Fine dining restaurants delivering CSAs. Clothing companies making face masks. Distilleries selling hand sanitizer on tap. Businesses have changed the way they operate to better meet the evolving needs of our community while fighting to stay afloat, but as the pandemic forces many to navigate new limitations, local animal rescue organizations are shifting shapes to manage an unprecedented abundance of community support.
“It seems like the whole world wants a quarantine buddy, and this is a good thing,” says Jacintha Sayed, director of Saving Great Animals, a Bellevue-based dog rescue organization without a shelter, one that largely relies on volunteer fosters to provide temporary housing and care for pups awaiting adoption. Since the Stay Home, Stay Healthy mandate went into effect, “we’ve had a lot of additional foster applications. I’m talking hundreds and hundreds more,” Sayed says, adding that the organization’s website crashed recently after she sent their newly expanded list of prospective fosters an email introducing a number of dogs in need of care.
First-time fosters Lindsay and Miranda Harris—Anacortes-based healthcare professionals who’ve both seen their work hours reduced due to the pandemic—decided to foster a dog to help an animal in need and take their minds off the sudden lack of work. “I have to admit, when I was first told my hours were going to be reduced to effectively zero, I went through a couple days of being pretty depressed,” Miranda says. “It’s a real rude awakening to not know when you’re going to go back to work again.”
The couple connected with Saving Great Animals and recently brought home two-year-old Anna, a rescue from California, who gets along so well with their family (including another dog and cat) that they’re almost sure they’ll wind up adopting her. Anna has given them something positive to focus on during this strange and challenging time. “It encourages us to get outside, go for walks,” Lindsay adds. “When the choice is Netflix in a comfy bed with delicious snacks, or getting up and putting on outside clothes and not pajamas, it’s a good reason to actually get dressed and get out.”
While an extraordinary number of people looking to provide homes for pups in need is a welcome shift, not all dogs are right for all homes, or all homes right for all dogs. “I only have so many dogs to go around, so right now it’s tricky to manage people’s expectations,” Sayed says, adding that there are still dogs in need of foster homes—pups that might not be as easy to place with first-timers, which represent the bulk of these new foster applicants. But that’s not the only issue. The organization has been forced to reschedule their annual fundraiser from June to September, forcing them to stretch their current funds a lot further than expected. “It only takes a couple of sick dogs to completely wipe out your bank account,” Sayed adds.
Seattle Humane is also managing an uptick in foster and adoption applications, just in time for kitten season. This influx of community support has enabled them to move the majority of their rescue animals into households and out of their shelter, which is now closed to the public except for appointment-based in-person meetings. They’ve also stopped performing elective surgeries, donated personal protective equipment to human health efforts, and started offering curb-side adoptions for puppies and kittens that don’t necessarily need the same sort of introductory meeting as pets with more specific needs.
“We want to also support people being able to keep the pets they already have,” says Paula Littlewood, interim chief executive officer of Seattle Humane. Thanks to a recent donation of several dozen pallets of cat and dog food, the organization has been able to bolster their pet food bank, from which they provide food and litter to families in need. They recently had so many applications to sort through they had to close their online applications (there were 98 applications for one puppy alone), Littlewood says they too are still looking for fosters—especially those who don’t live in apartments and don’t have children.
Plus, it’s still not clear how long we’ll all be stuck at home, or how pets will cope once their owners and fosters resume out-of-house routines. “We’re trying to really make sure that we protect people from themselves, because right now they’re very eager to adopt,” Sayed adds. “We have to make sure that we don’t just place [dogs] based on the information we have now, but based on what will happen months from now when people go back to their normal lives.”