FARGO — The coronavirus pandemic and the rumors surrounding it are creating fear and hardship for local animal shelters as they head into their busiest time of the year.
“We’ve heard of some very scary trends of people giving up their pets or asking vets to euthanize over fear the animals can spread the disease,” said Kerry Helland, 4 Luv of Dog Rescue secretary and social media coordinator.
Helland says social media is full of misinformation about whether dogs and cats can infect humans. She says at this point, the CDC does not have evidence to suggest that companion animals can spread COVID-19.
The misinformation means animal lovers are scared for their pets' health and their own, putting pressure on shelters to maintain staffing levels and finances to care for homeless animals and those in need of medical care.
Earlier this week Helland said they took in a 7-week-old puppy named Rhea who came to the rescue at 3 a.m. with a respiratory infection — not COVID-19, but, more than likely, distemper. Helland said Rhea passed away peacefully, but some of her medical expenses remain. She says it costs a lot of money to take care of sick dogs like Rhea and take in new healthy dogs. Donations have been slowing down during the pandemic.
“It's hard to measure how much right now,” she said. ”We have canceled one event and may lose more opportunities in the future.”
She said they’ll work to utilize social media more, but wants people to keep the dogs in mind, as they still need the help of supporters.
Homeward Animal Shelter is in the same boat.
“We are seeing a decrease in donations, and as the pandemic continues, we are likely to see more of a decrease over time,” said the shelter's marketing director, Heather Klefstad.
And it’s not just donations declining. Shelters are seeing a slowing in animal adoptions and volunteer staffing. 4 Luv of Dog and Homeward Animal Shelter say they understand volunteers often need to stay home to take care of other obligations and protect their own health. They’ve had generous volunteers fill in the void when they can.
“We also have volunteers in the healthcare industry that need to solely focus on helping members of the community through this,” Helland said.
With fewer people wanting to commit to animal adoptions during a crisis like this, one of the biggest needs is for more people to foster animals in the short or long term. Every spring, shelters are overrun with animals, mostly puppies and kittens, and the pandemic isn’t stopping that.
“While many businesses and restaurants are safely at home during this, no one told the stray cats to stay home. There are still loads of cats coming into the shelters in town every day,” said Eliana Rutherford, a volunteer at Cats Cradle Shelter, a place that doesn’t take animals off the street but works with the pound and assists with rescues and adoptions.
Right now, Homeward Animal Shelter has 88 animals in its care, while 4 Luv of Dog Rescue has 40.
“We already had a desperate need for fosters before this all happened, and that need is still there,” Helland said. “We are still turning away dogs because of a lack of fosters and have some dogs still waiting to find a foster home."
The shelters are most in need of people to foster larger dogs, dogs with medical needs, (temporary or long term) or specific breeds of dogs or those who have other specific living arrangements.
“We do need more foster homes, especially fosters who do not have other pets and fosters who are willing to taking in bully breeds," Homeward Animal Shelter operations director Heather Clyde said, referring to Pit bulls, American bulldogs, etc. “Our big dogs are the ones we struggle to find fosters for. We are also seeking cat fosters, in the event that the number of incoming animals continues to increase during this time.”
Because of liability and the safety of the animals, people can’t just walk into a shelter and take a pet home; they're asked to fill out fostering applications on the shelters’ websites. Shelter officials say applications can be “fast-tracked” and can take as little as one to two days for approval.
For more information about how to help animal shelters during the pandemic, visit the websites of these shelters and others in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Additionally, people are being encouraged to check on neighbors, especially elderly ones, to see if they need assistance with dog-walking or purchasing pet food.