As a supporter of Animal Humane New Mexico, you have been with us these past several weeks as we announced increasingly tighter restrictions on our public services, with the latest announcement on March 24 of our closure to the public. Following recommended national best practices for animal shelters, this means:

  • We have stopped non-urgent intakes from the public, transfers from partner shelters throughout New Mexico and intakes of uninjured stray pets.
  • Working with our wonderful Foster and Volunteer communities, we have placed almost all of our pets into temporary homes. At the writing of this blog, we only have 3 cats and 12 dogs within our shelter walls, and over 100 in the loving care of these volunteers!
  • In person adoptions have stopped. Behind the scenes, however, our Adoptions Team continues to work on finalizing adoptions virtually for trial adoptions and fosters and their families who fall in love.
  • We have stopped public clinic services, including spay/neuter, as these have been deemed non-essential medical services, but continue offering medical attention to shelter and foster pets.

Animal Humane is not the only shelter doing this. Across the country, both private and municipal shelters are taking similar steps, asking for unprecedented help from the public to foster or help stray pets get home, all in an effort to keep the number of animals in shelters as low as possible.

But why? 

Right now, it is critical for animal welfare organizations to think ahead to what COVID-19 will mean for the pets in our country in the coming weeks. We are preparing now for the peak of the virus and its fallout. That means emptying the shelters and reducing several services, all in an effort to keep pets, their people, our staff and volunteers safe and at the lowest risk of exposure. Shelters across our country are bracing for:

  1. Staffing & Supply Shortages – As more of our community are directly impacted by illness, it will mean some of our wonderful frontline staff will become unable to work, either because of direct illness or exposure to someone who is ill. This will mean fewer people to care for the pets at the shelter. Right now, reducing the number of pets on our Campus allows us to reduce the number of people on Campus, helping do our part to lower transmission risk to a large percentage of our staff through social distancing. Our hope is that this will mean more healthy staff able and willing to come care for remaining pets as their colleagues become unable to, as well as reduced overall community spread.

Additionally, as hospitals see higher intakes, medical supplies will become harder to source—a situation we already seeing unfolding. We, therefore, have limited clinic services in order to retain supplies for emergency needs in the weeks ahead.

  1. Increased Emergency Intake – Right now, we are asking owners requesting to surrender to hold on to their pets unless it is an emergency, and finders of stray pets to follow resources we have provided to reunite cats and dogs with their owners. We are doing this because of the likelihood that in the coming weeks many more in our community will be hospitalized and will not have friends or family to care for their pets. Shelters must be able to help as temporary housing in these emergency cases. Emptying the kennels now sets us up to better help in the coming weeks.
  1. Fewer Fosters & Adopters – As more communities have movement restrictions put in place, and as more individuals become ill, availability of new fosters or adopters will slow or stop. This is what makes getting pets into foster homes now so critical.
  1. Reduced Care Capacity – With fewer staff on hand to provide daily enrichment and needed mental stimulation, pets within shelters that stay full may not receive optimal levels of care for behavioral wellness. Shelters are always stressful environments. With reduced staff and volunteer support, a necessary bi-product of social distancing, this issue is exasperated. Pets in homes do not have the same strains on their behavioral wellness, so foster is the best possible place for most pets to be right now. 

All the above steps are aimed at achieving exactly one thing: avoiding a crisis in animal welfare that will endanger the lives of our community’s pets and the people who work hard to protect them.

So, what can you do to support us and other local shelters as we prepare?

  • Foster. If you are healthy, practicing smart social distancing strategies and in a position to care for a homeless pet, now is the perfect time to become a foster parent. Temporary fosters are needed by almost every animal welfare organization. Animal Humane is currently working through a wonderful list of eager homes for our pets still in need of placement. Our partner shelters are also looking for fosters. Check out all the shelters in your community (but for the sake of reduced travel, please stick to shelters in your immediate area) and see if you can help. Animal Humane will continue to put out informational resources for new fosters requests.
  • Create an Emergency Plan for Your Pets. If you have pets at home, develop a plan for how they will be cared for if you become ill and need hospitalization. Reach out to a neighbor, friend or family member to confirm they can care for your pets. Ensure you have supplies for their care on-hand, including food and medication. The fewer pets that come into shelters as owners are hospitalized, the more resources there will be to care for those who have no other choice.
  • Donate. Animal welfare organizations will continue to need funding support and donations of essentials, including food, sanitation supplies, medical supplies. Check in with your local shelter to see what they need.
  • Social Distancing is the key. If we want to save lives—both of our fellow community members and of our homeless pet population—we each need to do our part by following social distancing guidelines. If we slow the spread of the virus, we reduce the risk of ballooning numbers of human patients in need of hospitalization, which in turn will ensure space in the shelters remains available for the most at-risk pets. Help us by staying at home: to protect yourself, your neighbors and the vulnerable pets in our community.

With solid planning and the power of community partnerships and support, we and our beloved pets will come out stronger on the far side of this emergency. Thank you for your help and continued support.

Want to learn more about recommended best practices for shelters during the COVID-19 outbreak?

University of Wisconsin-Madison Shelter Medicine’s article on Animal Services’ Roe in COVID-19 Support

National Animal Care & Control Association’s Statements and Resources on COVID-19

Best Friends Network COVID-19 Additional Resources Page