What Happened to Animal Shelters When We Sheltered in Place?

Photo: Provided by the Baltimore Humane Society

One positive thing that’s come out of staying home for so long is that people now have time to get a pet and give it the care and attention they might not have been able to before the pandemic.

But while adoptions have soared in the past few months, animal shelters aren’t immune to COVID-19’s impact.


Foster partners

As the pandemic really began to sweep across the U.S. in March, places like the Maryland SPCA were forced to suspend all activities, and by the end of the month the shelter moved all 145 animals to foster homes.

“We couldn’t keep staffing levels at the number they had to be to properly run the shelter,” says Jim Peirce, the executive director at the Maryland SPCA. “We had no idea what was going on, so we decided to be cautious.”

It wasn’t until the end of April that they started opening up again. Even then, staff was reduced to 10 people or fewer in order to follow the CDC guidelines. Having people willing to foster pets continued to allow Maryland SPCA to better care for the animals in the shelter for medical and behavioral needs.

Read: Pampered Pets

No volunteers

The Baltimore Humane Society was one of the few who were fortunate enough to remain open when COVID-19 came.

“We started planning weeks before the pandemic really hit in order to get ahead of the curve. I really appreciate how proactive they were,” says Kate Pika, BHS’ marketing and public relations director.

The organization, along with the Maryland SPCA, has suspended all volunteer activities, and is currently operating at only 50 percent.

Because of this, most staff members, including Pika’s department, are now being cross trained for other areas like application processing, meeting with potential adopters, and even cleaning the kennels.


Photo: Provided by the Baltimore Humane Society

New adoption rules

Because they have a limited number of staff, the adoption process at the Maryland SPCA is moving much slower than normal. What was once a face-to-face endeavor has now been adapted for a virtual environment.

“We have to go through all the applications, schedule a second appointment for a zoom meet-and-greet which can all be really hard to schedule, and during all of that we want to make sure we’re keeping everyone happy and satisfied,” Peirce explains.

The good news is that the interest level for adopting is huge, so the minute an animal goes on the website they see multiple applications.

The demand for dogs is so high that BHS is actually struggling to meet it. “We’re helping in transports of animals from other states into our shelter, often there are just no dogs to be had,” Pika says. “There have been times when we had one dog left on the website.”


Other services

Each organization is more than just a shelter, but because of COVID-19, many of their other services have taken a tremendous hit.

BHS also functions as a pet cemetery, and both it and the Maryland SPCA run a spay, neuter, and wellness clinic, which all had to be temporarily shut down. Not only did pet owners lose access to a medical resource, both organizations lost a major source of income.

“We charge fees for the clinic and behavior classes but we had to shut those down, so the month of April was absolutely devastating,” says Peirce. “At the midpoint of the year we’re down about 60 percent in revenues and contributed income.”

In an attempt to gain some income back, the Maryland SPCA is now offering virtual behavior classes. Peirce stated proudly that, “Our behaviorists rose to the challenge, and even though it was slow in the beginning, it’s going really well.”

They’ve also taken in-person activities for kids, like Reading Hour, virtual. Though kids can’t come read to the animals in the shelter, they can choose a book picked by the organization and read to their home pets.

Photo: Provided by the Baltimore Humane Society

BHS, meanwhile, has completely refigured their clinic and turned it into a socially distanced drive-up service.

“Owners fill out everything online, then they drop off their pet and either wait in the car if it’s a short appointment or come back to pick up their animal,” explains Pika.

But even though these services are being offered again, the organizations aren’t able to operate at the same capacity they normally would, and that takes a toll on finances.


Ways to Help

Check out the Baltimore Animal Welfare Alliance (BAWA), a collection of animal rescue, care, and shelter organizations that work together to save animal’s lives. Stay up-to-date with events and fundraising opportunities by following them on Facebook @BAWAbaltimore.

To donate to the Maryland SPCA, or drop off a gift in person visit their website here.

To donate to the Baltimore Humane Society, visit their website here. You can also drop off donations in person 7 days a week, Mondays 12-4 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday 12-5 p.m.


Tomorrow: Find out about upcoming Maryland SPCA and BHS events as well as other ways to help.


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