Quarantine cute: ‘Everybody wants to adopt a dog right now’

There are dogs, cats, and even a few guinea pigs and gerbils immune to COVID-19 that are waiting to be matched with a temporary or forever home.

Judah is a high energy dog, who can't live in a household with other pets. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Judah is a high energy dog, who can't live in a household with other pets. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

While humans practice social distancing, working from home and panic-buying in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, more than 100 animals in Philadelphia are being their cute, furry selves and sitting in shelters.

Thatch, an 11-month-old black lab gazes out the window at Doggy Stile on Market Street in Old City. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

There are dogs, cats, and even a few guinea pigs and gerbils immune to COVID-19 that are waiting to be matched with a temporary or forever home.

So, if you’ve been wanting to foster or adopt a pet, now might be the best time, says Elaina Tancredi, the executive director of Saved Me Adoption, a shelter focused on saving dogs and cats from different shelters from around the United States.

“Now is a good time to get a pet so the pet can acclimate to the new home,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to have somebody to hang out with, especially someone that’s not going to get you sick?”

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Brownie, a 3-year-old terrier/pit bull mix, needs a home where she is the only pet. She is available for adoption at Doggie Style on Frankford Avenue in Fishtown. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Skeleton crews and by appointment-only

Animal shelters across the Philadelphia region have had to scale back on their operations due to statewide restrictions on nonessential businesses put in place to contain the growing pandemic.

Saved Me Adoption’s Philadelphia shelter, located in Grays Ferry, is down to two employees.

“It’s sad,” said Tancredi, “but it’s also been a good time for us here at the shelter to focus on cleaning,” as well as other projects.

ACCT Philly, the region’s largest animal care and control service provider, is another organization making many difficult adjustments.

In line with recommendations by the National Animal Control Association, ACCT has limited their field services team to emergency calls only.

“Animal intake will [also] be limited to emergency situations only, such as animals with medical conditions requiring intake,” said Aurora Velazquez, the executive director. She is asking owners who are able to hold on to their animals for a bit longer, to do so.

Josiah Ortiz, manager of Morris Animal Refuge in South Philadelphia, offers treats to Judah, a 3-year-old terrier mix. Judah is a high energy dog, who cant live in a household with other pets. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Like many other shelters, ACCT has shifted adoptions to appointment-only, to ensure both the safety of its staff and the public, but also to accommodate less staff capacity.

But in spite of the new challenges and the urgency to get pets into homes, shelter operators remain optimistic. The crisis has brought out people’s best instincts — at least when it comes to animal rescues, they say.

“We’ve had a ton of applications come in, a million phone calls. It’s like an embarrassment of riches right now,” said Allison Lewis, one of the managers at Street Tails Animal Rescue, a shelter that specializes in adoptions.

The shelter has been swarmed. “Either everybody wants to adopt a dog right now or foster one in their home,” she said.

And it makes sense why: People are now spending more time at home than ever before, as a result of social distancing, and many are turning to dogs and cats as companions.

Thatch makes a friend through the sindow of Doggie Style on Market Street in Old City. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The benefits

Morris Animal Refuge is the country’s first animal shelter. Right now, it’s running with limited staff on-site and everyone else working from home — providing a public service very much needed in the current moment, according to Lewis Checchia, Morris Animal’s executive director.

“To have a pet, and to have a companion, is a really good thing for both humans and for the pets,” Checchia said. The science backs him up. Studies from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that having a pet at home decreases blood pressure, feelings of loneliness and increases opportunities for exercise and socialization.

Kait Dowling, a volunteer at the shelter, is currently fostering a pitbull/terrier mix named Diesel. He is helping her adjust to her COVID-19 reality.

“Our socialization has just been demolished,” she said and simply just having the company of an animal is beneficial. “Pets also help you stay on a schedule, to help you maintain some semblance of normalcy,” Dowling said.

Kait Dowling and Diesel, the Pitbull/Terrier mix dog she’s fostering through Saved Me Adoption. (Courtesy of Kait Dowling)

Beyond the personal benefits of having an animal, adopting a pet isn’t just supporting that one shelter or saving that one dog or cat, there’s a ripple effect.

At Saved Me Adoption, when one dog is adopted, the shelter brings in another rescue dog, allowing another animal a chance at a new home.

“Technically you’re really saving three dogs when you bring one into your home as far as our model goes,” Tancredi said.

Lily O’Connor of South Philadelphia makes friends with Lilly, a 1-year-old hound mix up for adoption at Doggie Style on Passyunk Avenue. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Foster or adopting: Knowing which is right for you

People interested in bringing an animal into their home have two options: foster or adopt. Each option requires a different level of time commitment, but both mean that you will be responsible for the well-being of a dog or cat for some time. Neither option should be taken lightly.

Fostering is temporarily taking in an animal into your home with the understanding that someone will ultimately adopt them permanently. But it is no small feat.

“A big part of fostering is setting that dog up for success in their forever home,” Tancredi said.  “[It’s] not just keeping a dog safe in your house, but it’s also teaching them manners and working with them and teaching them the skills they’re going to need to be successful when they go into their forever home.”

Pippy, one of the dogs currently available for fostering to adoption. (Courtesy of Saved Me)

Adopting an animal is more of a long-term commitment and should only be considered if a person is looking to have an animal in their life for the long haul.

An ideal person for adoption is someone who has “is set up where they have the space for an animal, they have the resources for the animals — to care for and love and for medical care,” said Checchia from Morris Animal Refuge.

But shelters recognize that all owners are different. “We just try to find the best human for the animal and the best animal for the human,” he said.

Laney poses with her new family, Jeff Morand and Kate McAloon of Fairmount. They said they needed a ‘quarantine buddy.'(Emma Lee/WHYY)

Becoming a permanent or temporary animal parent

Every shelter has its own unique process for fostering or adopting. But there are some basic things to expect.

Interested individuals need to fill out an application. Staff at the shelter will get in touch with you based on the availability of animals for adoption or fostering. Most applications ask for non-family references, and if you already have a pet, a vet reference is required too. Prices for adoptions range at each shelter. Currently, shelters are doing appointments-only adoptions so scheduling will be required.

The numbers at each shelter are constantly changing due to increased interest in fostering and adopting animals, so it is best to call shelters ahead of time to check their availability.

ACCT Philly has the highest number of dogs and cats for adoption at the moment, with over 100 animals in foster care or at the shelter.

Here’s a list of shelters and their contact information:

ACCT Philly
111 West Hunting Park Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19140
Phone: 267-385-3800
For adoptions email: adopt@acctphilly.org.
For fostering email: lifesaving@acctphilly.org

Morris Animal Refuge 
1242 Lombard Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19147 USA
Phone: 215-735-9570
For adoption information: https://www.morrisanimalrefuge.org/adopt

Saved Me Adoption Rescue Center
2609 Federal St
Philadelphia, PA 19146
Phone: 215-240-1240
Email: Info@SavedMe.org
For adoption application and information: https://savedme.org/adopt/

Street Tails Animal Rescue
1030 N 2nd Street, Suite 401
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Phone: 267-761-9434
Email: info@streettails.org
For adoption application and information: https://www.streettails.org/adopt

Other ways to help

While fostering and adopting animals is urgently needed, not everybody is able to take those steps. What if you’re allergic to dogs and cats? Or if you already have a pet that requires a lot of attention and you’re not in the position to take another one in?

That’s okay. There are other ways to help.

Shelters are in real need of supplies at the moment. Everything from towels and blankets to pillows and cleaning supplies like paper towels and especially bleach, which is critical to keep the kennels clean.

Typically shelters would work with volunteers, but for the time being that is not possible. Another way to help shelters is to make financial donations to help them continue their operations and take care of their animals and staff. Follow them on their social media accounts to get the latest information.

Morris Animal Refuge in South Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Beyond the pandemic

Shelters are excited about all of the support and increased interest they’ve received in the past few weeks and days.

Elaina Tancredi from Saved Me hopes that it continues beyond the pandemic, when everything goes back to normal. “You can still foster in the future,” she said. You don’t have to be home 24/7 in order to foster or adopt an animal.

Lewis Checchia agrees. And while he’s working to get animals into homes, he’s in awe of the way people have stepped up. “Animal welfare is a combined effort between the shelters doing what they can, owners and pet lovers doing what they can, and really working together to make sure not only the humans are saved, but the animals are cared for at this time of crisis.”

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