Adoptions from animal shelters have increased since March, according to Susan Chew, the site director at Main Line Animal Rescue, located at 1149 Pike Springs Rd. in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. With most businesses shut down and people leaving their homes less frequently, many individuals and families may believe now is the perfect time to adopt a pet.
The shelter houses around 70 dogs and 30 cats on a 60-acre farm at any given time, and these animals often require intensive care and treatment with veterinarians, behavioral specialists, and training programs to ensure they are comfortable when entering a new home before they can be adopted.
“We enjoy taking care of the dogs and teaching them skills that will help them get adopted,” Bill Miller, a volunteer, said. “It is truly a heart warming experience.”
Under any conditions, Main Line Animal Rescue’s primary goal is to get as many animals into as many stable foster homes as possible, said Gillian Kocher, the director of public relations.
“There are animals that need us, and we will be there for them,” Kocher said. “We are saving lives and helping animals day in and day out, and that cannot stop ever, not even during a pandemic.”
Many new foster families have posted about their animals to friends and family over social media, which has tended to result in more adoptions. Despite the increase in adoptions and families interested in adoption, Main Line Animal Rescue has had to implement new policies to keep staff and volunteers safe amid coronavirus concerns.
Workers must wear a face mask and are encouraged to work from home when able, while volunteers must sign up for shifts in advance so they do not crowd the shelter. There are also new restrictions on how many volunteers and prospective adopters can visit the building at any given time.
“We have been working hard to limit the traffic on our property, while also still doing our very best for the animals in our care,” Kocher said. “We have limited the volunteers on-site at any given time, and adopters are not entering the building.”
The adoption process has also changed. No one interested in adopting a cat or a dog actually enters the shelter to meet their future pet.
“We invite the public to check out our website for all adoptable animals,” Kocher said. “From there, we will reach out to discuss what animals might be the best fit.”
Families and individuals seeking to adopt a dog will first contact the shelter online and then must wait outside the main building while a worker brings the dog they’ve expressed interest in outside.
“Cat adoptions have become a bit tougher, meeting virtually.” Kocher said.
Adoptions for cats are done completely online through Zoom meetings where the animal and prospective owner get to know one another through a computer screen.
“We love to have visitors to our property to see all that we do,” Kocher said. “But unfortunately during this time, that is very limited.”
As the number of COVID-19 cases decrease, Main Line Animal Rescue hopes to bring back more volunteers and visitors, and to allow staff to work on-site more frequently. The shelter has a roster of more than 600 active volunteers, as well as a veterinary clinic, and educational and training programs operating on the property. Its space is large and requires regular maintenance, but the animals also enjoy regular human interaction, Chew said.
Main Line Animal Rescue does not know when its facility will be fully open to the public again but are taking the essential steps to ensure the safety of employees and the animals.
“[I] hope that everyone stays safe,” Miller said. “Knowing the staff and the volunteers, we know the animals are well cared for even during this pandemic.”
Main Line Animal Rescue has also had to limit many of their planned community outreach programs. Many of these events contribute to their funding but are no longer happening.
“Things are different now, there is no way around it,” Kocher said. “Due to the pandemic, a great deal of our in-person fundraising events have had to be canceled.”
Planned fundraisers with colleges, yoga studios, and even bar happy hours are no longer happening this year, putting more pressure on ongoing and individual donations, she said.
The organization is trying to plan creative and socially distanced fundraising events, such as hosting a drive-in movie on Aug. 15.
Though longtime volunteers can return to start helping out as Main Line Animal Rescue begins scheduling volunteer shifts, the shelter is not accepting new volunteers at this time. Current volunteers can sign up for time slots to perform necessary tasks while also social distancing.
“There was a period of time when we did not have any volunteers visit Main Line Animal Rescue,” Kocher said. “This was for the safety of the volunteers and our staff, and we sure did miss them! When we got into the yellow phase, we began reintroducing volunteers little by little.”
As things change in the coming months and people return to their jobs, individuals who have adopted and fostered new pets may come to the realization that they do not have the time to properly take care of the animals.
While finding homes for abandoned animals is generally a good thing, Chew is concerned with what may happen to the newly adopted pets once pandemic restrictions ease and people return to work.
“Because of this pandemic, people want to adopt a pet,” she said. “Then people are going to go back to work and realize, ‘I don’t have time to take care of a dog.’”
Chew worries because many of the animals housed at this shelter come from situations like puppy mills, abandonment, or abuse. They require a lot of care before they are ready for a new home.
She is concerned Main Line Animal Rescue will see the more recently adopted pets coming back, which is a real setback for animals in need of a permanent home. If new owners find caring for their pet too difficult as they return to work, Main Line Animal Rescue has a policy that if any adopted animals need to be surrendered they may be returned to Main Line Animal Rescue so there is some familiarity and continuity for the animals.
In the meantime, staff at Main Line Animal Rescue intend to continue offering a home for animals that need it, no matter where they come from.
“We consider ourselves an essential business,” Kocher said. “We are saving lives and helping animals day in and day out, and that cannot stop ever, not even during a pandemic.”
Editor’s note: Our special reporting on COVID-19 may focus on communities outside Philadelphia because many of our student journalists are now temporarily located outside of the city. Instead, our reporters will cover how the coronavirus is impacting their own communities from across the country and around the world. We will return to hyperlocal coverage of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods as soon as possible.
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