Update: The Regional Animal Services of King County (RASKC) announced March 24 that it would temporarily halt its pet adoption services, due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide stay-at-home order. Some online services will continue.
As the spread of the novel coronavirus continues, animal rescue services in the Puget Sound region are asking the public to consider fostering pets to relieve shelters struggling with overcrowding.
Kathleen Hunter, executive director of the nonprofit NW Canine Coalition in Issaquah, which highlights local rescues and shelters in media segments, said foster homes are “hugely vital” for pets now.
“People are handing over their dogs,” Hunter said. “Shelters across the nation are getting overcrowded. Even more so we need people to foster their dogs to make room in the system.”
Most rescues rely on volunteers to take in and foster animals that might have trouble adjusting to a shelter environment. Once they’ve been better trained, they can be put up for adoption. Without fosters, animals would stay in shelters, which could then quickly become overcrowded and potentially lead to euthanizations, said Bekah Sandy, a spokeswoman for Seattle Humane, an animal rescue nonprofit based in Bellevue.
At Seattle Humane, which closed to the public last week, staff members and volunteers are still showing up to run the shelter, Sandy said. They’re currently in charge of more than 200 animals, though most are living with foster families.
While Sandy said they haven’t seen a huge increase in pet drop-offs, the shelter recently began testing an adoption-by-appointment system to decrease the number of people on site at once. It’s been successful so far, Sandy said: Last week, they used the new system to adopt out about a dozen puppies.
“But last week was very different from this week,” Sandy said. “First and foremost, the goal is to find homes for vulnerable pets. It’s hard when the situation demands you can’t go full steam ahead in that.”
Now, with the number of COVID-19 cases continuing to increase in Washington — which exceeded 1,000 this week — Seattle Humane is reevaluating whether that system is still safe.
“It’s looking at how do we obviously and understandably prioritize saving human lives, but how do we also ensure animals aren’t being preventably euthanized because of the lack of transfer options?” she said.
While Seattle Humane has a robust foster network, Sandy encouraged people who are able to foster to contact other local animal shelters and ask if they can help.
“We’ve never had to euthanize out of time or space,” she said. “I don’t anticipate that changing … but not all organizations have that kind of support system (in foster families). I think we would be naive to say it’s impossible that it could happen.”
The Regional Animal Services of King County (RASKC), which is still open to the public but limiting visitors, has seen an increase in owner surrenders in the last couple months, said agency spokeswoman Lluvia Ellison-Morales.
At this point last year, RASKC had 138 owner surrenders, compared to this year’s 197. They’ve also taken in almost 80 more strays this year.
The Seattle Animal Shelter, which is run by the city, is also developing an appointment-based adoption system, which will be rolled out next week. It’s closed to the public, though staff are still providing care to the animals.
Hunter said she’s worried some people might be dropping their pets off with shelters out of concerns that animals can carry the virus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed there haven’t been any reports of pets becoming sick from COVID-19, though it’s recommending that people who have tested positive for the virus limit contact with animals until there’s more information.
Laura Tonkin, who works with Issaquah-based PUP Dog Rescue, said it’s unnerving knowing many shelters have closed because of the virus. Her rescue organization canceled a recent shelter transport of 30 to 40 animals and its Saturday training classes, which both support the rescue financially.
It’s a hard hit, she said, but all their volunteers and animals are safe.
“We’re hopeful owners will see their dogs and cats as gifts and not burdens at this time,” Tonkin said. “These animals make the perfect companions anyway, but they’re especially wonderful when you have to socially distance yourself from others at a time like this.”