COVID-19 Impacting Veterinary Practices and Shelters: Here’s How You Can Help

Gary Nealon
Published on March 26, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping across the world, causing disruptions and uncertainty at just about every turn. For most of us, this type of living on the edge isn’t something that we’ve ever experienced before.

While the far-reaching implications of this virus are impacting just about every industry, there’s one sector that it’s hitting especially hard: veterinary practices and pet shelters. Organizations that treat, help, or care for animals are facing their own set of challenges now.

With different countries, and individual U.S. states continually in limbo and with new guidelines continually being rolled out, shelters and veterinary practices have had to quickly adjust to keep up. The threat of eminent lockdowns and the uncertainty of it all is taking a toll, impacting how pet shelters and veterinary practices operate.

While shelters normally rely heavily on the generosity of donors and volunteers, in these uncertain times they’re even more in need of donations. But monetary contributions aren’t the only way to support your local shelter; there are many other ways that we can all chip in to offer support, while at the same time looking to keep our pets and families healthy, happy, and safe.

With lockdown measures forthcoming in a number of different countries –and even in effect in some U.S. states, the time for action is now. With this in mind, here’s a look at some things that each of us can do to step up and help –today.

Keep Calm: And Do Your Research

There’s a great deal of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 –especially when it comes to the full implications that it will have on our lives. Unfortunately, this uncertainty is feeding misinformation and giving rise to fear. Many people don’t fully understand this virus, and there have been plenty of theories circulating on social media and elsewhere about its origins and spread.

Some people are even taking desperate and misguided measures in an attempt to secure some sort of protection against it.

Dr. Evan Shaw, a Brisbane, Australia-based registered veterinary surgeon mentioned that there have even been a few reports of break-ins at clinics in Australia, where people have stolen canine coronavirus vaccines, presumably to inject themselves in a bid to ward off COVID-19. This, of course, is based on the theory that canine coronavirus, is the same strand as the COVID-19 variety that’s circulating the globe. (Spoiler alert: it’s not!).

Dr. Shaw said that there have also been a handful of cases where concerned pet-owners have tried to surrender their pets, fearing that their pets might catch the disease and pass it on to them –even though there’s no evidence of this actually happening.

For anyone today, the best option is a clear, levelheaded approach. Take time to research the virus, its origins, and how it spreads. Then take precautions, and follow government guidelines, while at the same time ensuring that you don’t get caught up in the mass hysteria.

“It is not the flu, it is not a joke, it could be you,” said Dr. Shaw, emphasizing the importance of everyone pulling together during this time. He urges people to follow the current government guidelines, and stay safe.

What about stockpiling essentials? A number of people are rushing to get in months supplies worth of dog food. While it’s a good idea to have enough for a period where you may need to end up self-quarantining, Dr. Shaw says, but there’s no need to stock up on 2-3 months’ worth of goods. There are enough food reserves, despite the temporary lag that it takes to get items from the warehouse to the shelf, so prepare and plan, but don’t go crazy.

There’s a lot that we can do to help, even if that simply means staying calm and applying a rational approach during these trying times.

Note: For more information on COVID-19, its origins and spread check out: How do animal viruses like Coronavirus jump species by Tara C. Smith, a professor of epidemiology at the Kent State University College of Public Health.

Donate If You Can

Many shelter directors are issuing a plea for donations at this time. Many of us are facing financial uncertainty now, but for shelters that rely largely on donations, even small contributions can make a big difference.

Choosing from a shelter’s Amazon wish list is another easy way to contribute.

See: ACC of NYC Wish List

Shelters that don’t have an online wish list may be able to accept pet food or supply donations, dropped at their door. It’s best to call or email your local shelter directly and ask what you can do to help.

Different protocols are in place at different locations during this time, so it may be impossible to pick up and deliver supplies in some cities. But for other locations, now might be an ideal time.

Consider Fostering or Adopting

For those who are willing and able, one step that could help overburdened shelters is for people to consider fostering or even adopting a dog.

“With shelters at full capacity, anyone who is spending more time at home from work and is available to foster a pet, this would be a tremendous help,” said Taylor Wheeler, a certified dog behaviorist and founder of the Pink Paw Program, which provides international education about dog behavior and safety.

“If you have a secure yard and pet-friendly homes please consider contacting your local shelter,” Ms Wheeler advises.

While the prospect of taking on one more responsibility during these uncertain times may seem overwhelming to some, there are some tremendous benefits to having a pet around. For one, animals can help to alleviate stress and provide companionship, something that all of us will need if we’re asked to self-isolate or shelter in place.

Animal shelters in many cities across the U.S. are issuing pleas for people who are able to foster.

“Having a pet around ... is good for your head,” Eric Rayvid –a spokesperson for Best Friends Animal Society, an animal welfare non-profit, told the HuffPost. “It’s going to take you out of yourself a little bit. If you get a dog, it’s going [to] force you to go outside. If you get a cat, it’s going to force you to spend some time cuddling.”

What are the requirements for adopting a dog? These vary, but shelters are doing everything they can do to make the adoption process as seamless as possible. Some, like one Florida-based shelter, are even temporarily waiving adoption fees. Some are offering a free pet adoption in exchange for a bag of dog food, while many have streamlined paperwork to allow adoptions to take place from the car.

If you have any issues or questions on animal behavior, there are online resources available that can help. The Australia-based Pink Paw Program offers free correspondence training, and a list of free dog training and animal-related resources can also be found at the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers’ website.

Keep Up With Shelters Via Social Media

It’s also a good idea to follow local shelters on social media. This will alert you to any developments and allow you to keep up-to-date with their needs.

Animal Haven, a New York City-based animal rescue that is still, for the moment, is facilitating adoptions at their location by appointment only, says that while the thing they need most right now is monetary donations, even if people can’t donate now, could still stay up-to-date with their needs via social media.

“Watch our website, Instagram, and Twitter for pretty much daily updates on what is going on,” Tiffany Lacey, Animal Haven’s executive director, said in an interview with the HuffPost. “Because we’re just trying, as everyone else is, to make sense of what is happening every day, and what might happen tomorrow. And what we need to do to make sure the animals are safe.”

Meanwhile, on a global scale, many shelters have to close temporarily. UK-based pet shelter and charity Battersea –which requires home visits in order to facilitate adoptions, has temporarily suspended all adoptions. Although the RSPCA, another UK-based shelter and charity, has so far managed to continue its operations; while restriction adoptions to an appointment-only basis.

Veterinary practices, though, remain largely open; at least in the U.S., Australia, and the UK. As they provide essential services, they won’t be shuttering up any time soon. They’re largely operating on a reduced scale though, limiting contact with the public while continuing to provide essential services. The AVMA recommends that veterinary clinics continue to provide care for acutely sick or injured animals while rescheduling elective procedures.

Keep Your Pets With You

Finally, one of the most important things that we can do is to keep our pets with us at this time.

Shelters simply cannot accept the numbers that they were before, and during this time of short-staff or even outright closures, there’s simply no capacity to take on any new animals. For those who are considering surrendering an animal at this time, experts would like to advise them to reconsider.

“The number of dog surrenders is climbing as it is,” said Ms Wheeler. “Now with this virus more and more dog owners are enquiring about surrendering their pet due to health concerns. However, rescue groups and pounds are urging people to hold off on that decision as they are trying to reduce the number of pets taken in at this time.”

“With the risk of staff shortage, our volunteers and carers simply cannot take on more work and they should not have to. Everyone needs to take responsibility for their pets at this point in time.

It is important that pet owners understand that there is no evidence of this virus being transferred from cat or dog to human, which was stated by The World Health Organisation,” she continued.

“We ask that no one makes any irrational decisions and that they carry on with their pet’s normal routine and care so that we can all get through this difficult time together.”

While many people might be concerned about a change in routine, and working from home, Dr. Shaw mentioned that one silver lining is that overall animal welfare has skyrocketed, and overall pets are benefiting tremendously from this change. “They get to be around their favorite people,” he said, “and for a pet, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

While most cats will probably fare just fine during prolonged periods of social isolation, dogs are another story. For those who are concerned about how to keep high-energy dogs exercise and entertained during a potential lockdown, Dr. Shaw suggests finding some indoor games that you can do with your pet. (Check out this helpful list for some ideas.)

While there have been cases of pet surrender, Dr. Shaw said that by and large most pet-owners are taking a far more rational approach.

“Keeping your pets with you during this time is one of the best things that you can do,” he advised. “You might be facing weeks, if not longer in isolation, and having a dog, cat, even a hamster with you can give you that contact that you might not be able to have with another person.

“The best thing that you can do right now is to prepare –and give your dog a hug.”


For more resources and updates during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit: the Human Society.

For a list of U.S. rescue centers, see the American Kennel Club’s rescue network.

Free dog training and animal-related resources can be found at the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers’ website and the Pink Paw Program.

Gary Nealon

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