores sell basic items, like litter boxes, leashes, and collars.
Pet supply stores are considered essential businesses, allowing them to remain open. Many are doing curbside pickup, including Philly locations like BONeJOUR, Fairmount Pet Shoppe, and West Philly’s Baltimore Pet Shoppe. Others, like Rittenhouse Pet Supply and The Pet Snobs Boutique, are offering curbside and delivery services. GoPuff delivers pet supplies.
And if you want to welcome your pup or cat with a locally made treat, East Passyunk’s Amelie’s Bark Shop is doing curbside pickup and delivery, including $15 “mystery” boxes filled with $30 worth of goodies.
Can I catch the coronavirus from a pet?
According to the World Health Organization, there’s no evidence that any pet can transmit COVID-19. However, because all animals can carry germs, the CDC notes that “it’s always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals.” This means, washing your hands after handling animals, their food, waste, or supplies, and cleaning up after pets.
“If people want to be extra cautious, you can give the pet a bath, or wipe them down with a pet wipe or washcloth to make sure there’s nothing lingering on their coat,” says Velazquez. “But I’d encourage people not to be overly concerned.”